Name: Yuka Ozaki
Status at Waseda University: 1st year, Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies (GSAPS) Master's Course
In October of 2016 I participated in the two-month “Ship for South East Asian and Japanese Youth Program”, an international youth exchange program sponsored by the Japanese Cabinet Office. Originally created in January of 1974 through a joint declaration between Japan and various SE Asian governments, the program is currently run by the Japanese government in cooperation with 10 different SE Asian nations and celebrates its 43rd voyage this year. The aims of this program are primarily to promote international friendship and understanding and to encourage youth participation in social activities. Every year this program gathers roughly 330 young men and women from Japan and participating countries on board a ship where they live and work together over a two month period.
During these two months, we participated in a variety of activities not only on board the ship, but also within Japan and in various SE Asian countries as well. During our time in Japan, we formed 11 groups made up of two to three members from each participating country and visited 11 different prefectures. During these visits, each group conducted exchange with local people and got to experience a homestay in a Japanese home.
The view from the prow of the boat
As for our activities on board the ship, we held discussion sessions on a variety of different topics, as well as organizing activities and giving presentations to share aspects of each participating country’s traditional culture. For example, the Japanese participants introduced Japan through demonstrations of “furoshiki", tea ceremony and “yosakoi” dancing as well as presentations featuring highlights from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Additionally, living conditions were arranged so that three participants from different countries would share one cabin together. Thanks to this arrangement, I was able to develop quite a close connection with my cabin-mates, often sharing noodles and drinks as we talked into the small hours of the morning.
Participants wearing the traditional dress of their home countries
One activity that left a particularly deep impression on me was our very own “Furoshiki”demonstration. In our presentation we touched not only on the long history of “Furoshiki” in Japan but also its many practical modern-day applications in reducing daily trash and waste. After our presentation, we took a number of colorful and richly patterned “furoshiki” and taught the other participants how to wrap objects of various shapes and sizes such as bags and plastic bottles. Afterwards, we heard a lot of positive comments such as“ the great thing about ‘furoshiki’ is that you don’t need to throw them away like plastic bags” and “I never knew one sheet of cloth could have so many different uses!” And even after our presentation was over, I noticed a lot of the other SE Asian participants actually using “furoshiki” in their day to day activities. Thanks to this presentation, we were able not only to teach others about Japanese traditions but also to remind ourselves of the usefulness of “furoshiki” as well gain a fresh perspective on our own culture in the process.
Participants holding bags made from “furoshiki”
As for the overseas portion of our trip, we paid courtesy calls to a number of local governing bodies and participated in homestays with local families. In total we visited 4 different countries: Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia. These visits were a valuable opportunity for us to directly experience a different culture, and to get a taste of the different lifestyles, religions, and social issues that make up the fabric of everyday life in each of these countries. For example, during my homestay in Indonesia, my hosts cooked a number of traditional dishes and introduced me to their extended family over dinner. During such leisurely and extended sessions, we were able to open up to each other and share our cultural and religious views along with our hopes and dreams for the future, thereby deepening our mutual understanding and appreciation for each other. But beyond even this, I was truly moved at how my hosts treated me just like a member of the family. I will never forget how my host parents took me aside on the last day of my homestay and told me “You are our daughter forever!” On the day our ship was due to leave port, my host family even took time off from their school and work just to see us off on the pier. I look forward to seeing them all again very soon!
Saying goodbye to my host family on the day of our departure
Thanks to this program, not only did I learn more about SE Asia’s many different cultures, traditions and lifestyles, but I was also able to deepen my understanding of my own Japanese culture as well. Additionally, through meeting so many other participants and host families, I gained a large number of friendships that will last well into the future. Looking back now on my experience, I feel that although those two months were only a very short period of time, I will treasure the experiences and friendships I made there for the rest of my life.
A group photo session of participants from 11 different countries