Serious Board Game Jam 2021 : “Strengthening Collaboration and Connecting Ideas through Making Games”

Annisa Arsyad

Observer at SBGJ 2021

PhD Student at Kyoto University

In 2020, I flew from Indonesia to Japan bringing my dream to discover serious games in Japan. As we all know, Japan is a well-known nation for its anime, games, and fictional characters. Although the current reach of Serious Games is not as big as Entertainment games, serious games has become an emerging field and gained attention in both academia and the practical world for the past few years. I believe a country like Japan has its own community with a strong interest in developing serious games, not just for entertainment purposes, but also educational purposes.

In the midst of the pandemic, I finally managed to start my PhD in Kyoto University majoring in Environmental Education. During my study in Japan, I need to do an internship related to my research interest.  My research interest is about the use of serious games to improve learning outcomes for marginalized students. Back in Indonesia, I worked at a small social enterprise, Ecofun Indonesia, where we design, produce and sell educational board games for the Southeast Asian market.

Luckily, I found this Serious Board Game Jam (SBGJ 2021) through Dr. Kazuhiko Ota, who later became my internship supervisor. I was very excited to hear about this SBGJ 2021, because I have never participated in any board game making event before. Most board game events I ever joined were all about playing the games. This is an interesting approach to teach participants on how to learn about an issue by putting them as a game designer and they have to design the game spontaneously in a short period of time. First time in SBGJ 2021? Read my story below!

SBGJ 2021 is the third Game Jam program organized by Dr. Kazuhiko Ota and Akihiro Takakura. The program was held as a series of events, consisting of Webinar, Bibliobattle, Game Jam, and Game Trial. Just like the previous SBGJ, the program is supposed to be held face-to-face in Kumamoto Prefecture, but due to the pandemic situation all programs have been moved to online. SBGJ 2021 Webinar aimed to introduce the process of serious game design and present the current issues of food. The Webinar helped the participants to understand the context before they have to choose the specific food theme for the game. After that, Bibliobattle was held as the continuation from the Webinar. This time, each participant will be asked to share about one book related to the food and present the book summary.


In the Game Jam, all participants will be divided into 11 groups. In two days, they had to discuss and build a game prototype under “Food” theme. The Game Jam utilized an interactive gamified platform called GatherTown where participants virtually meet using cute avatars. I was so surprised at how GatherTown brought the session more alive and real.


As an observer, I had a chance to listen to the discussion which I was helped by my senpai for the translation from Japanese to English. I thought my role would be to only sit and listen, but I noticed that one group was discussing religion-based food restriction. I thought I can give some additional information related to Muslim dietary based on my personal experience as a muslim. During the observation, I was intrigued by how all participants actively participated in building the game concept and other essential parts of game development. I also had a chance to interact with the SBGJ’s partner. I met Risa-san from unigames and she told me a brief story about unigames and their products. I learned that unigames make a religious themed board game called Caliphate. This game aims for Japanese audiences to learn about Islamic history. I was surprised to see Islamic history-themed game has a place in non-muslim country.  It made me think of how games can engage people to something that is culturally unfamiliar.

From the Game Jam, seven games have been made and presented at the SBGJ 2021 Game Trial. Here is the the list of games (including English title):

  1. Team A : 素晴らしい食卓 (A wonderful table)
  2. Team C : 自分探しのグルメ宇宙人~まだ見ぬ食を求めて(Gourmet aliens looking for themselves-in search of unseen food)
  3. Team D : でたとこレシピ (Detatoko Recipe)
  4. Team E : くまったなぁ (Bear Year)
  5. Team G : 生まれ変わり食餌日記 (Reborn Food Diary)
  6. Team H : 王とリンゴのタルト (King and Apple Tart)
  7. Unigames : これを食わねば俺は死ぬ (Eat and Let Die)


Joining the game testing was my favorite session of all SBGJ 2021, because I played the games directly with other participants. Some games are language neutral, and some others are language dependent, thankfully I got help from my senpai to help me in translating the instructions and commands. I found it very interesting that all games have their own uniqueness. I think all groups have worked so hard making this game appealing and visually attractive. Here are some of my discoveries on SBGJ 2021:


