Cultural Exchange Transcends Age and Language - Peace Boat visits Semarang (2018)
Following two days on the island of Bali, Peace Boat participants sailed north to the coast of Java for their second Indonesian destination: Semarang. Visiting Indonesia is especially important during Peace Boat's 97th Asian Voyage, which seeks to educate participants about Asia's colonial past. Indonesia fell under Japanese occupation for the final three years of the Second World War, during which time many Indonesians suffered great hardships, including the mass forced mobilization of millions of Indonesians as manual labourers. Paradoxically, the infrastructure and education that accompanied this oppression helped prepare Indonesians to achieve their own independence following the end of the war. Though both Java and Bali shared these wartime hardships, Semarang's Javanese culture is quite different from that of its Balinese neighbour, with unique dialects, art forms, and cultural practices. To learn about this rich heritage, Peace Boat partnered with Universitas Negeri Semarang (UNNES) for a day of education through cultural exchange.
Participants departed from Semarang Port bright and early, learning more about their destination enroute from their guide, Septian Hartiantsyah, a graduate of UNNES' Japanese language program. UNNES is one of Indonesia's top schools, boasting eight faculties and an enrolment of approximately 30,000 students. Tour participants learned that they would be spending the day with both Japanese language and Javanese culture students, who would teach their guests about Semarang's local language, arts, and culture. Upon arrival, participants were greeted warmly by Yusro Edy Nugroho, head of UNNES' Javanese literature department and a teacher of Indonesian as a foreign language, who spoke to them through the translation support of fourth-year Japanese language student Wahyu Nuraeni. Nugroho said his primary responsibility as an educator was "to pass down [our] culture to the next generation of Java" and help international visitors adapt to the Javanese way of living. Before inviting participants to a breakfast buffet of local teas and coconut-based sweets, he expressed his excitement at not only teaching Peace Boat participants about Semarang, but learning about their respective cultures. "I'm excited to see people of different ages and backgrounds sharing with one another," he said.
To begin, the Javanese-culture students performed traditional Gamelan music on a variety of brass percussion instruments, accompanied by three singers. According to Nugroho, "all of the instruments are played differently, but join together in harmony. It's a model for how we can live our lives." They were then joined by a group of young dancers, whose own mesmerizing performance was followed by a short dance lesson for the tour's participants. Finally, participants were invited to try playing Gamelan music themselves with the help of their new friends. Yoko Ohno, a participant joining the voyage from Tokyo, had the opportunity to play the kenong (a set of cylindrical brass instruments played with a mallet). "These instruments make really beautiful and mysterious sounds," said Ohno, "getting to play them along with the students was really moving."
After a morning of cultural activities, tour participants were taken on a tour of the UNNES campus. In addition to each faculty's separate school, the university consists of such specialized venues as an amphitheatre, a sports centre, and a butterfly conservatory. Lunch included Indonesian delicacies like satay (skewered meat served with a spicy peanut sauce), mie goreng (fried rice topped with egg), and tales (a tiny local variant of taro). Participants had the pleasure of enjoying their meal with three international students from the Indonesian Ministry of Education's Darmasiswa program, which has invited approximately 700 youth from over 100 countries to Semarang to take part in a fully-funded nine-month program on Indonesian culture.
The afternoon programme began with Peace Boat's participants sharing Japanese culture through an assortment of activities: making origami (folded paper crafts), playing with kendama (a traditional wooden toy), trying on kimono (Japanese robes), and participating in bon odori (Japanese festival dancing). Tour participants were then treated to one final event: the performance of Wayang Kulit (translated as "leather puppets"), an intricate Indonesian shadow puppet show. Wayang Kulit combines Indonesian myths with gamarang music to create a unique mix of concert, craft, and theatre, rooted in spiritual concepts that transcend religion. Even though the work was presented in Javanese, participant Tamura Tamiko easily connected to the material. "The students were always eager to explain everything to me," said Tamura, "so I was able to understand all of the new things that I experienced today. I feel so fortunate to have made these new friends."