The JENESYS (Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths), is the best trip of my life. The experience was unlike any other, with participants from Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Philippines, and not only was it educational, it has helped me grow individually.
The Singapore participants consisted of two 16 and two 17 year-olds Abbas, Arieshah, my schoolmate, Maghfirah, and myself. Kak Nabillah was our supervisor.
Initially, I was nervous and quite worried to partake in this programme after being nominated by my teacher, knowing that I hold the reputation of a madrasah student. Furthermore the trip was with people that I had just met for the first time 2 days before the trip. I knew I had to prepare myself mentally and emotionally in any case the five of us fail to get along. However, I believe I was more exhilarated for the new experience and that diminished my worries.
I still remember the first thing Kak Nabillah said to us just after we checked in, “Do not trouble others and don’t be a burden to people.” She reminded us that we were representing our country so we have to be well-mannered. Our initial conversations with Kak Nabillah sounded very rigid and formal but it changed immediately soon after.
Out of the many sites that we visited, the Nagasaki Peace Park made me realise the importance of peacebuilding which was this year’s theme.
The Nagasaki Peace Park is a tranquil space that commemorates the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9 1945, which destroyed a significant part of the city and killed ten thousands of its inhabitants immediately.
The park had 16 monuments only 2 of which sculpted by locals. The rest of them were gifted from countries like Turkey, Cuba. The sculptures really channeled the desperation for world peace. The world had seen its effects, Japan went through the catastrophe and nobody wants history to repeat itself.
Like how the world came together to spread this message I envisioned Singaporeans to do the same. Everyone putting in the effort to be more understanding and tolerant inter and intra-religiously, nationally and internationally. We should not wait for another calamity to strike before uniting as one again.
The peace statue(middle picture) had meaningfully sculpted gestures. The right hand pointing upwards indicating the atomic bomb and left hand held up horizontally symbolising balance and peace. His eyes shut and crossed right leg indicates meditation, conveying silence to the victims. Lastly, the grounded left leg implies readiness to rescue victims.
Then we started pointing out all the beautiful autumn trees which got Kak Nabillah explaining to us about urban planning that must have taken place before the park was put together. It’s amazing how all the trees and bushes there were planted and manicured to complement all the monuments.
The Singaporean delegates with the travel agent in Nagasaki.
The next highlight of the trip was the homestay. We were informed before the trip that the hosts were Japanese Muslims, so we did not have to worry about our dietary requirements and prayer times. However, during the journey to our hotel in Nagasaki, we were told that the organisers could not find any Muslims hosts. I felt really anxious.
When I arrived at my homestay, I got to know that my host family barely knew anything about Islam. I tried my best to share with them about Islam and was very careful with my choice of words, lest they misunderstand and their view of Islam might be affected negatively. It was especially difficult for me to explain because my host has a poor grasp of the English language and so, I had to rely heavily on Google translate. I shared with them regarding what is permissible for us Muslims to consume and what is not. I emphasized that pork and alcohol is haram.
My host family consists of 7 members, the father, mother, 3 sons, grandmother and the cat. Throughout the homestay, I managed to communicate a lot with the mother, Mrs Naomi Nakamura. Amongst the topics that we talked about was school.
Mrs Nakamura was appalled when I told her that my school starts at 7.30AM and ends at 3PM. “What do you do for the rest of the day then? Japanese students go to school at 8AM and come home at 7PM.” My impression of the Japanese being constantly busy was affirmed. I observed that Japanese families are closely-knitted and I wonder how do they juggle family and their intense work and school schedule. Perhaps the effects of living while placing dominance on work has led to Japan’s ageing population.
Mrs Nakamura and I also discussed about the standards of women people around the world have towards them. She shared that in Japan, men are of higher standar and are not viewed on par with women. On hindsight, I realized that the political and historical figures, samurai, emperors and even warriors were mostly men. It is surprising to me that an advanced country like Japan still subscribes to patriarchy when women leaders are equally capable to lead and succeed. Currently, Japan still strives for gender equality primarily in politics.
There was one thing I find attractive amongst the Japanese, and it was sincerity in the work that they do. Sincerity bears fruit although it cannot be seen through the naked eye. One can see the sincerity of a person by observing how he does his work. Most of the Japanese I came across there did their work isshoukenmei, which roughly translates to pouring with all your heart.
All ASEAN delegates with JICE’s CEO and the ambassador from the Philippines
The fondest memory I have on this trip was when we missed our connecting flight from KL to Singapore. Kak Nabillah concealed her panic and made sure that everyone remained calm. Nevertheless, I believe she was proud when everyone rose up to the occasion and handled it well. She delegated tasks for us- to check train and bus timings and to compare prices, and we heeded her instructions.
The whole trip would not have been as jovial and exciting if not for the company. Everyone was so kind and eager to learn. It is on this trip that I realised the blessing of being multilingual. Being fluent in both English and Malay has helped us interact with the Japanese counterparts as well as the other participating countries- Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. This has allowed me to forge precious friendship bonds that I will cherish and hold on to for life. While I am aware that this friendship might not stand the test of time and distance, I am contented knowing that the time I spent with them have been very heartwarming.
This one week long trip was a visual delight and has allowed my friends and I to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and grow. Growth is best when shared with people. May we all strive to grow individually and help our community grow, and hopefully, it will strengthen our ties and promote peace within our capacity.
Maghfirah Bte Senewi (17) and Muhammad Isyraq Bin Abdul Aziz (17),
Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah