Report (Ms. Choo Jia Hsien, Short term exchange program 2019)
A Japanese Midsummer Dream in Ehime (22 July 2019 – 22 August 2019)
“It was a summer filled with joy, wonders and discovery. It was a burst of everything beautiful, the food, culture, people and nature, just like fireworks, all interwoven into one month of our midsummer dreams.”
Ehime University’s short-term summer exchange program was held in collaboration with University of Malaya, where twelve (12) students from the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology were selected to participate. In one month, these Malaysian students partook in laboratory work and industrial visit, attended Japanese language classes, explored scenic places in and around Ehime prefecture and enjoyed various Japanese summer festivals.
Overview and Summary
Over the span of five weeks, we had a balance of work and fun. In the first week, we settled into Imaichi Share House. On the second day, we attended orientation briefing. We were provided with various handouts that included maps, Matsuyama guidebook and our important student identity cards. We were briefed on the schedule throughout the exchange, essential information and arrangements to obtain our bicycles. A welcoming speech was given by the program coordinator, Professor Hideaki Yasuhara. We were then ushered to our respective laboratories to be briefed by sensei and research mentor on our work and expected deliverables. We did some lab work on the first week.
First look at our new university
On the second week, we continued with our assigned lab work. Additionally, we attended 1.5 hours of Japanese language lessons daily, taught by a few instructors. We had our industrial visit at Iseki & Co., Ltd., which manufactures state-of-the-art technologies on agricultural machineries. We were given a tour around manufacturing and assembly sites. We admired the wide array of equipment that were on display at Iseki Dream Museum. On the third week, we resumed our work, which were mostly in preparation for our presentation and report. Most of our presentations were held on Friday (9th August 2019). Throughout these three weeks, our weekends were spent by travelling and wandering to places in and out of Matsuyama.
Obon holiday week coincided with our fourth week. Most laboratories were closed as it was a national Japanese summer holiday. All of us utilised the free week to explore places beyond Ehime. Some of us visited areas around Hiroshima and Imabari while others visited Kansai region, Takamatsu and Tokushima prefecture.
In our final week, we had our completion ceremony on 20th August 2019, where all the exchange students were presented with certificates. A farewell lunch party was held after the ceremony, where all of the exchange students, their professors and research mentors were invited. We returned our bicycles on the following day. On the final day, we bade farewell and were given a warm send-off at Matsuyama Airport.
Snippets and details of favourite moments:
Experiencing my laboratory work and interacting with Japanese students (Choo)
This is the quintessence and the core of this exchange program. All of us were based in laboratories we have selected. Being academically inclined and an undergraduate research assistant myself, I was most interested in how Japanese researchers conduct their experiments, their work culture and work environment. Every exchange student was placed under a sensei for his or her laboratory work. I was under the supervision of Dr. Yamamuro and his student, Mr. Takasugi, a master degree student in his first year. My laboratory work was on synthesising silicon carbide (SiC).
Experiments were conducted in laboratories but I spent most of my weekdays in the office with Dr. Yamamuro’s students. There were 16 of us in the office, they were either in their final year of their undergraduate degree or master degree students. At first, it was awkward for me as I was the only foreigner in the office. The biggest challenge was language barrier and cultural differences, but I felt right at home after a few days. During experiments, I was thoroughly guided by Dr. Yamamuro’s students. I observed that the equipment in the laboratory were well maintained and orderly. I also noted that students were meticulous in their work, paying attention to the smallest of details.
My first week was spent on conducting experiments while the following week was focused on data analysis, studying and preparation for presentation. Throughout those two weeks, I had lots of fun learning from my office mates about everything in Japan. They were always enthusiastic, courteous, friendly, curious and above all, generous and kind. I was included in their weekly office clean up sessions where I helped to sweep the floor and throw out rubbish. I participated in weekly meetings with sensei and his students. One of the sensei’s students excitedly showed me his presentation for Open Campus and I was given explanation on his simple experiment on magnetism.
Lab work and some noodle exchange
A typical day entailed coffee break, fun chats with office mates and report writing. In between work, we shared with each other pictures of places, food and festivals. I was furnished with unique facts about Matsuyama, one of which is the fact that oranges grown here are most popular. With the aid of Google Translate, we exchanged stories of our own country. They taught me Japanese language and I taught them simple Malay greetings. I got to know their favorite songs, sports and most importantly, I practiced Japanese culture with them. There were always snacks in the office, whenever anyone came back from out of town. I was literally showered with a variety of Japanese snacks and sweets! This was the epitome of any exchange experience. My time at the office were loaded with laughter, joy, snacks, coffee and good vibes. They were always supportive of my experimental work, attending my final presentation and celebrated my achievement with a sumptuous lunch buffet near Okaido. This whole experience was easily the highlight of my entire exchange journey.
