Investigating the Influence of Climate Change on Humans and Natural Environments

Takako Yamaguchi, Associate Professor

Takako Yamaguchi, Associate Professor
Department of Geography, Faculty of Letters

Posted Feb. 15, 2019

Faculty Profile
Associate Professor Takako Yamaguchi addresses environmental issues from her perspective as a specialist in climatology, with a focus on biometeorology. Drawing on her experience working for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government on governance to create and maintain green spaces, she investigates ways for humans to live comfortably with nature.

Using the power of nature to alleviate the urban heat island phenomenon

I specialize in climatology—in particular the field of biometeorology—and investigate the influence of climate change on humans and natural environments.

In recent years, Tokyo—as a highly-urbanized metropolis—has been faced with the issue of the urban heat island phenomenon. This is the phenomenon of urban areas having generally higher temperatures in comparison with other regions, because they are covered with concrete buildings, asphalt roads and other such artificial structures that easily retain heat, and have increasingly fewer areas of vegetation. This in turn leads to the risk of severe health hazards, such as heatstroke. Through my research on urban greening, I am working toward alleviating such a phenomenon by drawing on the power of nature. While urban greening can only do a very little to decrease temperatures, it protects biodiversity by securing the habitats of insects and birds and also helps to provide soothing effects for humans in our daily lives.

The question of what needs to be done for us to coexist comfortably with nature, is an important issue that each and every one of us needs to be conscious of, rather than simply leaving it up to the government or business community. Hosei University makes active efforts to support the conservation of energy and tackle global warming, such as taking part in a government-backed initiative promoting uchimizu—the practice of sprinkling water on streets, sidewalks, or other areas—by hosting an event called “The Perfect Weather for Uchimizu @Hosei University.” (The initiative, known as the “Uchimizu Grand Strategy,” is a social experiment to verify the effects of carrying out uchimizu simultaneously in various locations as a measure for tackling the urban heat island phenomenon). I am grateful for such support and plan to push forward with work to encourage and spread awareness of environmental issues.

Critique from others is a source of growth: Taking action opens up new paths

Before becoming a faculty member of the Department of Geography at the Faculty of Letters, I worked for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for a number of years, in a role that involved me managing the maintenance of parks, promoting rooftop greening, and protecting natural environments.
Back when I was a student, one of the things that troubled me was the fact that however much we engross ourselves in research, the actual implementation of urban greening is ultimately at the hands of the government. This prompted me to gather hands-on experience at the forefront of tackling such issues with the aim of being able to draw on it to develop research. It was truly worthwhile to gain such practical experience, but at the same time I always envisioned returning to teaching and research at some point, so now I am filled with the satisfaction that I have finally achieved a goal I held for some time.
I am conscious of the fact that in both learning and research, taking action is key to making forward progress. So, when I started at Hosei, I made sure that from the outset I encouraged students to broaden their ways of thinking to identify a topic for research, and to present the results of that research to others to hear their critique. Through my persistent efforts the initially hesitant students have changed their mindset.
Students who were pursuing group research on the foehn phenomenon* held joint seminars to exchange opinions with students from the University of Tsukuba. This led to an opportunity to present research to a conference of the Association of Japanese Geographers.
And at the conference of the Japanese Society of Biometeorology in fall 2017, the students’ original survey research and observations on the northward shift in the distribution of butterflies was well received and awarded a prize for excellence in the category for young people and students.
Receiving this award was a great inspiration for all students in the seminar course. Motivated by the realization that it is possible to gain recognition for good research even as a student, they have a noticeably different approach to their studies and research. I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with in the future.