Games for Raising Empathy and Tolerance

According to the research, games have an ability to deliver one issue from various points of view, which in academia, we call it Transdisciplinary. Although the main theme of the game is food, it is not just about how we eat or what type of food.  The seven games tried to go across discipline by putting social, ideology, historical, economic perspective of food. “A Wonderful Table” game made by team A talked about how to deliver the food based on different dietary requirements. I can see the value of empathy from “素晴らしい食卓 – A Wonderful Table” game. We learned that people around the world have different customs and beliefs which affect their diet. Team A visualized it well. This game can be a good entry for those who want to build empathy by tolerance by respecting someone’s dietary preference. Another example is “これを食わねば俺は死ぬ – Eat and Let Die” by unigames. The premise of this game is how struggling students can feed themselves by making pickles. We learned that not everyone can have a proper way to feed themselves, so “survival mode” is necessary. “Eat and Let Die” offers a strategy on how to survive by arranging and sharing ingredients. I like how the game mission is not only seen from the content, but also from the mechanic (exchanging cards).


Game as Time Machine

Flexibility is a word to describe the power of games as educational tools. Some people used games to study about future scenarios and how we can create a better future by making a present change. But, games can also be used to learn about history. Learning about food menu from Medieval age from 王とリンゴのタルト (King and Apple Tart Game) was very satisfying and totally unexpected. The game invited players to guess all ingredients from the assigned menu from the Medieval era. At first, I thought the challenge was very easy, but it turned out that the mission was very hard to guess. I observed that most players guess it wrong, which makes the game more addicting. I think team H has successfully created a simple but tricky game for the users. “King and Apple Tart game” also has a potential to be expanded by creating more series of eras, for example: Viking era, Silk Road era, Shogunate era, etc. There will be more unexpected menus that come from different eras, at the same time, players will learn about food from different periods of history.


Board games, but Online

In my opinion, board games have always been seen as a physical product which is played face-to-face. After the pandemic started, we are all forced to run all the activities online as the only choice. I was a bit sceptical to see if board games can be played online, does the interactivity and engagement will still exist? SBGJ 2021 has shown that interactivity from online boardgaming can be achieved. Through SBGJ 2021, I learned some useful digital platforms such as Udonarium and CCFolia to help game designers to showcase games and board-game players to play games. Furthermore, online boardgaming also supports the idea to combine hybrid way of learning by playing. でたとこレシピ (Detatoko Recipe) by team D is one of example on how the game persuade players to look for some clues from the internet and use it to achieve the game mission. The game shares some ingredients and players have to create recipes creatively from those ingredients. If they miss one or two ingredients, the points will be reduced. So, they have to search some references from the internet to verify that their proposed recipes are valid.


In summary, my impression of joining SBGJ 2021 is the sense of optimism that everyone can make a game from scratch. Inclusivity is another keyword that I found after joining all sessions. participants come from different backgrounds and are able to work together and unite their ideas through making games. Moreover, I am surprised that the graphic design of all prototypes are visually impressive. My experience of joining online SBGJ 2021 brings me a new perspective of the gaming world in Japan.


On my last note, I would like to express big gratitude to Ota-sensei for this opportunity and also all participants who were kind and warm to allow me who doesn’t speak Japanese to participate in the game testing. This experience will enrich my study and also future work as an educator. Using my native language, I want to say “Terima kasih!” (ありがとうございました!)





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A Game Story : Living with My Game Console

“I always knew that I was born to play..”


Selama bulan Ramadhan di Jepang, saya menyisihkan waktu buat main game setelah sahur. Kalau saya tidur langsung habis sahur, biasanya perut jadi agak mual pas bangun. So, saya suka terjaga sebentar sebelum memutuskan untuk tidur kembali. Belakangan ini, saya lagi ketagihan main “Overcooked”, game kolaboratif-kompetitif buatan studio Team17 yang bertema masak-masakan. Ternyata, bermain game setelah sahur ini membawa saya flashback ke masa dulu, which I thought it’s kinda crazy. How childhood video games put permanent effects on me. I have to thank my decision to buy the Nintendo Switch this year (I literally purchased it on January 1st). I’ve been thirsty to play console for years! Also, I have to thank Alvin for showing me his Switch, I played Overcooked for the first time on his console while we’re having New Year’s Eve dinner. It was fun. 

