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The voyage that unites Asian youth since 1974
Published on: Sunday, January 08, 2017

By Lorena Binisol
IF you were given the opportunity to travel across Asia with most of the expenses taken care of, would you grab it?

The Ship For Southeast Asian Youth Programme (SSEAYP) aims to promote unity among youths from 11 Asian nations with Japan. Initiated by the Japanese government, the Nippon Maru ship went on it maiden voyage on October 7, 1974.

It has been sailing since – every year for the past 42 years!

The voyage which takes almost two months by sea, gives opportunity for everyone on board to mingle with few hundreds of other youth from different nations through various activities on board the seven-storey ship.

One of the activities is having small group discussion on current social issues, finding solutions for some matters and so on. Other activities such as morning exercises, cultural performances, country exhibition day, meetings and events that promote youth’s activities are part of the daily programmes.

Sabahan youth was given the opportunity to be part of boarders of Nippon Maru in 1974 where its first participant was Professor Madya Dr. Harun Pudin, who is now attached to a local university as consultant cum lecturer.

He said the experience of living with youth from different culture had broadened his perspective about life.

“During my time in 1974, there were only four countries participating – Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and Thailand and it was only a two-storey ship. I think there were only some 20 of us youth gathered together in the ship and we did all the activities together. It was fun and we really had time to get to know each other since it was not a big group.

“The only setback was, when we parted we could not immediately get in touch with everyone as we were still young and building our career and so on. Not only that, there were no Facebook or WhatsApp to connect us instantly, only letters through post office and that took quite a lengthy time,” Dr Harun said.

He said today’s youth are very lucky as they can immediately get connected once they complete their voyage with Nippon Maru.

“Technology made it easier for communication. Therefore, the participants of today can straight away do their connection and arrange for the next reunion easily,” he added.

Lai King Hang, a former participant in 1990, shared that he was overwhelmed with the announcement of him being chosen to 36 participants from Malaysia.

“There were other capable members from other states in Malaysia, but I was speechless when they chose me,” said Lai.

He shared that being a leader of the group was quite a challenge as he faced youths from different background and culture. However, through the discussion and meetings with other youth leaders, he had learned a lot in terms of leadership, teamwork and time management.

“This programme broadened my thinking and expanded my circle of friends. And today, whenever I travel anywhere in Asia or Japan for business, I will surely find ways to reconnect with my former Nippon Maru boarders back in 1990,” said Lai, who is now residing in Sandakan manning his business.

Lai also shared that one of the best memories he had was courtesy visit to the royal family of Japan.

“That was one of my best memories, having visited the prince and princess of Japan and the princess who happened to be also a former participant of SSEAYP before my time,” he said.

Masri Awang, 54, represented Labuan in 1991 said he was lucky to be in the SSEAYP programme as it was a rare opportunity at that time.

“As a youth, I was extremely excited about visiting Asian countries. During the journey, there were many activities held on board Nippon Maru and I was appointed as the sound man in-charge of the sound system and got excited about it. In dealing with youth from other countries gave me a better view of how their culture differs from ours and I am glad I went through that beautiful memory with them.

“Participating in charity work in various countries had also made me a confident person hence the experience had taught me to be thoughtful of others.

“I was also active in dancing. I had performed Sumazau, Zapin and Joget in the countries that we visited,” said Masri, who is now working as Senior Chief Clerk with Tourism Malaysia in Labuan.

He said the best moment while in Japan was when he was sent to Gifu prefecture (centre of Japan) for homestay programme.

“While in Gifu, we had the chance to join in the green tea ceremony. I learned that Japanese were very careful in performing any of their ceremony. They take pride to showcase their culture and tea ceremony being the important part of their life.

“They are proud of their culture and values. I learnt a lot from just witnessing the simple ceremony.

To them, culture is something you cannot take for granted,” Masri said, adding that he enjoyed sushi, teppanyaki and tempura and green tea.

