Looking Back

Bina Antarbudaya
5 min readDec 24, 2022

Muhammad Rafif Aloewie — INA AKP to Japan YP 22/23

What comes to your mind when you hear the word Japan? Anime, ramen, vending machines, J-Pop, is what probably passes the mind of most people. And what if i told you you’re gonna spend ten whole months living in Japan. What do you imagine your life will be like?

Hi there I’m Rafif and I’m one of 33 Indonesian students in the Asia Kakehashi Project exchange program. And… for my placement I got Obu city! “Huh? Where even is that?” I first thought, I’ve never heard of that place before so I went on Google to look it up. Obu city is located inside Aichi Prefecture with its infamous speciality for locally grown grapes. You may have also never heard of it since it’s not as famous as the other more popular cities of Japan. Excited as I may be, I know that my life in Japan is going to be quite different from what I had in my mind. And for the school, I’m gonna be attending Obu Higashi, “Higashi” means “Eastern” so the school name is literally “Eastern Obu High School”. Now that my placement has been decided, It’s time to go to Japan! Nope, not yet. Before that all of the participants from Indonesia are going to have an orientation event. The event was great since I got to link up with the other participants from Indonesia.

And now, finally, we’re going to Japan!

The flight was around six hours long, the longest flight that I’ve ever taken in my life. In each of the plane’s seats, there’s a TV on which you can do all kinds of things, they got movies, music, games, etc. But the coolest of them all is a live map, where you can see the location of the plane right now. Beside me is Fikra, another participant from Indonesia. We were roommates back in the orientation and now we’re seat-mates too. I wonder how likely that is to happen. Even on the plane and all, we’re hella surprised because the stewardesses are all Japanese, and the food they’re serving are Japanese as well.

Time skipped six hours, and we finally arrived at Narita Airport, Tokyo. It was like five in the morning and everyone was tired. We grouped up and exited the airport. As soon as we got out, we could feel that we were truly stepping foot in Japan, the air, road, trees, everything was different, and we rode the bus to the hotel for another orientation event. This time, on the International scale. We’re going to have the international orientation for seven days, then we’re going to be sent to our own placements. Or so was the plan, since I was tested positive with COVID. Sadly, I was the only one from Indonesia who was positive. Because of this, I had to be transferred to a hotel for COVID patients. Well, at least I get to experience being a COVID patient in Japan.

During my stay in the hotel, I met with two other participants who also got COVID. One of them can’t eat beef, and as a muslim, i wasn’t allowed to eat pork. Our rooms are right beside each other. One evening, i just woke up, and it’s right on dinner. I want to pick up my bento early because if I wait too long, it’s gonna be a little crowded and I don’t really wanna interact with other people. Especially in a hotel full of COVID patients. So I stood up, wore my converse without socks and laces, hung loose and walked to the meal pick-up spot looking like a divorced middle aged man. Grab my meal, go back to my room, and eat. For a facility whose purpose is to facilitate the sick, The food was un-ironically good. I ate by the window while watching the sunset, even though the meal I just ate tastes kinda off. I just brushed it off and went back to sleep. Not long after, the unbearably noisy ringing of the room telephone woke me up. It was the staff, he told me that i took the wrong meal and the meal that i took is my room neighbor’s, which contains pork. I literally jumped. Later on I apologized to him about the meal incident, he was really chill about it though so i’m glad. Moving on to daily life, unfortunately, the students of my high school aren’t all that welcoming. There are some incidents that happened, but that is a story for another day. On the other hand, my host family is really chill. They’re really busy but they really took care of me so I tried to help them as much as I could.

One of the main objectives of this program is cultural exchange, and considering that now is summer holiday, what could be a better way to learn Japan’s culture other than summer festivals! Summer festivals in Japan are mainly Bon Odori, and Hanabi Matsuri (Firework Festival ) but there are many other festivals, usually original to each city. Luckily, there is a big one in the next city. It’s called Mando Matsuri ( Paper Lantern Festival ) in Kariya City. Mando Matsuri is an over 230 year old festival believed to ward off disasters and fire accidents. Mando, the paper machete can reach 5m and can weigh up to 60kg. The performers carried the gigantic paper mache circling the street around the shrine. There are also a lot of the classic food and game stalls. Other than festivals, there’s also the Bunkasai ( Cultural day ) after the summer. For this event, each class prepares a game or activity to do, then the students can go around the school and try the games that each class prepared. I also held a talk show about Indonesia while wearing a Sasak traditional costume.

Looking back, it has been four months since I arrived in Japan. Many things happened, both good and not so good ones. I could only tell so much of my experiences here. If you want to know more about my exchange experience be sure to check me out on social media or hit me up on my email. Thank you for reading my story and cheers for another six months!

Instagram : @murafiif

Email : muhammadrafifaloewie@gmail.com

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Bina Antarbudaya

The Indonesian Foundation for Intercultural Learning Official Partner of AFS Programs