Toyama Professor Makes Key Discovery about Honeybees

Non-royalactin fed bees (left), royalactin fed bees (right)

Originally written for the Vol.5-No.4 edition (May 27, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

Dr. Masaki Kamakura of Toyama Prefectural University has discovered the function of the protein royalactin in the way it causes a honeybee larva to develop into a queen bee. The article “Royalactin induces queen differentiation in honeybees” is published in the April 24th issue of the science journal Nature.

Worker bees are all female, yet the queen bees are the only bees that lay eggs – about 2,000 a day. Furthermore, queen bees have the same genes as worker bees, but they are roughly 1.5 times bigger and live about 20 times as long. Scientists knew that only the bees that ingest royal jelly (secreted from worker bees) as larvae grow into queen bees, but the exact functions of the components of royal jelly had been a mystery until now.

Dr. Kamakura compared fresh royal jelly with royal jelly that had been heated at 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 days, and found a difference in the amount of proteins. In an experiment feeding the royal jelly to bee larvae, he found that only the protein royalactin activates the mechanisms that cause larvae to grow into queen bees.

In addition, there were similar results when royalactin was given to fruit flies: they became bigger, produced more eggs, and lived longer.

The hope is that this research regarding the development of queen bees will lead to improved beekeeping practices, and contribute to finding the cause of CCD (colony collapse disorder). Next, in cooperation with a beekeeper in Aichi Prefecture, they will experiment to see if the bees raised in the lab will be able to adapt to their role as queen bees in hives with worker bees.

Dr. Kamakura attended Kyoto University Graduate School of Agriculture, and arrived at Toyama Prefectural University as an assistant researcher in 2003.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now


Toyama Cup in Portland and My Yuki-no-Otani Experience

The original version of this article was written for the Vol.5-No.4 edition (May 27, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

First, I want to share some news with you that is directly related to our sister state relationship! On Sunday, May 15th, the Toyama Cup Japanese Speech Contest was held in the World Trade Center in downtown Portland. The first speech contest was held in commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the relationship between Toyama and Oregon, and this year’s was the 15th speech contest. It is open to students attending colleges and universities in Oregon and Southwest Washington. This year’s winner is Rebecca Coffelt, a junior attending Linfield College in McMinnville. As the grand prize winner, she will be visiting Toyama later this year. Congratulations to Rebecca, and thank you to all of the participants!

I would also like to give you my personal report on the Yuki-no-Otani (Snow Canyon) walk. On May 14th, I went up to Tateyama (or Mt. Tate) on a bus tour with many other foreigners. It was a fun ride up winding hilly roads. Japan usually does not have very tall trees, but on the way to Tateyama, there were forests with nice big trees that reminded me strongly of Oregon, especially of the area near Mt. Jefferson. As much as I knew that I was going on a trip to see walls of snow, it was still a shock to see all the green trees give way to a landscape of white snow. It was a warm spring day at the base of the mountain, but it was mid-winter by the time we reached the Yuki-no-Otani. The temperature was below freezing, and it was actually snowing! We braved the weather though, and walked through the snow canyon. At the highest point, the wall of snow was 16 meters (52 1/2 ft.) tall. As advertised, it did make the buses look small!

Mirage or Not, Head to the City of Uozu

Originally written for the Vol.5-No.3 edition (May 13, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

One of the many unique features of Toyama Bay is the mirage, which can be seen from the city of Uozu. The mirage is a natural occurrence created by temperature differences in the atmosphere. The layers of cold and warm air cause light to refract, so that distant objects appear to change shape or size, or even create mirror images. A mirage might appear for a few minutes or for several hours. Spring mirages can be seen above the actual objects, while winter mirages are seen below the actual objects.

The spring mirage season is from late March to early June. Mirages typically appear ten to fifteen times during this period. They are most likely to occur after two to three days of good weather, when the temperature is higher than normal, and when there is a gentle north-northeast wind. As you might imagine, many people are not able to see a mirage. The Buried Forest Museum (which also houses information on the mirage) in Uozu has been passing out certificates to the lucky people who manage to witness a mirage.

However, Uozu decided that they also want to recognize and appreciate the people who visited but could not see a mirage. Through June 30th, the Uozu City Tourist Association is offering a “certificate” for those who were not able to see the mirage upon their visit to the mirage viewing areas of Uozu. The certificate proclaims “蜃気楼見られんだちゃ(Shinkirou miraren da cha),” which is “I couldn’t see the mirage” — in the local Toyama dialect. It comes with coupons for the Buried Forest Museum and the Mirage Land Ferris Wheel, as well as a voucher for a gift from the Uozu Aquarium.

A travel agency has even begun offering 2-day bus tour packages from the Tokyo area to Toyama, combining mirage-viewing with the firefly squid museum (Namerikawa City) and the World Heritage Site Gokayama Gassho-Zukuri Village (Nanto City). This tour package will only be available for select days this month, as the dates were chosen based on historical data of days the mirage has appeared in past years.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now

Yuki-no-Otani (Snow Canyon) and Beyond at the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Originally written for the Vol.5-No.3 edition (May 13, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a world-class mountain tourism destination, where visitors can enjoy the “Japan Alps” and the Tateyama Mountain Range through eight modes of transportation such as cable car and ropeway. Snow removal operations began in February, and the full route opened to the public this season on April 16th.

After the especially cold winter this year, there was 8.7 meters (28 1/2 ft.) of snow as of March 28th – 1.2 meters (4 ft.) more than at the same time the previous year. After snow plowing, the wall of snow can reach 20 meters (65 ft.)!

The spring highlight here is the “Yuki-no-Otani Walk.” Now in its 18th year, it will be open through May 31st. Visitors can walk along the walls of snow for a 500-meter (1/3 mi.) stretch, taking in the sharp contrast between the pure white snow and the blue sky. The scale of the snow is magnificent; it makes the buses look small in comparison. Incredibly, over 10 meters (33 ft.) of snow lasts into June.

The full route of the current Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route first opened on June 1st, 1971. In commemoration of the 40th anniversary this year, various special events and offers will be available.

Summer events will continue to lure nature-seekers after the snow has melted. From July 23rd to August 7th will be the “Tanabata Festival at the Station Nearest the Stars.” Tanabata is a star festival celebrated throughout Japan, but participating in the festivities at an elevation of 2,450 meters (8,038 ft.) seems like an especially suitable place to contemplate the stars.

A major appeal of Tateyama is, of course, the hiking. There will be opportunities for guided hikes on July 23rd and 24th and on August 27th and 28th. The July hikes will have three different routes to choose from that take only a few hours each, while the August hikes will be more rigorous and take 4 1/2 to 5 hours. For all these hikes, participants will receive commemorative 40th anniversary gloves.

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is undoubtedly Toyama’s biggest tourist attraction, with a wealth of features to enjoy through most of the year.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now