Lives of the Nikkei scholarship ‘Dream Come True Project’ students～Rafaela Sayuri Cicalise Takeshita
Why did you decide to study in Japan?
I am veterinarian, interested in welfare and conservation of nonhuman primates. My home country, Brazil, has a vast diversity of nonhuman primate species, with many being endangered, due to human-animal conflicts and to the little information available on their biology and ecology. Despite this situation, research of primates in Brazil is yet quite limited, possibly affected by the limited funding available for wildlife research and the low number of qualified researchers. On the other hand, Japan has a long record of studies dedicated to primatology, not only in Japan, but also in east Asia, Africa, and some studies in south America. My goal with the Nikkei scholarship was to learn non-invasive methods to monitor primate health and stress, and in the future, to apply these methods in Neotropical primates from Brazil, to contribute to their conservation.
How was your life in Japan?
The 5 years I spent as Nikkei scholar were very productive for both my personal and professional development. On my professional career, I obtained experience in laboratorial analyses and in fieldwork and developed projects, which resulted in several publications and appearances in the media. On my personal side, I learned about Japanese culture and customs and I made good Japanese friends. Initially, I felt it was a bit hard to integrate in the Japanese community, but eventually I learned that cultural differences and language play an important role in overcoming this issue. Thanks to the activities of Nippon Zaidan and NFSA, I had many opportunities to exchange experience and information with different communities of Japanese, from high school students to owners of big successful companies. I also learned about the main problems of current Nikkeis living in Japan, and participated in activities to encourage them to pursue their dreams and in workshops to promote discussion between Japanese and nikkeis.
Tell us about your past study or research.
My research focuses in the mechanisms involved in animal adaptation to environmental challenges, and to associate longevity with stress. For this, I am associating biological, environmental and social factors influencing adrenal and gonadal hormones in Japanese monkeys and orangutans by fecal samples. Adrenal hormones can indicate stress status, and gonadal hormones indicate reproductive status. Understanding how these processes are connected is essential to interpret physiological changes throughout the life history of primates. Such information helps us to develop methods to determine stress levels and their potential impact in animal reproduction and survival chances in the wild. Regular monitoring of wild primates is also necessary to evaluate the efficiency of conserve strategies to mitigate human-animal conflicts and to improve primate welfare in captivity.
Did your consciousness as a Nikkei change in any way through studying in Japan?
Before I come to Japan I wasn’t aware about the issues faced by young nikkeis in Japan. Most of them have a hard time to adapt to Japan, and instead of trying to integrate in the society, they remain in their local communities, with a limited education in Japanese language. This contributes to their social segregation and reduces opportunities to develop professionally in Japan. Similarly, Japanese living in Brazil face similar problems to adapt to the cultural differences. Brazil has a lot to offer in terms of biodiversity and culture, and Japan has the tools necessary to explore that. And Nikkeis are the result of previous collaborations between Japan and Brazil that resulted in mutual benefits. As Nikkeis working to get the best from both countries, we should inspire young nikkeis to pursue their dreams and help to strengthen the relationship between Japan and Brazil.
Tell us about your plan after graduation.
I am currently a research associate at the Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University. I continue my research on primate welfare, and I assist in workshops to promote English communication in science. My goal is to continue contributions to primatology, and to obtain teaching experience to help me get a considerable position afterwards. I also maintain collaborations with my previous university in Brazil to contribute to Brazilian research in primatology and to strengthen their international collaborations. I often give lectures to undergraduate students when I visit Brazil, to explain the possibilities and benefits of studying abroad for the progress of science.
Please give a message to students who are considering studying in Japan.
This is a valuable and unique opportunity to develop your professional career and expand your knowledge. To get the most of this experience, pay special attention to developing your language skills (English and Japanese) and by maintaining good continuous relationships with both Japanese and you home country’s institutes, always aiming for collaborations. Grab opportunities to travel, experience, and discover. Knowledge is never too much.