Soo E Ling, former participant in 2011, shared her beautiful moment when she had opportunity to learn others’ cultures and exchanged ideas.

“During my time in 2011, Nippon Maru wasn’t our ship, instead it was changed to Fuji Maru as Nippon Maru was under renovation at that time, but was equally excited about the whole thing,” E Ling said.

“My circle of friends became bigger and in learning their culture and languages make me even more confident.

There were so many good memories on board the ship, too many that I can’t figure out which one is the best,” said E Ling.

She is now a food business supplier living in Kota Kinabalu and an active member of Young Malaysian Movement (YMM).

E Ling is close with her friends from Brunei and every now and then they have gatherings and meetings just to catch up.

“I have been very close with the Bruneian members and until today we have been keeping in touch frequently. Thanks to Facebook and WhatsApp which make our connection easier,” she added.

SSEAYP played an important role in strengthening friendships and promoting greater understanding of cultures and values among the youth from Asian countries and Japan. Since its inception in 1974, through many series of meetings and reunions of the respective contingents, SSEAYP has provided ample opportunities for each youth to broaden their international perspectives and deepen the mutual understanding between the countries.

Mohd Airy Arin, who joined SSEAYP in 1997, said learning the cultures of others can be very interesting.

He enjoyed learning dances of the countries. Today, Airy is still keeping in touch with his foster families around Asia and Japan. He is attached with Sabah Ports Sdn Bhd in Kota Kinabalu.

“With the modern technology around, I can now easily get in touch with my friends and foster families around Asia and Japan. This is the best memory I have. Thanks to SSEAYP!” said Airy.

Airy also commented that youth are the future leaders of a nation. Therefore, they should be given good exposure and ample education not only from school but from real life experience before they could lead the country.

Ainoi Nulantan disclosed that 1994 had been the best year of her life for she was one of the lucky ones to join the voyage.

“I could not believe my name was on the list. Learning the cultures of others was the best education I received.

It made me feel confident and improved my social skill.

“Today, some of my foster families are still keeping in touch with me. I have many ‘families’ in and around Asia and Japan,” said Ainoi, adding that Osaka was where she met her Japanese foster family.

“When I have the opportunity, I will visit my foster families in Asia and in Osaka,” she said.

She is now working with the Department of Veterinary Services in Penampang.

On volunteerism, Ainoi was glad to be able to contribute her services doing charity work while they stopped over in Thailand.

“When we were in Bangkok, we were tasked to do painting work of a community building.

It was so much fun and very meaningful when we were able to do some charity work together with youth from different nations, and that was one of my best moments too,” said Ainoi.

Judith Asong, a member of SSEAYP in 1995, is proud that Kabesa (Kapal Belia Asia) has been formed to assist future youth who are interested to get to know youth from other nation as well as to have better exposure of others’ cultures and values.

“Kabesa is a NGO formed recently and the members are all the former participants of SSEAYP.

We gather our skills and experience in order to assist those who are interested to join this programme in the future.

Since the advancement of the technology, ones only has to visit the website in order to get more details about the programme and the form is also available for those who are serious enough to join.

The voyage normally begins in early October and ends in early December. Before the journey embarks, there would be orientation programme held in Kuala Lumpur to get ready all the participants to be mentally and physically fit,” Judith explained, saying that there were some occasions where youth were sent home (during the orientation programme) due to their health problem. When one goes through such programme, no one comes back to tell their regrets, rather it will be 1,001 stories expected to be heard from them.

Nippon Maru has brought about goodness and unity among the youth. The memory and treasures they gather while on board the ship will be their guiding light in pursuing their dreams in whatever field of their choice.

The 52 days spent on board Nippon Maru is one of the most beautiful and meaningful experiences.

The real life experience is one of the best education and lessons that one can acquire.

The best memory being together in a home called ‘Nippon Maru’ is one priceless experience that money cannot buy.

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