Ritual bermain game setelah sahur itu sudah saya mulai sejak SD. Sebagai anak yang doyan banget game, Ramadhan selalu saya asosiasikan dengan main game. Saya berasumsi kalau main game itu akvitias yang membuat waktu berjalan lebih cepat, biar gak berasa puasanya, hehehe. Meski tentu pasti banyak yang komen “daripada main game mending melakukan amalan sunnah dan mengaji”. Apalah saya ini hamba yang hanya berusaha bertahan agar puasa sampai selesai, hehe. Satu memori yang saya ingat dulu, saya suka banget main game adventure macam Harvest Moon, Harry Potter, dan Crash Bandicoot. 

Dulu saat bulan puasa, saya sempat main “Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets” di Play Station 1, as a Potterhead since I was 12 y.o. Playing this HP game is a must for a gamer like me. Plot game sendiri ngikutin persis kayak di novel-nya, which was more exciting. Mulai dari ngendaliin mobil biru-nya Weasley ke the Burrow sampai bertarung melawan Basilisk. Oh gosh, I feel like I can remember everything! Mulai dari soundtrack-nya yang agak agak creepy, visual grafis nya yang bakal bikin mata anak anak Gen-Z puyeng (jaman dulu sih grafiknya masih terlihat wow, hehe), sampai sound effect-nya kayak suara “ugh, agh” tiap Harry manjat dan “Flipendo!” mantra andalan Harry di game yang gak ada di novel, kalau diplesetin bisa jadi “Nintendo!” wkwkwk. Masih kebayang excitement saya yang bikin momen post-sahur sangat indah. I would give anything to time travel back in those days.

Mungkin saya harus berterima kasih ke tetangga saudara saya yang jatuh bangkrut saat itu. Kalau mereka engga bangkrut, saya mungkin gak akan pernah punya PlayStation sendiri. Sodara saya bilang kalau ada tetangga-nya yang bangkrut dan lagi jual-jualin barang milik mereka untuk menebus hutang. Dan entah gimana, Mama saya beli PlayStation 1 bekas milik mereka. This is a blessing in disguise. Masih ingat betul saya gimana rasanya ngeliat PS1 di ruang TV. Rumah bagaikan surga, saya udah gak perlu lagi ngantri main PS di rumah sodara. Namun, PlayStation 1 bukanlah game console pertama yang saya punya. Jauh sebelum PS1, game console pertama yang pernah hadir di rumah itu Nintendo “abal-abal”. Saya bilang abal-abal karena merk console nya bukan Nintendo (entah apa merk-nya), sepertinya game console buatan China yang meniru Nintendo dan kasetnya berisi game Nintendo seperti Ice Climber, Mario Bros, dan Contra (sampai tamat nih main nya!). Dulu, ayah saya sering proyekan di Batam, as you know, yang dikenal dengan pulau yang jual banyak aneka jenis elektronik mulai dari tape recorder, handphone, sampai game. Suatu hari Ayah pulang membawa sebuah kotak besar game console (sayangnya saya lupa merknya apa) ke rumah. Saya duduk di bangku kelas 2 SD, my prime time to learn new things. And I learned it from my very first game console. 

If I can remember my childhood days, I never separate it with games. I play games, even I live with them. I remember how simple my life was back then, I found a reason to wake up every morning.. to play games! Andai saya udah mengenal istilah Ikigai dari kecil, maybe my little-me will say ‘game is my ikigai!’ 🙂 Sayangnya saat itu saya tidak tumbuh dengan ide bahwa game akan menjadi masa depan saya. Saat itu, istilah pro-gamer tidak ada, bahkan saya pun tidak tahu menahu dunia game design. I found no one in my family who does any kind of work related to games. No enabling environment to convince me to take ‘gaming’ as my future. I was too far from the industry, even though I play with the product all the time. 

What goes around, comes back around.



