When you ask Cendikia Luthfita what she remembers about Ramadan back home in Indonesia, she is quick to talk about the sounds: the shuffle of a crowd making its way to the mosque at dawn, calls to prayer over neighborhood speakers, and the noise of street vendors selling food at sundown so people can break their fasts.
The 28-year-old doctorate student will celebrate the Islamic holy month in Japan for the sixth time this year. Most holiday evenings are spent in her quiet apartment, eating food she purchased from a supermarket. Cendikia didn’t expect to feel alone during Ramadan when she moved to a new nation. This was one of the obstacles she didn’t anticipate coming.
She explains, “In Indonesia, you can really feel the spirit of Ramadan.” “The entire neighborhood seems to be becoming more pious and spiritual. In Japan, it’s totally different; it seems like any other day.”
Ramadan started on March 23, and it is set to end on April 20. Muslims who are taking part will not eat or drink as long as the sun is up for the whole month. The conclusion of the holiday season is marked by Eid al-Fitr, a two-day feast shared with extended family and full of food and thanks.
In Indonesia, Ramadan is both a religious practice and a time for people to come together. Iftar is the meal people eat to break their fasts. It is a typical reason to have potlucks and get-togethers. Tarawih is a special night prayer that only happens during the fasting month, and mosques are usually always full for it.
The celebrations are, of course, far fewer than in non-Muslim nations, which might make the affected Muslim people feel lonely. Cendikia also remembers how hard it was to have to fast when most of her friends didn’t believe in God.
She explains, “I had to explain to my friends that this is something I do because of my religion. It’s not painful, it’s just something I’m used to doing.”
Jeihan Beutari Chalil, a fourth-year student at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, found it simpler to explain how she fasts to her boss and colleagues at the restaurant where she works part-time.
The 21-year-old explains, “My manager gave me extra break time in the evening so I could break my fast between work hours.” She is thankful that her coworkers were extremely understanding of her religious demands. They would even make sure she wasn’t working too hard when she was fasting.
Using Eid al-Fitr to its fullest
In Indonesia, Eid al-Fitr is a national holiday, but in Japan, it’s simply like any other day. Between Eid prayers and meals, Jeihan goes to school and works part-time. She, like Cendikia, missed the party scene in Beppu, so she learned to make the most of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr by having dinner parties with friends.
“Most of the time, we have small parties at the apartment of a friend,” she adds. “Everyone will bring their own food because it’s a potluck,” Jeihan said that her non-Muslim friends also come to the party and provide food.
Jeihan and her pals make rendang (beef stew) and lontong (rice cake wrapped in banana leaf) for their Eid al-Fitr potlucks so that Jeihan may eat the Indonesian cuisine that she loves. In Beppu, there is a wholesale grocery store that offers quick spice packets, but Jeihan still needs to find other ways to get products that are hard to locate.
She talks about a former party and adds, “We didn’t have any banana leaves to wrap the lontong in.” So, we utilized plastic that is safe for food instead.
Drianda, a researcher and associate professor at Waseda University who is 39 years old, thinks that the month of fasting is an excellent time for her children to learn more about their Indonesian and Muslim backgrounds.
Drianda moved to Japan in 2006 and has only been back to his native country for studies. Her children, who are now 10 and 15, know more about the culture, language, and ecology of Japan. When Ramadan comes, kids are nevertheless delighted to fast and enjoy the Islamic holiday with their parents. Drianda thinks that her kids’ interest in Ramadan and Islamic culture was sparked by the Malaysian cartoon “Upin & Ipin,” which shows the life of young children in an Islamic hamlet.
Drianda makes several kinds of sahur and iftar meals on the weekends. She and her husband eat Indonesian-style sahur and iftar, while her children eat a mix of Indonesian and Japanese-style sahur and iftar. at the end of the month, the family prays in a mosque, either Ja’me Masjid in Yokohama or Tokyo Camii in Shibuya Ward.
Still, Drianda’s employment duties don’t always fit with her religious commitments, so she has to make sacrifices when duty demands. “Deadlines don’t care about Eid al-Fitr or fasting. It’s not part of (Japanese) culture, therefore it’s up to us to change.”
Putting together a support system
In Indonesia, Ramadan is celebrated with a lot of fun, whereas in Japan, people like to do things on their own. During her first month of fasting in Japan, Cendikia felt quite alone. Getting pictures from her family and friends in Indonesia of food and parties made her want home.
“From what I’ve seen, Indonesian people have a lot of heart,” she adds. “I broke down during my first year of fasting in Japan because I didn’t feel warm.”
Felicia Nainggolan, a clinical psychologist, argues that feeling lonely and alone is a common response to relocating overseas. The woman from Java adds that she sees a lot of these kinds of incidents at her job at TELL, which is a mental health service for international populations. Her advice is to change your ideas about how to celebrate the holidays in Japan, accept your new surroundings, and adjust to them by making new habits. Find diaspora members since they frequently have open homes and iftar feasts. Such gatherings may be an excellent method for Indonesians who have moved away to deal with homesickness since they provide them a secure place to speak their native language, learn more about their culture, and take part in religious practices as a group.
As a means to deal with loneliness, Nainggolan suggests staying in touch with peers and doing things with them, whether online or in person. “Most of the time, feeling homesick makes you want to be alone,” she explains. “The best thing to do is reach out and keep in touch.” (with friends and family). If you still feel lonely and homesick, you may want to talk to a professional.
Cendikia recalls that during her first Ramadan in Japan, she decided to get professional counseling to deal with her melancholy. Since then, she has found new methods to deal with homesickness, such as making friends with other Indonesians who reside in Japan.
“Sometimes, just hearing the Indonesian language is enough to make me happy,” she adds.
A moment to be thankful, no matter where you are in Japan
The Hokkaido Islamic Society is an active worldwide group that helps Muslims in Hokkaido Prefecture with everything from marriage ceremonies and funerals to general mental health care.
During the month of Ramadan, the society gets together in the Sapporo Mosque for sahur and iftar meals. People from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and other places in the diaspora take turns cooking delicacies. Muslims who go to the mosque don’t have to pay for food.
“In Indonesia, Ramadan isn’t just about fasting; there are a lot of other things going on that make the atmosphere happy,” says Mahmud Aditya Rifqi, 34, who is away from his wife and children at Hokkaido University in Sapporo. “It’s not like that (in Hokkaido), so these groups, especially those from the mosque, help with loneliness.”
On the opposite side of Japan, Nadira Avisina and her friends prefer to have potlucks in the open areas along the Kamo River in Kyoto to celebrate Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. She loves to pray in the Kyoto International Community House, which has a hall where people from all cultures may meet. Usually, prayers for Eid al-Fitr are conducted there, along with food and religious talks in both English and Japanese.