Interview with Koji Tanida (third interview): Tell us a little bit more about yourself
Did you like science and experiments as a child?
Yes, I did enjoy them. I consider myself to have been a science boy.
However, that said, I was never good at chemistry at high-school, and didn't really like it. But I did hope to advance to a science-based course, and therefore forced myself to study chemistry.
As I was so weak at chemistry at school I now occasionally request chemistry lessons from my younger subordinates who majored in it.
When exactly did you decide to pursue a career in science?
When I was a student I often neglected my studies to climb mountains. I was therefore not a particularly good student and not bright enough to have “determined a future course” at such an early stage.
I joined this company and then became involved in developing mercury analyzers. I learnt while on the job and faced many turning points, which then led to my current position.
The following are examples of special applications involving mercury measurements that we dealt with as part of the job: we encountered some field work involving “Predicting Disasters using Volcanic Activity and based on Mercury Content” and “Underground Resources Survey based on Mercury Content,” which I actually really enjoyed because I love mountains.
Underground heat sources can be measured via measuring the mercury content of the ground. The conventional physical exploration method used to identify heat sources requires drilling or aerial photographs, which not only costs a lot but only achieves a 20% probability rate, whereas the aforementioned chemical exploration method can achieve a similar probability but at lower cost; obviously a major advantage.
I used to travel around Hokkaido down to Kagoshima with university professors or customers to conduct geothermal assessments. Most of the places where those thermal assessments took place included hot-spring areas. After the field work we often used to take a hot spring bath and discuss matters while having a drink.
Some of the above tours included delivering mercury analyzers where I could then identify any future needs through chatting with the professors, all of which was a very good experience.
What would you do if you find the experiment goes nowhere during some analysis or experimental work?
Of course, I have sometimes been at a loss.
I would return to the start and review my notebooks over and over again to see if there was an oversight or clue to solving the problem.
However, in spite of the effort put into them, some cases remain hopeless, and we have been forced to reach the conclusion that “the measurements are impossible” but, in most cases, we persisted in attempting use of measurements alongside our laboratory staff and endeavored to reach the point at which “measurements would be possible in a certain range if certain conditions were in place.” Giving up after just one or two attempts is something we frown upon.
For example, the amount of mercury in any material that includes a number of inhibiting elements such as iodine cannot be measured using the ordinary method. But we often accept such samples and state “The measurement is difficult but let us have a go at it.” In any such case, we then persistently repeat the attempt using a variety of methods. We sometimes discover the answer to ensuring that a measurement can be made under some conditions but, at other times, unfortunately, have to give up.
In the past, we were able to easily measure the mercury content of most materials, but we now find it more and more difficult to measure the mercury content of a greater variety of materials, which does pose a challenge. On the other hand, however, challenges typically provide motivation and, our younger employees with useful research themes, which they can struggle with through trial and error and from which they generally learn a lot. They often find that something that was impossible one day is possible the next. They generally have beaming faces when they report any such success.
It would appear that through repeating that kind of experience they gain in self-confidence.
What is your motto for your job?
If you sit at a desk in the company office all day you will not create anything good.
My policy is that it is important for what we manufacture to leave the office and meet the customers.
For what purpose are our products used? Is there any particular defect with them? Are there any parts that need to be improved? Does the customer require this or that function? These are questions that cannot be answered until you have visited the customer concerned and actually listened to them, by which, I believe, we can reflect them on future designs. We would also otherwise end up manufacturing self-satisfactory and self-admired products and be unable to create anything new.
Please tell us a bit more about why you like mountain-climbing (rock-climbing).
I have been climbing mountains since I was a student, but only started rock-climbing in my late-thirties.
The attraction of rock-climbing certainly includes “a feeling of achievement” when I have reached the goal, but, among other things, while I am climbing, I can forget all about any family issues, work, and stress and basically “stop thinking.”
Rock-climbing is typically accompanied by the risk of injury or death. While climbing I often get scared: I could fall; a piton could be pulled out; I would be injured if I slipped. However, that fear makes me forget everything else and stop thinking about anything. That moment is what I am addicted to.
After I desperately struggled to reach the goal I tell myself “You made it!” and get a real feel of achievement. I think I am fascinated by that feeling.
The height of a free-climbing area is about 25 meters, which only takes me about ten minutes in terms of time but I find it very relaxing to climb without having to say or think about anything.
The risk of an accident does exist and my family does worry about me when I go rock-climbing. But they do say I look different after I have been rock-climbing and more relaxed, and as if I have been relieved of something. They cannot therefore object to my climbing for that reason.
I cannot compete with younger people in sport through sheer physical strength, but one day I can find myself climbing a route that I had tried and could not climb for half a year. I then realized that at my age I can still improve, which is of course one of the attractions of rock-climbing.
Please quote us your favorite phrase.
I am not particularly clever and not overly sophisticated. I would not be able to make my way in the world using only my wits.
However, I am determined to work at my job in a straightforward manner, and also live life in a straightforward manner. That is part of my inherent nature and I cannot and do not want to change that.
Simple honesty would be my favorite phrase.