Our activities and events around campus
The campus was buzzing and alive with a few events. In the first week, we attended Exchange Party (AINECS). The party was organized by the university to bring together local, international and exchange students together. It was a melting pot for people of many nationalities, complemented with performances from Ehime students and a mouthwatering palate of food and drinks. We met many local students, a few of whom we instantly made friends with.
The warmth of summer in campus could be felt at Bon Dance Festival in the third week. The atmosphere was alive and bustling with traditional games, students in yukata, snacks and dessert at the booths. Students and staff gathered at the centre of the square and danced away to the melodies of the night. There was an air of excitement, harmony and fondness as we bonded with our friends and lab mates over dance and games.
Whenever we are not in our lab or office, we would spend our time exploring the university campus. We frequented the cafeteria for quick, delectable and healthy meals. We had lunch with our new friends here. Occasionally, we would also get our meals and nibbles from Costa convenience store. We would sometimes finish our work at the library. The campus was dotted with other departments, a museum and stores like Emica, which were all within easy reach by walking. The lushness and greenery of the campus provided relief to the blistering heat and a perfect setting for a stroll in the late afternoons.
Imaichi Share House
Nestled in a quiet residential area, between Ehime University and Dogo Onsen, it was our home for a month. There, we met two other exchange students from Taiwan, both of whom are proficient in Japanese and were most helpful in our day-to-day living. Each of us were given our private rooms which was cozy and well furnished. It was like a dormitory, having to share utilities and common areas. This was a place where we shared stories of our laboratory and office with each other, cooked meals and played games. With our families being so far away, we had each other’s shoulders to cry and lean on, company to laugh with, a person to confide in.
It was a place for us to unwind after a long day. Of course, there were times when we had our inconveniences when we had to wait for our turn for certain utilities. However, the friendship we fostered over our stay was priceless. Most of us did not know each other before this exchange, and suddenly we were in each other’s world.
A usual day starts with a few of us preparing our breakfast, before heading out to the university for laboratory work. In the evenings,most of us would return to cook our dinner. The inn lodger, Ms. Sato, was very accommodating, sorting out any issues in the house despite hurdles in communication. We even celebrated Hari Raya Haji, a Malaysian festival, where we threw a feast consisting of homecooked Malaysian meals. Aromas of Rendang (meat dish) and chicken curry filled the common area, reminiscent of how an open house (house party) is like in Malaysia. We had Malaysian students from Ehime University over too. Truly, our home in Japan felt no different than our home in Malaysia.
A city steeped in history, culture and tradition, Matsuyama exudes an air of conservatism. In stark contrast to cities like Osaka, where skyscrapers and a network of JR that creeps across the city landscape prevail, Matsuyama is a window to the heyday of Japan. A network of trams and the iconic Dogo Onsen bath house invokes the feeling of being in the movie “Spirited Away”. The roads in Japan were cyclist-friendly and we were able to get to many places within a short car ride away, with our trusty bicycles.
Peddling on our bicycles, we often visit Okaido, Dogo Onsen, supermarkets and restaurants. On the first weekend, we were accompanied and given a tour by three Ehime University students, Mr. Nishioka, Mr. Kawaji and Mr. Higashise. They will be going to University of Malaya to undergo their short-term exchange the following month. Together, we visited Matsuyama Castle where we saw a bird’s eye view of the city, a picturesque view of the sprawling urban complexes. They then took us to local shopping heaven, Okaido. They were eager to assist us in exploring the city, as well as providing answers to our questions.
The hills, beaches, shrines and towns just outside of Matsuyama were best explored with a car. We were treated to a zen-filled environment, a delight of what nature in Japan has to offer. A few of us rented a car and saw for ourselves how the concrete jungle slowly morphed into big patches of paddy fields, with hills lining the background and stretching across the land. We visited the nearby sleepy towns of Uchiko and Ozu, where our adventures took us to castles and shrines. Narrow and desolate roads, quaint two-storey shops and small country cottages gave us a glimpse of what rural Japan would have looked like in the Edo period. We swam at Futami beach, where the hills meet the turquoise sea. We were Chihiro (character from ‘Spirited Away’), overlooking the sparkling sea while waiting for the train at Shimonada Station.
Our day trip to outskirts of Matsuyama, the paddy fields near Ozu, Shimonada Station, Futami beach, sunset at the beach
We were wonderstruck by the booming fireworks at Iyoshi and Mitsuhama Fireworks Festival on the first and second weekend respectively. We were lost amongst the crowd, in a sea of colorful kimonos and food carts. Despite that, we managed to get good view of the fireworks, blasting in spectrums of colours, synching with mellow songs played throughout the night. All those endless fireworks invoked our inner joy and happiness, a moment in summer where we wished it could last.
