Does living in Japan make you Japanese?

I went on a job interview to a very interesting place yesterday. It was a science lab, I won’t tell you what that lab was. You know, if you tell your wish it won’t come true kind of stuff. But the communication with people who work there made me wonder about foreigners living in Japan.

Three years in Japan is an achievement, I must say. The professors at my university lived in Japan more than ten or twenty years. But I speak for myself, living in Japan more than two years is an achievement. Why? Because it is a country with different language, food, lifestyle and even time zone.

Being a foreigner in Japan means constantly mediating between yourself as a being of a foreign culture and yourself as a member of a certain society. Gradually you change and adjust your body, your habits and way of thinking to Japanese lifestyle.

The science gives an answer

The scientific point of view was explained to me at that interesting lab. They say that human DNA changes. The factors that influence these changes is a different environment in which a person lives, difference in lifestyle, including the amount of stress you are experiencing during a certain period, different food you eat and even the language you speak. All these factors are encrypted in human DNA in a form of a certain environment acceptance/resistance mechanism. The discussion didn’t go any further but I believe that even cancer at some point enters our DNA along with all other different ways of responding to changes in the environment.

Personal impression

So, does living in Japan make you Japanese? In a way it does. Having lived for three years in Japan, I believe I’ve become 0,00000000000000000000000000001% Japanese. Talking with my friends and family, I can certainly sense how different my way of thinking has become. For example, I changed the paradigm of “us-them”, and Japan became “us”. However little this may seem, it is a great shift! Looking back, I must say that I definitely was not prepared for these changes.

Those of you who are going to Japan for a long-term period should think about how much of Japanese culture you are ready to absorb. Double or triple it in your mind and you might get a picture of yourself after three years in Japan.

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