KUALA LUMPUR: Nine educators from Malaysian universities and Islamic schools visited three Japanese schools practising the Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) curriculum in Tokyo and Kanagawa recently to promote intercultural and interfaith exchange.
Organised by Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and supported by the Education Ministry, the 10-day visit aimed to deepen mutual understanding between Malaysia and Japan.
At a certificate-giving ceremony today, Japanese ambassador to Malaysia Hiroshi Oka who described the programme as unique said: “We have hosted their stay in Japan and learn about Malaysia’s culture and religions as well.
“This programme focuses on strengthening education and religious aspects between Malaysia and Japan as we have a long running friendship between our countries.
“The participants also went to places in Japan to immerse themselves in our culture by trying local cuisine and visiting historical spots in our country.
The visit, he said, also provided teachers with an opportunity for intercultural and interfaith dialogue held in Taizo-in Buddhist temple – a historical Buddhist temple in Kyoto.
He added that the dialogue focused on common challenges religious leaders and educators face in promoting peace, tolerance and diversity in the society.
Programme coordinator Professor Dr Mohd Kamarulnizam Abdullah, who is also an International Studies lecturer at Universiti Utara Malaysia, said the visit was crucial to provide true understanding of Islam to the Japanese society.
“Our religion is often presented in a negative way by associating it with terrorism and violence while it is actually a religion of peace.
“There is no Islamophobia in Japan, but they are curious about our religion. Hence, the participants play an important part by explaining to the Japanese about the essence of Islam through their interactions with the locals.
“Participants are also encouraged to learn the Japanese way of doing things, their ethics and unmatched discipline in order to apply the values in their schools and among students,” he said.
Participant Noorazlina Subari said the visit was an eye-opening experience for her.
“Although Islam is a minority religion in Japan, a lot of its culture and values are similar to the practice of Muslims especially in the aspects of moral behaviour and cleanliness.
“While visiting the four states in Japan, I was impressed that I had not sighted a dirty place.
"We also had a school visit where we could observe the students who are well-mannered. They are respectful in their words and actions towards their teachers and the elderly.
“On top of that, we could see how the Japanese elderly people maintain their health and are still actively working despite their age. Their secret is practicing a healthy diet and lifestyle,” said the headmaster of Taski Sri Al Firdaus, Klang.
Sekolah Menengah Agama Hj Mohd Yatim in Ulu Gadong, Negri Sembilan teacher, Hafazah Yusof said that she was moved by the visit to the Taizo-in Buddhist temple.
“Upon visiting the temple, we have to perform our prayer since it was already time. So, we laid down our praying mat and performed our prayer just nearby the temple.
“The temple visitors showed tolerance and did not stop us from doing so.
“During the intercultural and interfaith dialogue, the speaker talked about the two most practiced religions in Japan, which are Buddhism and Shinto. Although different in their beliefs, the Japanese are able to live harmoniously which is something us Malaysians can relate to,” she said.
ESD engages in activities that address various issues related to the environment, peace, human rights in an interdisciplinary, holistic way that includes environmental, economic, societal, and cultural perspectives.