Fully immersed in the serenity and tranquility of the city, complimented by the friendly and lovely locals, we felt Matsuyama was a home, close to our hearts. A home, where age-old tradition meets the present. For me, this exchange programme fostered international friendships which lasts a lifetime.
Spending our Obon holidays
The Japanese national holiday was also our holiday, as we hustled along with the locals to travel across cities and islands. Six of us went on a 7-day trip around Kansai region,Takamatsu and Tokushima prefectures. Towering concrete structures, miles of railways, shinkansen and throngs of people defined all the cities we went to, namely Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara and Okayama. We did what a typical tourist in Japan does, a lot of shopping and eating. We had a taste of each city’s specialties, like okonomiyaki and kushikatsu for Osaka. We were in awe with megastructures like Akashi Kaikyo Bridge and Umeda Sky Tower. Engrossed in the rich history of Japan, we went to Kyoto National Museum, Osaka Castle and Nara National Park. We kept in touch with nature as we visited parks like Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu and Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter. We had an opportunity to stay at an authentic and cozy homestay, located in a suburb near Takamatsu. We visited Onaruto Bridge where we saw the famed whirlpools under the structure. Every place we went were distinct in its own way, making us realise that there is so much more to offer, urging us to go on more adventures in this country.
Natural and man-made marvels meet: Tsutenkaku and Kushikatsu in Osaka, Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu
Some of us visited parts of Ehime and Hiroshima prefecture. A short road trip with a few of Malaysian Ehime University students took us to Imabari Castle, and Seto Naikai National Park, all nearby Imabari city. Culturally influenced architectures like shrine gates dotted everywhere we went. The crystal-clear waters of the beach and park was perfect for a dip and a relief from the summer heat. Taking a ferry ride across the sea, we visited the symbolic Great Torii Gate at Miyajima Island. We even interacted with deers roaming around the island, such gentle creatures. We visited Hiroshima, A-bomb dome projecting a silhouette of grim and solemn ambience. We heard and read stories from the survivors of that fateful day. Countless orizuru (paper cranes) structures and handicraft were put around A-bomb dome and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, a reminder that there is hope, kindness and humanity even after a traumatic catastrophe.
Hiroshima Memorial Cenotaph and A-bomb Dome
Two different journeys, countless sights and memories, one message:
Japanese culture intertwined with the resilience of her people, where traditions walk hand-in-hand with the future, dictates how far and how much a past shapes her present. We thoroughly enjoyed our Obon holiday, our minds were opened to sights and symbolism behind the many things we watched and observed.
All good stories have an ending, and ours is not an exception. It was not the easiest thing to say goodbye to everyone and every place we visited. A completion ceremony was held where the dean of Engineering, Professor Hiroshi Takahashi presented our completion certificates, attended by some of our supervisors. Then, a farewell party was held by the Engineering Faculty where all the exchange students, their supervisors and some of their lab mates were invited. We were served a lunch buffet with platters of seafood, meat, sushi and drinks. We conversed freely with the students, lab mates and even with other supervisors. Despite our laughter and smiles as we chatter, we couldn’t help but feeling a tinge of sadness as it was to be the last gathering of our wonderful friends in Japan. We returned our bicycles the day after and spent our last day at office with our office mates. For me, bidding goodbye and wishing my office mates the best of everything, was the toughest thing to do.
“The only time goodbye is painful is when you don’t know when you’ll say hello again.”
Thoughts, Closing Remark and Acknowledgement
We are immensely grateful that we were given this lifetime and life-changing opportunity to participate in this short-term exchange program. We would like to thank the Engineering Faculty of Ehime University, General Affairs team, especially Ms. Narumi and Ms. Aya for their endless support. We are extremely appreciative of our supervisors and sensei, our lab mates who opened their hearts to accept us into their circle of friends. From them, we learned so much more than our research topic had to offer. Additionally, we met overseas university students who became our friends, who were very friendly and offered us help and shared insights into how they live their lives in Japan. We were a little less lost when we met Malaysian Ehime University students, who were also our guide and our closest friends, a family far from home. Sometimes, we were lost in translation, but our hearts felt right where we should be.
We were opened to a country, a world so different, a world where age-old tradition merges with the future, a place where her people’s kindness, friendliness and generosity touched us. A window to view both the past and the present. All these delightful combinations of both fast and slow, new and old, brought joy and happiness to us. For many of us, it was the first time we visited Japan but we all know for sure, it will not be the last time.
Thank you for everything, Japan.
From the bottom of our hearts,
Tan, Choo, Laila, Afrina, Chong, Ooi, Juliana, Khor, Farhana, Zaid, Amir and Keeme.
Choo Jia Hsien (チョー)
Second Year B.Eng. Chemical Engineering,
University of Malaya.