Sepertinya ada kilatan petir yang menyambar otak saya ketika saya sedang duduk brainstorming bersama peserta conference di Malaysia. Saat itu, kami diminta untuk menciptakan sebuah ide sebagai solusi mengatasi dampak perubahan iklim. Saat itu saya masih mahasiswa semester 4, masa sedang menggebu-gebu nya sama isu perubahan iklim. Disitu tercetus ide di kepala saya untuk membuat simulation game seperti the Sims, tapi perintahnya di-custom agar pemain bisa menerapkan gaya hidup ramah lingkungan. Ide yang menarik, namun sayang saya gak ngerti cara bikin game digital. Alhasil saya putar otak kembali, dan muncullah ide board game ECOFUNOPOLY. Yang tentunya tak bisa saya sangka, ide board game yang sebenarnya iseng-iseng berhadiah ini ternyata malah menjadi proyek yang mengubah hidup saya dan akhirnya mengarahkan saya kembali ke dunia gaming, meski mungkin misi yang saya bawa bersama game Ecofunopoly itu berbeda dengan misi bermain saya waktu kecil. Berangkat dari keilmuan berbasis ekologi yang saya tempuh saat kuliah, ternyata berakhir kembali ke sesuatu yang sebenarnya sangat saya cintai.. Game.

1st Ecofunopoly Playtesting – June 2009

Meski semua terasa berjalan alami, keputusan yang diambil saat kita dewasa bukanlah hal yang mudah. As we know, the more we grow older, the farther we are from choosing the thing we love, which makes us choose the realistic path to our lives. Dengan segala hiruk pikuk kehidupan yang telah saya lalui, saya beruntung sekali diberi jalan oleh Allah untuk kembali melakukan hal yang saya cintai sejak kecil, sepaket dengan adjustment untuk menjalankan model yang sustain lewat jalur entrepreneurship. Engga mudah untuk menjalankan pilihan yang kita cintai tanpa menemukan model yang tepat. Membawa ECOFUNOPOLY ke dunia bisnis is like riding a thrilling ride for me, but I do learn a lot.

Afirmasi terhadap dunia gaming semakin menguat ketika saya berada di ambang keraguan. Saya sedang mencari sebuah jawaban yang tidak bisa saya temukan dari dunia bisnis. I need this answer from a different standpoint. Saya ingat waktu saya baru lulus S2 dengan rasa traumatik (yes, I was traumatized instead of joyful). I promise to myself, “I won’t go back to study again!” namun beberapa bulan kemudian, saya revisi statement saya “well, it’s possible to study again.. with an important note: it has to be something that I really love, it came from me, not from others, not from the current trend or demand”

And, here I am now.. holding my status as a PhD student, who said right from the very first time I met my supervisor “I’m interested in games, I’m interested in climate change education, I want to learn both of them”.

Mungkin terdengar gila kalau dipikir-pikir, I have no degree to support this idea of doing gaming research. Tapi gue jadi lebih fearless (plus nekat) sejak gue mulai berbisnis tanpa modal apa-apa, I start everything from scratch, and I believe if I can survive in entrepreneurial world, so does in academia. So here I am.. bringing games into my academia.

Kalau melihat diri sendiri di posisi sekarang ini, jadi mahasiswa PhD yang mau bikin riset tentang sesuatu yang pernah memberi impact ke masa kecil saya, kadang masih banyak yang gak percaya kalau saya beneran mau riset tentang game, hehe. Mungkin game masih dianggap kayak main-main kah? jadi kelihatannya tidak researchable. Ah mereka aja yang kurang jauh mainnya :p

To me, I found it very cool to spend a lot of time researching games. Reading lots of literature of how researchers test the game, measure the learning effect, examine the features and factors that can engage people better. How interesting!

 Terlebih lagi, saya belajarnya di negara yang salah satu basis ekonomi utamanya itu Game!  

Siapa sih yang gak tumbuh bersama SEGA, Nintendo, Sony Playstation, Namco, Bandai, or you name it. Enabling environment yang saya dapet gak kaleng-kaleng, langsung di Jepang, plus di Kyoto pula! 

Kyoto di mata banyak orang lebih sering dikenal sebagai “Yogyakarta”-nya Jepang, kota yang kaya akan budaya dan sejarah, penuh dengan kuil-kuil dan bangunan tradisional. But did you know that Nintendo company was born here in Kyoto?



