A Faculty Member’s Ethnographic Research in Bangladesh



Bangladeshi working on the boats. Photo courtesy of Akiko Nosaka

By Chris Park ’20

        A faculty member who was born and raised in Japan and is an associate professor in Anthropology Department at Pacific Lutheran University shared her ethnographic research in Bangladesh from 1995 to 1996 as a researcher to acquire a Ph.D. Eventually, this research has not only given her a Ph.D, but it has also made her to become a better as a person.

        Akiko Nosaka chose to go to Bangladesh for several reasons. The major reason was that she had been interested in the fertility issue in Bangladesh. Specifically, she had been curious about how the fertility rate in Bangladesh was constantly low. Another reason was the fact that the population of Bangladesh was dominantly made up of Muslims. Bangladesh is made up of 90.2 percent of Muslims which means almost 9 out of 10 persons are Muslims in this nation.

        In addition, her academic advisor who was familiar with Bangladesh strongly encouraged Nosaka. She had been excited not knowing how Bangladesh would treat her.

        When Nosaka arrived in a village of Bangladesh, she got shocked. In fact, she had known before she went to Bangladesh that it was one of the poorest countries in the world. However, as she saw the magnitude of the condition before her eyes, she was terrified. People in the village had a different concept about material unlike Akiko.

        Terry Fung who is a student at Pacific Lutheran University also went to Bangladesh recently. “What I saw in Bangladesh was more than I had thought from watching TV. I never thought of my life as blessed, however, I have become so humble since I experienced the living condition in Bangladesh,” Fung said.


A rickshaw driver. Photo courtesy of Akiko Nosaka

        They did not have any gas for cooking, water purifiers, air conditioners which were necessary in tropical countries. Furniture was limited, but surprisingly, she found out they had radios. To them, radio was the only advanced item which would give them entertainment.

        What surprised her the most was the huge gap between rich and poor people. She had never thought that the gap between rich and poor would be visible. Bangladesh was very different from the nations that she had been to. The wealthiest 20 percent of Bangladeshis control 42.8 percent of the wealth while the poorest 20 percent of the population control only 3.9 percent of the wealth. In fact, the poorest 40 percent of the population controls just 20.7 percent of the wealth.

         The gap was huge enough for her to visually notice. Nosaka compared Bangladesh with Japan where she had been born and raised based on her experience in Bangladesh. She had hard time finding a similarity. However, she talked about gender roles in Bangladesh and Japan.


A shabby house in rural area of Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Akiko Nosaka

        Although women’s roles in Japan were less oppressive than Bangladesh, she recognized the concept of gender roles was not too different from Japan. Other than gender roles, everything else was different from Japan: Technology, living environment, sanitary, cultures, foods, weather. Her time in Bangladesh was the most challenging period of Nosaka’s life.

        Her ethnographic research in Bangladesh was a-year long. Therefore, getting used to whole new culture was necessary. However, it was not so easy for her to get used to culture in Bangladesh within a year.

        One of the suffering moments of Nosaka was teenage boys’ intense teasing. In addition, she did not have her privacy at all. Whenever she was walking outside, about 20 people kept following her. The reason for this was because they had not seen a person who was from the relatively wealthy area in comparison with Bangladesh.

        She explained about sanitary environment as well. At one time, Nosaka was very sick due to vulnerable sanitary environment in Bangladesh. “I was extremely sick and I blamed myself for not having the same immune system as Bangladeshi,” Nosaka said.

        However, she also talked about the lessons that were learned from all these hardships. One of the things was unless one physically experiences something, it may not be accurate. Although it had been a life-challenging moment at the time, she became appreciated as she looked back her time in Bangladesh. Bangladesh was her turning point which has made her confident as an anthropologist. 

        In addition, the research made her rethink about materialism. “I questioned myself what the real-life satisfaction really is. They looked all happy and enjoyed without what we had by the time,” Nosaka said. She explained her ethnographic research in Bangladesh was painful to her, but at the same time, was a priceless lesson that she would never be able to buy.

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