Fieldwork as a chance to cultivate hands-on ability and hone “practical wisdom”

In the fields of geography and climatology, carrying out fieldwork is highly important, more so than simply gathering information from written material. This is because there are so many things that we can only really understand when we go out into the field to make observations and listen to the people living there.
The Department of Geography has reflected this in its curriculum by making the on-site research program a compulsory subject. For the program run in August 2017, students visited Kozushima, one of the Izu Islands. While experiencing the depth of nature at firsthand, they carried out practical exercises to learn skills such as making meteorological observations and creating hazard maps. We were assisted by the deputy mayor of Kozushima Villageーwho also happened to be an alumnus of Hoseiーamong many others, and the experience of accomplishing on-site research with such support seems to have made a strong impression on the students. One of them has even continued the meteorological observations on the island and is writing them up for their graduation thesis.
The academic fields of geography and the climate are so multifaceted that it is difficult to clearly define the boundaries of what they encompass. My specialist field, biometeorology, can involve elements of a particularly wide range of other disciplines, including not only physical geography and climatology, but also fields such as medicine or construction.
I believe that we should have freedom in our academic learning and research, so I hope that students will cultivate their sense of judgement and perspectives without being confined by conventional ideas or stereotypes. I would like them to refine their sensibility and hands-on initiative and ability as they pursue their studies. I am confident that all the experiences they gain by doing so will eventually come together as “practical wisdom.”

Constantly on the lookout ready to use all possible sources of inspiration

Looking back, I think that my encounters with people are what have had a significant impact on the course of my career. In high school we had a teacher who taught us essay composition part-time, having previously worked as a newspaper journalist before getting married. Shortly after I started at university, that teacher was involved in organizing an international conference for agricultural meteorologists and I volunteered to help with preparations. It was so inspiring for me to come into close contact with and listen to people engaged in the forefront of the field across the worldーincluding people who were later awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for their research in climate changeーjust at a time when I was considering what career path to take.
As I am all too aware, I am an incredibly inquisitive person, so there are many things that I want to learn or that draw my attention. When something piques my interest, I want to check it out for myself with my own eyes and ears. Even when I was a student, I had the habit of reading any academic literature I could lay my hands on and using contacts to arrange meetings with professors at other universities to hear from them in person. I am no different today, and I read several hundred books a yearーperhaps sometimes as many as 400 or 500. I draw various kinds of inspiration not only from reading specialist material, but also books such as photo anthologiesーsometimes I’ll come across a picture of somewhere beautiful and start to dream of visiting thereーcookery books, comics, and novels. These can all serve as a source of inspiration in my research.
The students here at Hosei take a serious approach to their studies. Even in the field of climatology, my students seemed to start out with the preconceived notion that it would entail learning tangible facts and information. They were initially bewildered as I started by teaching them that when we explore the impact that changes in the climate can have on our daily lives, all kinds of things can develop into research.
There is nothing wrong with an earnest approach, but if we confine ourselves within certain boundaries, we may lose some of our potential enthusiasm and initiative. The reason I push the students to present their work to other people and gather critique is because I want to ensure that those students who are capable but tend to be hesitant will build up their confidence by experiencing their own spiral of success.
While research and learning should not be about comparing oneself with others, the best way of gathering critique from other people is to participate in events such as academic competitions and conferences. We have already had the success of receiving an award in 2017, and I hope that this will serve as a springboard for students to break free from the restraints of preconception and pursue free thinking.
*The foehn phenomenon: As moist air ascends a mountain slope it cools and forms fog and rain clouds, and then becomes dry and rises in temperature when it descends on the other side of the mountain peak. The way in which the wind descending the leeward slopes rises in temperature is known as the foehn phenomenon. “Foehn” is a German word that refers to a type of wind that occurs in the Alps.

All kinds of different people—including students, faculty members, and local residents—participated in “The Perfect Weather for Uchimizu” event cohosted with the Environmental Center, helping to raise awareness about environmental issues.

 

Associate Professor Takako Yamaguchi

Department of Geography, Faculty of Letters

Born in Tokyo in 1972.

Graduated from the Ochanomizu University Faculty of Letters and Education with a degree in geography. Acquired a Ph.D from Ochanomizu University. At the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Construction, she was responsible for managing the maintenance of metropolitan government parks, cemeteries and zoos. She also engaged in activities to address the urban heat island phenomenon and protect the natural environment as a researcher at the Tokyo Metropolitan Research Institute for Environmental Protection and as a deputy manager at the Natural Environment Department of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Environment. She has been an associate professor at the Department of Geography, Faculty of Letters, since 2017.

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