Ya, Nintendo (kanji: 任天堂) lahir disini, di Kyoto. dan kamu tahu kapan Nintendo lahir? Tahun 1889. Jauh sebelum almarhum nenek saya lahir. Nintendo pertama kali buka toko kecil di Kyoto dengan menjajakan Hanafuda, game kartu bergambar bunga. Buat penggemar Korea, mungkin lebih familiar sama Hwatu, card game yang dimainkan di film Minari sama Space Sweepers. Hanafuda dan Hwatu agak mirip. Satu hal yang bikin saya respect sama Jepang itu bagaimana mereka memulai segalanya lebih awal. Gak cuma game, tapi industri lain. Saya sempat ke museum Pocky di Osaka, terkejut sekali bagaimana Pocky ditemukan tahun 1955, empat tahun sebelum Ayah saya lahir. Gak kebayang memang tahun 1889 itu kayak apa, apakah warga Jepang sudah game-friendly atau belum, tapi yang bikin salut adalah gimana Nintendo bisa terus bertahan dan konsisten melahirkan game-game ciamik. That consistency is another level, bro. Setelah baca perjalanan Nintendo udah lebih dari seabad, rentang waktu Ecofun masih belum ada apa-apanya, instead of making me insecure, it is actually telling me ‘you have time, don’t worry’.

Nintendo’s original headquarters (1889–1950s) in Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto

Ternyata perjalanan Nintendo juga gak mulus-mulus amat. Di buku ‘Range’ karya David Epstein, ada sebuah chapter yang menceritakan seorang laki-laki bernama Gunpei Yokoi. Dia direkrut oleh Nintendo untuk membuat game baru saat Nintendo lagi di ambang kebangkrutan. Surprisingly, Nintendo dulu sempat pivot ke bisnis lain, mulai dari kuliner, taksi, sampe hotel, bukannya cuan, Nintendo malah punya hutang besar. Gunpei Yokoi hadir menyelamatkan perusahaan dengan melahirkan game “Ultra Hand” yang terjual 1,2 juta kopi. Dari penjualan game tersebut, Nintendo berhasil melunasi hutang nya. Gunpei Yokoi terus melahirkan berbagai jenis game yang melejit di pasaran. Karena keberhasilannya mendesain permainan, Presiden Nintendo meminta dia untuk menjalankan R&D untuk pertama kalinya. Dengan penuh kagum saya membaca perjalanan Gunpei Yokoi yang cukup anti-mainstream dalam merancang game. Gunpei Yokoi meninggal tahun 1994, but his philosophy didn’t die with him. Sampai saat ini, Nintendo masih menganut filosofi “Literal Thinking with Withering Technology” atau 枯れた技術の水平思考 “Kareta Gijutsu no Suihei Shikō” dalam proses Research and Development. Dia salah satu orang yang berjasa besar dalam keberhasilan Nintendo sekarang.  

Cerita Nintendo di atas menjadi bagian dari proses discovery saya selama menempuh studi di Jepang. Saya juga belum membahas tentang dunia tabletop game (bakal saya bahas secara terpisah ya), yang mana tabletop game ini menjadi lini utama dari bisnis Ecofun. Game itu memiliki genre yang sangat luas, dan saya tidak mau membatasi diri untuk memilih genre game yang yang saya mau. I am very much open to any kind of games. Rasa penasaran saya semakin memuncak untuk menggali lebih dalam seluk beluk dunia game dan perkembangannya dari masa ke masa.

Back again to my research, I am currently thinking hard to find what I really want to find out in this research. I hope this post can be a stamp to remind me that I should keep going. As Jimin said to himself, “Jimin you’re nice, keep going!”  And of course, I would be happy to write more about games! Dipikir-pikir saya jarang banget nulis soal games ya, malah banyakan nulis soal traveling, andai badanku bisa dibelah-belah, satu nulis game, satu nulis traveling, satu nulis jurnal, Hehe.

I am just happy to be where I am today.

Tiba-tiba, saya teringat mas Hangga, tetangga saya di Shugakuin pernah bilang “asik banget nge-riset tentang apa yang kamu senengin”.  


I love games, I play games, and I am researching about games!

If you are new to games and curious about it, here are my recommendations to start:

  1.  “High Scores” Documentary on Netflix
  2. “It’s All A Game” Book by Tristan Donovan
  3. Video Games and Pandemic :
  4. Dark Side of the Video Game Industry by Hasan Minhaj
  5. Settler of Catan, a board game designed by a German dentist


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One-Way Ticket to Japan

Waktu S1 dulu, temen gue pernah terpana melihat keinginan gue yang sangat kuat untuk sekolah lanjut. Gue berambisi ingin sekolah terus dan terus.

