11 years ago, my husband won a Monbukagakusho scholarship to further his studies in Japan. He decided to study MBA in Urasa, Niigata. Niigata had been hit by earthquake of 6.6 Richter scale just a year before in 2004.
Before the start of that daring adventure, we had to make many other brave decisions. He had to quit his job, I had to take unpaid leave from my job and finally we and our two kids had to move to Japan. We didn’t speak Japanese and we knew it wouldn’t be easy to get halal food here. We would have only the scholarship to support our family of four.
I had to wait till the end of school year for my eldest daughter Fa before we joined my husband Li in Urasa. He moved to Japan in September because his classes had already started and the three of us only came in late October. He was staying at the uni dorm in the beginning but he had found a little apartment for our family to move into as soon as we arrived.
It was Ramadan then and just five days before Eid. Most people were travelling back to their hometowns to celebrate Eid with their parents and families. I had a mixed feeling. I was looking forward to be with my husband again but at the same time, I felt sad for not being able to spend Eid with my parents. My daughter Fa was 8 and my son Ar was 4. Our flight was around 11 am but we had to be at the airport 3 hours earlier.
Each of us had a baggage allowance of 30 kg, however I couldn’t utilise it to the max since my biggest concern would be to look after the children, not carrying a lot of baggage. My brother-in-law who was then a pilot with the airline (and thus had a special pass) helped us to carry our hand-carries (Fa insisted on bringing her Serafina – a soft toy cat from Barbie the movie in her backpack – it occupied the whole bag) up to the plane. It was strange to be travelling abroad at this period, but the cabin crew just thought we were the family of a pilot going away a few days before Eid because the pilot had to be on duty.
I was fasting that day but Fa decided not to because she said she wanted to eat KFC chicken before the flight (the KFC in Japan is not halal). Unfortunately it was still too early when we reached KLIA and KFC was still serving the breakfast menu, so Fa didn’t get to eat her favourite chicken before leaving the country. Pity her, but life is like that. We don’t always get what we wish for.
The flight took 7 hours. It was time to break my fast just before we landed, so I ate the delayed meal served by the airline for those who were fasting. It took us a while to get through the immigration and claimed our baggage. Li was already waiting with a friend. The friend had a Toyota Estima and had previously lived in Tokyo before moving to Urasa, so he was somehow familiar with the road. The journey from Narita Airport to Urasa took about 4 hours. We only made a stop once to buy some food supplies – halal chickens, rice and so on.
Li had already rented a 2K apartment which came with a large fridge. It was past midnight when we reached the apartment so I didn’t get to see the outside yet. The house has 2 rooms, both with tatami mats. The kitchen served as living and dining as well. The bathroom was separated from the toilet. It was cosy enough for us.
When we celebrated Eid five days later, we still didn’t have much in the house, not even proper plates, but we were just grateful to be together. I had brought some Malaysian Eid food with me, but other than that, I didn’t cook any special meal on Eid morning. We just made do with whatever we had. The Eid prayer was held at 7 am at the university community centre and Li had classes immediately after that, so he went for the prayer alone. Alhamdulillah, there were two other Malaysian families there, so we celebrated by visiting their houses and on the weekend the Muslim Students Association at the university also organised an Eid gathering.
Urasa had a very heavy snow the first winter we were there. The first snow arrived on the 1st of December 2005 and the last one was in late March 2006. Fa had to walk one mile in the heavy snow to get to her school. I was worried at first but eventually got used to it.
Last December we went on a trip and stayed at an Airbnb in Yuzawa and decided to revisit Urasa and managed to take the photo of our old apartment. Other than IUJ, we also visited Fa’s and Ar’s old schools. We tried to look for an old friend from the Snow Flake Club at the school but unfortunately she was away for Christmas. Snowfall came rather late somehow this season. Usually by the end of December, there would already be one meter of snow on the ground but it was just starting to snow when I took this picture of our old apartment. Every morning, I had to shovel the heavy snow away from the stairs before Fa left for school, and then repeat it several times throughout the day.