I’m a Japanese behavioral biologist who is studying bird courtship behavior at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. I’m currently based in Germany, but I have also visited Tanzania for my fieldwork.
Japanese women living alone in Europe like me would obviously belong to the minority. When I attended an orientation for Japanese researchers working in Europe, all the participants were men except for me. Besides, I may also be in a significant minority among Japanese overseas, in that I have never had any yearning or ambition to go abroad. In this blog, I will try to explain why I think the current society should promote diversity and equality, based on my background and experiences.
I’m a shy and pessimistic person (it’s just the way I am and not a bad thing for me). To be honest, I am really surprised that I am now working as a researcher abroad and even enjoying it. When I was a child, I had very little idea that I had the right or ability to go abroad and do what I wanted freely. This might be because, in addition to my personality, I grew up in a typical countryside of Japan during my childhood, and there were few people who go abroad or who are familiar with basic science. Even now, if I am not careful, I often forget about my rights and assume that I can’t do what I can actually do. Since I always have such a feeling, I understand how powerful and horrible unconscious bias and suppression are.
I am not the vital and positive person who is imagined as Asian who travels around Europe or Africa to do what I want. One certain reason why I’m here now is that I was just extremely lucky. The lucks are, for example, that I had the time to do my favorite things and to go to school, and I met talented, kind, and fun people.
Matt Ridley described in Nature Via Nurture that human free will is like the flight of a bird in flocks. I think this is really true. Even though it is a fact that I flapped my wings of my own intention and efforts, I can’t think that my personal efforts and abilities have a great influence on my destination compared to where I belonged to the flock or where I flew within the flock (while I never think the effort is meaningless).
Luck has amazing power. It’s true, but the power of luck is not what I want to emphasize the most here. What I’d like to insist is, much of my good luck have been brought by technologies/systems invented by people in the past (sometimes by resisting old systems). This is a very different point from the bird flight.
For example, I can stay and research in Germany now because there are cultural and technical bases that Japanese women can readily access to Europe, and scholarships were available. The internet and language translation tools allowed me to communicate with people and collect information so easily.
Needless to say, these are completely unrelated to my own efforts. I just happen to have been born in this age and am using the systems created by people of the past. I often assume that acquiring scholarships are my own effort, but I cannot apply if the system didn’t exist. I should also not forget many people helped with the application.
According to my experiences of the stay in Japan and Germany (and Tanzania for a short while), it may sound cliche, but I feel that human nature doesn’t change all over the world. What was interesting for me during my stay in Tanzania was that the climate, the culture, and the atmosphere of the people made me feel like I was back in Japan. If I had not lived in Germany for a few years, I might not have had such perspectives. Of course, I have found many similarities between Germany and Japan too.
The more I meet different people in different places, the more I realize and am surprised by my unconscious prejudices and many of the handicaps/privileges of my attribute (there must be more that I haven’t noticed yet). I often regret my past ignorant behaviors at such times. I find it so weird that our attributes such as nationality, where we were born and gender drastically change our rights and choices. I can never say, “make your own luck”, at least in the current world.
I sincerely respect great people who can make the best efforts under their privileged environment, or who defy adversity and develop their talents. However, I doubt that the world where only such kinds of people (+ those who barely pretend to be such people) can succeed is really ideal for generating new ideas with multiple perspectives. I believe that a world with various systems which enable people with various characteristics and attributes to find what they like and what they are good at, and use their abilities without necessarily acting as if they are positive, versatile, strong, and balanced person is more progressive, interesting, and kind.
A version of this text is available in Japanese on Nao’s website.
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