Dear Nippon Maru: A Letter to a Japanese Ship [and its possible reply]

Photo of Dear Nippon Maru: A Letter to a Japanese Ship [and its possible reply] by Unshod Rover
Photo of Dear Nippon Maru: A Letter to a Japanese Ship [and its possible reply] 1/1 by Unshod Rover

In 2003, together with more than 300 youth leaders, we sailed around Southeast Asia and Japan aboard a ship named Nippon Maru (literally "Japanese circle"). For more than a month, we lived in the spirit of cultural exchange and camaraderie despite our differences. As young leaders, we were welcomed in every port of call like ambassadors, earning an audience with prominent leaders like then Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri, and with Emperor Akihito with wife Empress Michiko.

A day before we left the ship (which also signalled Nippon Maru's last sail for the program after decades of service), I wrote this letter in behalf of the other participating youths.

Photo of Tokyo, Japan by Unshod Rover

Dear Nippon Maru,

This morning, I woke up with the ocean in my head constantly moving against my temples as if it was angry that I have forgotten about it during my sleep. While some would call this seasickness, I think that this is an awakening, a call to remember.

It seemed like it was just a day ago when you welcomed us, all 300 -plus youth leaders from Southeast Asia and Japan, into your halls and cabins. Experiencing for the first time your warmth and comfort, we were like stray waves that have found a temporary shore by your presence.

This morning, I wish I could skip the morning exercise just to stay in my room and recall the many times I spent bedridden because of seasickness. Or the times I prepared and opened gifts for and from our homestay families . Or the cup noodles I shared with my cabin mates over conversations that ranged from culture to souvenir prices.

Photo of Dear Nippon Maru: A Letter to a Japanese Ship [and its possible reply] by Unshod Rover
Photo of Jakarta, Indonesia by Unshod Rover
Photo of Tokyo, Japan by Unshod Rover
Photo of Petronas Twin Tower Kuala Lumpur City Centre Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur Malaysia by Unshod Rover
Photo of The Grand Palace Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang Bangkok Thailand by Unshod Rover
Photo of Manila, NCR, Philippines by Unshod Rover

I would like to skip breakfast and just marvel at the assortment of food that we get to eat three times a day, witness how the crew happily present us our meals, and just look at the immortal ocean through the windows. I would like to be free for the whole day and just run around you – entering your rooms, opening doors, bumping on the walls, and climbing up and down the stairs. Just to memorize the secrets of your cabins, your halls and lounges, and the decks, I would like to run my fingers again on their floors, walls, and even ceilings.

But then, I could just sit here in my cabin and look at myself in the mirror.

What have I become because of you? Every part of my face has an answer. My eyes glow with a vision of a world of peace and understanding. My nose, proud that I have done something to bridge the gaps of my ignorance and prejudices. My lips, joined together to savor a thousand words in various languages that have linked the ASEAN to Japan.

My skin remains eager to feel the texture of national costumes being exchanged every occasion, and the geography of the palms that have travelled across the borders of color and culture.

My ears just can’t stop expanding even after listening to a thousand speeches, and morning and night calls. They long for more songs, greetings and prayers, which have transcended beyond the barriers of language and religion.

Photo of Tokyo, Japan by Unshod Rover
Photo of Indonesia by Unshod Rover
Photo of Malaysia by Unshod Rover

This morning, I broke my face with a smile shaped like a boat sailing in the ocean of my memories of you, Nippon Maru. You have been a pillar and a bridge, a home to us.

If they say a picture paints a thousand words, and a face could launch a thousand ships, you are the Ship that has launched a thousand journeys of young people honing their leadership skills to bring about unity.

Tonight, I will not give up my memories of you to sleep. Instead, I will dream about you. As I wake up to another morning, I will remember you.

It will take just a second to close my eyes and go back to a place where we joined our efforts to build a better world. And no amount of seasickness could stop me from humming over and over again… “Nippon Maru, sailing the blue, blue ocean…”

Yours in gratitude and remembrance,

Participating Youths of 2003

Photo of Bangkok Thailand by Unshod Rover

Dear Participating Youths of 2003,

I feel sorry that you woke up this morning with the ocean in your head, but for what it’s worth, I’d like to tell you that I’ve been living with the ocean for so long. I feel how you feel.

If I were your fingers, I would already look like prunes after soaking myself in saltwater for thirty years. But why am I still here?

A wise man said that if you want to create sailors, don’t send them to the forest to gather wood and build a ship. Instead, let them long for the deepest sea.

I’ve been travelling ever since. But the ocean still remains a mystery to me. I still find it difficult to understand its temper and moods.

Now, we only have a day or two to spend together. I will go back as an empty box floating without a star to reach for. You are all my paddles and we both long for that one island of peace and unity. I have been a wishing well for all your dreams.

Tonight, I want to share the sky with you. I want to console myself with the thought that as we part, we’ll always share the same moon. For as long as there are seas, I will always reach you. Let the waters be the bond between our souls.

Tonight, I hope the stars would reflect the memories we share with each other. In the dark sky, let them paint a picture of our experiences.

I will always remember how you ran around me to smell the morning air, how you gathered in my arms singing songs, and how you discovered my secret pockets, and spent perhaps, the best times of your life.

I can only hope that these empty halls of mine would house the echoes of your laughter and songs, and would rock me once in a while in my silent moments.

For tonight, let the waves of goodbye transport us to that place where we fear to tread on, but eventually we will reach there. And yes, let your smile be a boat in the ocean of our memories.

For tonight, let me cradle your first steps toward your dreams.

For tonight, let me experience seasickness.

Let me savor the saltiness of tears. Let me cry.

Yours in memory and experience,

Nippon Maru

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