The Bon Odori danced by students from Ryukoku High School, Japan.

LEARNING a foreign language is not just about memorising vocabulary and learning how to read, write and speak. It also involves immersion in the culture of the language learned.

Fifty Japanese Club of Universiti Malaysia Kelantan (JCUMK) members had a good exposure to both Japanese language and culture when they participated as volunteers in a programme called Festival Kelate-Jepon 2019 held in Pengkalan Chepa, Kelantan last month.

Organised by the Kelantan state government together with the Japanese Embassy in Malaysia, the festival was held in conjunction with the opening of the Japanese Peace Memorial Park in Taman Al-Fursan in Pengkalan Chepa.

JCUMK adviser Tengku Iffah Tuan Yazid said the festival was aimed at promoting both Kelantanese and Japanese cultures to locals and people from outside Kelantan.

“This is the second time the festival is held ­— the first was last November. Since Kota Baru, located 8km from Pengkalan Chepa, is the twin city of Kasaoka, Japan, this programme was one of the events organised to strengthen the relationship between the two cities,” she said.

Guests being treated to Rebana Ubi, a traditional Kelantanese performance usually played during official ceremonies.

For this year’s festival, the UMK volunteers were tasked with overseeing nine exhibition booths related to Japanese culture, namely, calligraphy, fukuwarai ( children’s game), shateki ( Japanese shooting game), kendama ( traditional Japanese toy), hayakuchi kotoba (Japanese tongue-twisters), yukata try on, furoshiki (traditional Japanese wrapping cloth), yoyo balloon and origami/kirigami. They were also involved in the dance and drum performances.

“It took three to four months to prepare for the event due to the many parties involved. Even though this event fell on the last day of the final exams, surprisingly the students were committed to the programmes. They made all the preparations and practised as well as eagerly participated as volunteers because they believe this kind of experience will not come by again easily.

“Each had different task to make sure this programme ran smoothly. By joining this event, they learnt to apply what they learnt in class to real life and managed to make friends with the Japanese,” she said.

Aina Afiqah Mat, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Entrepreneurship (Retailing) honours degree, headed the UMK volunteers.

“The event wouldn’t have run as smoothly without the guidance from our sensei and support of all the volunteers who got their friends and students from the different language clubs at our university to take part.

“I am intrigued by the beautiful way the Japanese has in expressing and appreciating little things. It was a really great that my friends and I had the chance to communicate with the Japanese guests. It really felt as if we were in Japan — the sets, food, props and ambience,” she said.

Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah (fourth from right) during the opening of the Japanese Peace Memorial Park. To his right is chairman of Rohm Wako (Japan), Datuk Yosuke Yoshioka.

Aina’s coursemate, Serena Jonius, 23, was in charge of the food and beverage for the volunteers, Bon Odori dance and yoyo fishing booth.

“A day before the programme, we had a lot to do such as decorate the booth, prepare gifts for visitors and pour water into the yoyo pool. It was also not easy to pumping 500 balloons as there were only six of us. Thankfully, things went smoothly,” she said.

Norhafizah Abdul Jalil, a student of the Bachelor of Entrepreneurship (Logistic & Distributive Trade) (Hons) programme, manned the Kirigami booth.

Kirigami is a variation of origami that includes cutting of the paper, rather than solely folding it as is the case with origami, but typically does not use glue.

“We needed to practise making kirigami before teaching visitors how to do it. I really enjoyed myself during this event. I learnt so many new things about the Japanese culture and it helps me a lot in improving my social skills,” she said.

Bachelor of Entrepreneurship (Commerce) with Honours student Koh Shin Lee and Bachelor of Entrepreneurship (Hospitality) (Hons) student Auni Ramizah Kamil agreed that the experience made them look forward to more

encounters with Japanese culture.

Both joined the bon ondori dance which also saw the participation of Japanese workers from the nearby Rohm Wako Electronics factory.

Zaliman Sauli trying on the yukata, flanked by UMK volunteers.

“Japanese language is fun to learn although it is difficult. But once you get into it, you will be eager to put in the effort to be fluent in it,” said Auni.

JCUMK was established in 2014. Since then, many activities have been carried out throughout the years such as exchange programmes (Japan-UMK), culture day, movie night, singing competition, sushi making, and factory and study visits.

“Everyone at UMK can be a member of JCUMK,” said Tengku Iffah.

Speaking at Festival Kelate-Jepon 2019, UMK deputy vice-chancellor (Student Affairs and Alumni) Professor Dr Zaliman Sauli said the objective of the programme is to expose Students to Japanese culture.

“Exposure to Japanese, especially daily conversation, will enable them to master the language,” he said.

The Japanese Peace Memorial Park was opened by Kelantan Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah.