• 2021.01.15
  • Interactive Astronomy
One of the problems with schools that has come to light as a result of the coronavirus is their digital infrastructure.
Before the pandemic hit, the only way education could take place, people believed, was to send kids and teachers to school every day. Once the lockdown happened, it became clear that the gaps in the level of digital infrastructure schools had were leading to educational disparities as well.
Portugal acted quickly on a national level to implement online classes in conjunction with public television—their way of making sure that learning did not stop in the pandemic. Of course there were some regional differences, but they also put IT support measures in place to help teachers.

The pandemic has brought many changes, but learning environments have been among the most affected. Between online classes and remote lectures, you can now learn from anywhere. Even listening to famous instructors from other countries poses no challenge at all.

To make the most of this opportunity, the Escola Japonesa em Lisboa (The Japanese School of Lisbon) applied to participate in the “Interactive Astronomy” program to support its students.
The program is designed to allow astronomers from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan to host their own astronomy classes at elementary and junior high schools across the country.
As long as schools have an internet connection, they can easily take classes in Japan. Still, there were several criteria that the school in Lisbon didn’t meet, so it didn’t get its hopes up about being able to join. And yet—it ended up being accepted! The program leaders were generous and flexible enough to let us push through, and even accommodated the time difference by graciously allowing us to participate in a lecture at the end of our school day. Even that was tremendously happy news, but our joy was multiplied when we learned that our class was to be taught by Professor Mareki Honma.
Professor Honma is the Japan team representative on an international project that was the first ever to photograph a black hole. Both the students and the teachers at the Lisbon school prepared for the day of his lecture by watching videos available online and otherwise learning about the project that Professor Honma supports.

After what seemed like forever, the day of Professor Honma’s black hole class arrived. Before he started, he asked his wife to come on to say hello. Suddenly, an elegant woman came on the screen and started speaking. “Good evening, members of the Japanese School of Lisbon. I attended your school for several years back in XXX. Please keep up your studies and work hard!”
Everyone was shocked, but nobody more than me. Why? Because I also attended the Escola Japonesa em Lisboa back then! That’s right—Professor Honma’s wife and I were classmates! Not only that, we were good friends who spent weekends and Christmases together.
When I thought back on it, I did remember my mom saying something about her marrying an astronomer, but I never thought I’d meet her again this way. It was like something out of a dream.

Meanwhile, taking Professor Honma’s class was like experiencing space travel. He somehow made it easy to picture the vastness of the universe. All of the students—even the youngest ones—listened carefully to the very end without a moment of boredom. Being able to take a class from a renowned professor was such a precious experience for them. And strangely, we have the coronavirus to thank for being able to make it happen in faraway Portugal.

The Interactive Astrology program provided us all with a breath of fresh air in the midst of what has been an exhausting life under the pandemic. The boost it gave our hearts and our minds went far beyond the astronomy we learned.


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

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