National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

Junko Sugimoto

Environment and people that make me proud of my clerical job

SOLAR-C Project
Administrative Supporter

Junko Sugimoto

This year saw the final stage of Japan’s work on SUNRISE-3

My job is to perform clerical duties for the SOLAR-C Project, which mainly include ordering parts and materials such as screws, performing procedures for shipping goods abroad, applying for travel funds for project researchers, and handling general affairs. Assisting seminars and international conferences related to solar science held at NAOJ is also part of my responsibilities, and I am sometimes required to speak English, such as when guiding visitors from overseas. Exchanging emails with people overseas is also part of my routine work, but that does not require a lot of English skills because I can use translation tools and get help from the researchers.

This fiscal year was the deadline for us to complete Japan’s work on SUNRISE-3 and ship the finished products to Germany, so we had a heavier workload to handle than in previous years. It was a little difficult to communicate with new contractors. I also needed to arrange insurance for exporting goods. And I was always nervous, worrying about if I had done the arrangement properly, or what if our insurance claims are denied when something happens. I think expertise is not a must for this job, but since the focus of the role is to support all of the other team members, it may require someone with a cooperative nature—that is, someone who can get along with anyone.

Workplace without any social stratification.

I’m proud of being able to support the scientists.

I first joined NAOJ in 1993 as an administrative assistant and left the job three years later to move to another institute. After that, I came back to NAOJ in 2006 to serve as an Administrative Supporter for the Solar Observatory. I have been assigned to the SOLAR-C Project since 2020, and I feel enthusiastic about this project. The other day, I saw an episode of the TV series “Science ZERO” in which NAOJ was featured, and realized for the first time that everyone I work for is doing really amazing things. That made me feel somewhat intimidated … because the scientists talked very passionately. I thought to myself, “Oh, is it true that I order screws under such amazing people?” I feel proud to be involved in a highly technical field like astronomy, and to be able to see and support people working hard at the forefront of their fields. I would like to continue to support every one of them so that they can pursue their own passions without being distracted.

Fair and respectful environment

It may not be just in my project, but also in NAOJ as a whole, that there is no discrimination based on whether someone is a contract employee or a clerical worker. Scientists seem fair-minded and pay equal respect to everyone who works hard. I feel that there is always someone who appreciates what I have done. When I had just arrived here, there was a big conference and I was working late at night, when a professor who usually seems unapproachable sent me an email and wrote in the closing paragraph, “You did a great job!” That warmed my heart. Even if I have to deal with difficulties, such kind words make me forget all my troubles.

One day, I noticed something odd; when the clerical workers came into the office every morning, the air conditioner was already turned on. It turned out later that a researcher who came into work earlier than us turned on the air conditioner in our office so we wouldn’t feel cold or hot. I really appreciate such thoughtfulness, even when it is not apparent.

Junko Sugimoto during the interview.

Rather than just working hard

A while back, a senior coworker said to me, “Why don’t we plant flowers there?” and we started to plant flowers in the flower bed in front of the entrance. That coworker has already left NAOJ, and now I take care of the flowers alone. I used to fetch water from a little ways away for watering them, but one day I found that the water tap right next to the flower bed had become useable. I guess someone might have attached the faucet for me. When I am tending the flowers, people often come and talk to me, and that is also a big encouragement.

NAOJ has a variety of club activities; I am one of the founding members of the chorus club established in 2018. This club started with only three to four members but had around 20 members at its peak. Unfortunately, its activities are currently suspended due to COVID-19, but every time the members assembled for practice, each one of them seemed to be having fun. One of my dreams, connecting with friends through songs, has come true. I also act as a member of the origami club. This “Yoda” looks much like the real one, doesn’t it? [points at a piece of work on her desk]

There are various other clubs in NAOJ, such as soccer and baseball. Students who work in our lab exercise together in these clubs and then get back to their research. Rather than just working hard, the people here embrace peace of mind, and such a relaxed attitude may permeate throughout NAOJ’s atmosphere.

 Junko Sugimoto at the flower bed in front of the entrance of the Main Building.
Works created by members of the origami club.

Interview Date: February 26, 2021 / Published: July 19, 2021
Interview & Article: Masami Usuda / Translation: Ryo Sato and Ramsey Lundock / Photo: Yutaka Iijima
With a few exceptions, the contents of this article are as of the interview date.