JSPS Quarterly
No.45 2013 Autumn

Research and Life in Japan by a JSPS Fellow (33)

Dr. Ezzikouri Sayeh
Dr. Daniele Magistro

JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, Tohoku University, Japan, 2012-present
Lecturer, University Interfaculty School of Motor Science, University of Turin, Italy, 2011-present
Doctoral Degree, University Interfaculty School of Motor Science, University of Turin, Italy, 2012

Hailing from Italy, Dr. Daniele Magistro conducted his research with his host Prof. Ryuta Kawashima at Tohoku University from November 2012 to November 2014 under a JSPS postdoctoral fellowship. After having received his PhD in Psychological, Anthropological and Educational Sciences from the University of Turin, he launched his career in research as a JSPS postdoctoral fellow.

What are you currently researching under the JSPS fellowship?

The health of and care for a rapidly growing older population across the world poses a number of challenges. Among them are the burden imposed by the physical, mental and neurological conditions on older citizens, which exerts a significant impact on their working capacity, quality of life, and that of their caregivers. These interact with the course and treatment of comorbidities frequently associated with ageing.
The main objective of my research is to improve the elderly’s quality of life, coherently with WHO priorities on Active and Healthy Ageing to support people’s health and well-being.
Specifically, my research aims to do the following: First, to implement a valid, efficient dual-task physical/cognitive training program aimed at positively affecting various physical and cognitive outcomes such as mobility function, attention and working memory. Second, to understand the effect of dual-task training on neural mechanisms. Third, to assess the relationships among executive functions, working memory and attention on one side, and physical performance, especially in terms of walking coordination tasks, in the elderly population on the other side.

How did you become interested in your research field?

My master’s degree is in Sciences and Techniques of Adapted Physical Activity, so I’m interested in all aspects of human movement related to different intensities of physical exercise, both in individuals who are healthy and not, within stabilized and supervised clinical conditions, concurrent or subsequent to various pathologies. We consider older adults to be a population with specific needs. It is well documented that normal ageing is associated with deterioration in cognitive and motor functioning; however, several studies have shown that a decline of physical and psychological skills in senior citizens is not inevitable. I like to study the relationship between movement and physiological,psychological and neurological changing processes.

That’s very interesting. How did you get to know your Japanese host researcher?

Prof. Kawashima is very well known in the fields of neuroscience and ageing research. During my PhD studies, I attended an intensive course for graduate students on “Ageing Society and Sustainable Development” at Hokkaido University in Sapporo. After that, my supervisor and I went to Sendai and he introduced me to Prof. Kawashima. Subsequently, I wrote to Prof. Kawashima and asked him about the possibility of becoming my host researcher.

What else led you to choosing Japan to pursue your research?

Japan has many prominent scientists, advanced apparatuses, and a good research atmosphere. Looking at their scientific achievements, it’s plain to see that Japanese researchers are making important contributions to science. Kawashima Lab is well known in my research field. Being in Japan gave me the opportunity to work in such a famous laboratory. Moreover, the situation of Japan’s ageing society is similar to the Italian one. That also motivated me to try to do my research in Japan.

Now, what is your impression of your host institution?

My institution, the Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, Tohoku University is located in Sendai City. The lab’s research resources are very good and innovative. The university also offers me a beautiful and quiet environment both in and out of the lab. All the members of our laboratory are friendly to me, and I am really enjoying my work here with them.

Generally speaking, what is your impression of Japan’s research environment?

The research environment in Japan is very competitive, which spurs new ideas and advanced technologies. Integrated within the flow of globalization, Japan is recognized as one of the world’s most vibrant research environments replete with extensive international exchanges and collaborations.

What are you achieving in your research under the JSPS fellowship?

Last month, I successfully completed an experimental dual-task training system for older adults. Now, I am going to analyze data from the experiment to evaluate the effect of the training relative to their motor, psychological and neurological aspects. Then, I will write papers and submit them for publication in an international journal.

What do you do outside your research work?

I go sightseeing to various places in Japan. I have already been to Tokyo, Kyoto, Sapporo, and Hiraizumi, as well as to Fukushima, Yamagata and Iwate prefectures. I like to visit historic sites of interest and enjoy a variety of Japanese traditional foods. In Sendai, there are a lot of opportunities for me to participate in traditional activities and events, which helps me to learn about Japanese culture and customs and to enjoy my daily life in Japan.

You have gone to many places in Japan. As interesting places to visit, do you have recommendations for researchers from other countries?

I think Tokyo, Nara, Kyoto are very good places to visit. At the same time, the Tohoku area (Aomori, Akira, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata and Fukushima prefectures) is also a very beautiful area, though tourists are not that familiar with it. Especially, these northeastern prefectures have many beautiful spots for hanami, cherry-blossom viewing.

What do you think of life in Japan – its culture and customs?

Japan’s culture and customs are really different from Italy’s. It took some time for me to get used to my new and interesting life style. As Japan has a long and traditional history, it maintains its own culture and customs despite being integrated within a dynamically changing world. I really enjoy learning new things about Japan and Japanese culture every day.

Before coming to Japan, what kind of image did you have of the country? Has your perception changed after coming here?

Before coming to Japan I did not know what to expect. As Italy is geographically far away from Japan, I assumed it would be very different, but in what way, I didn’t know. I knew the history of Japan from studying it in school, and grew up with Japanese pop culture (e.g., LUPIN the third by Monkey Punch, Mazinger Z and Devilman by Go Nagai), so I was excited to learn firsthand about what Japan is actually like.

How was your experience as a lecturer in the Science Dialogue Program at Chiba Prefectural Chosei High School?

Chiba Prefectural Chosei High School is a big institution in Mobara with a lot of good facilities relative to scientific studies and activities. It has a stimulating international environment, as the school is involved in international exchange programs and offers a scientific course with an international teacher.
Giving a lecture at the high school was really interesting and challenging experience for me. In Italy, I experienced teaching a university course, but I did not know how to go about giving a lecture to Japanese high school students. I tried to make the presentation of my research field interactive so it would be less boring. The students who attended were quite motivated and participative; they asked a lot of interesting questions regarding my topic and research in general.
I would like to encourage all JSPS fellows to participate in the Science Dialogue Program, as I believe it will be a really great personal experience for them.

What do you plan to do after your fellowship ends?

I would like to finish my research in Japan. I would like to have the opportunity to remain in this lab and work with my Japanese colleagues until my present research has been completed. Once my fellowship ends, I would like to share my experiences with my Italian colleagues back in Italy, while maintaining a strong relationship with my Japanese colleagues.

Please give some advice for young researchers who may be thinking about doing research in Japan?

I think that for researchers from other countries, especially from European countries, Japan is a great place to work as it offers a high level of technology and innovation. Japan is also a great place for developing one’s research skills and gaining general research experience. Doing research here has definitely been a valuable experience for me.

In our interview with Dr. Magistro, we found that his life as a researcher in Japan has not only been very fruitful but also enjoyable. In describing his ongoing research, he gave interesting examples of commonalities and contrasts between Italian and Japanese societies. His work is very timely at this critical juncture of ageing societies around the world, particularly as it seeks to mitigate adverse conditions that the elderly can suffer. We look forward to the publication of the work he has been carrying out with his Japanese colleagues, and to the bridges they will build between the research communities of Japan and Italy and Europe at large.

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JSPS Quarterly No.45 2013