“Gue mau tuh dibayar untuk belajar terus terusan..” celetuk gue, dengan penuh ambisi. Gue memang tidak pernah membayangkan hidup gue bakal berada di luar ranah akademik. Tumbuh besar melihat kedua orang tua yang mengajar di Universitas, seolah-olah gue gak tidak diberi pilihan yang lain untuk menentukan apa yang gue mau lakukan di masa depan. Gue terlalu takut untuk membuat skenario lain,dan gue terlalu optimis akan keputusan yang gue ambil.

I never understand my life as an adult. Kehidupan orang dewasa terlalu sulit untuk gue pahami dengan logika. Atau.. apa memang kehidupan orang dewasa memang tidak hadir untuk dipahami?

Sampai detik ini, gue selalu mempertanyakan setiap keputusan gue di masa lalu. Why am I choosing this path? Did I calculate it wisely? Or am I just being an opportunist every time I made my own decision?

Gue adalah seorang gradstudent yang tidak memiliki memori yang indah saat mengakhiri masa studi. I was very traumatic on seeing my life as a gradschool student. I was lost, those study ambitions faded away. I didn’t expect that my life will turned out to be this way. When you plan your life as one straight line, but then what you get is tangled lines.

I ended up choosing a path that I fear most, the path that is not even in my plan.

Gue berhasil menjalani nya dengan baik. See? I had a great fulfilling life in the past few years, being something that I never thought that I did it.

Traveled the world. Met public figures. Appeared on the TV. Acknowledged by some prominent world’s organizations. How can I ask for more?

Of course, dark times came in between. Gue sempat kehilangan diri gue sendiri.

Sejak saat itu, gue mulai menerima bahwa hidup gue itu memang seperti benang yang kusut. Gue belum bisa memahami hidup gue sendiri.

Lucu ketika gue mengingat sejak gue lulus sekolah yang meninggalkan rasa trauma itu, gue bilang ke salah satu sahabat gue.. “I never ever go back to study again..”

Sahabat gue yang juga sama-sama sedang sekolah dengan susah payah mengangguk setuju dan meyakini bahwa kita gak akan pernah kembali sekolah. This is just too funny to remember.

Mungkin Tuhan ingin mengajak bercanda hamba nya yang tidak punya arah hidup seperti gue. Tuhan pun mengirimkan seorang lelaki yang aneh nya mencoba mengajak gue untuk menelan ludah gue sendiri.

I am married to a man who really wants his wife to pursue higher degree.

Damn, that was weird. He encouraged me more than I encouraged myself to study. Ketika impian gue menjadi seorang dosen hilang, seketika gue gak ada niatan untuk sekolah lagi.

Throughout our marriage life, my husband kept asking me when I will apply for Gradschool.

yank, ayo kapan daftar..”

(tiap lihat scene sebuah negara) “boleh tuh yank sekolah disitu..”

“kenapa gak situ aja sih yang sekolah?” tanya gue balik dengan nada risih.

“kamu aja yang lebih cocok, aku nemenin aja sambil trading.. hehehe” jawab dia sambil merayu.

Hmm, bilang aja sih pengen keluar negeri, tapi gak mau banyak mikir. Ye kan?

Suami gue cuma cengengesan. Setiap malam, dia selipkan doa, memohon agar istrinya mau sekolah lagi di luar negeri.

All Hail Ridho Suami. Datanglah sebuah kiriman info Whatsapp from my former boss.

“Admission for Doctoral Program” tertulis judul nya.

“Nisa, siapa tahu tertarik mau daftar sekolah lagi..” tulis pak Ernan melalui chat.

Andai saja gue abaikan infonya dan meneruskan hidup gue, gue gak akan menangis tersedu-sedu di pesawat bulan Oktober silam.

I choose either way.. I clicked it for the sake of my curiosity. Gue buka PDF nya.



This is a ticket to Japan.


Entah apa yang muncul di dalam benak gue saat itu. Gue langsung forward infonya ke suami gue yang siang malam berzikir biar dia bisa keluar negeri segera.

Tentunya, respon dia sangat cepat dan sudah kuduga. “Wah menarik nih yank, ayo daftar..”

Suami gue berlagak cute menyemangati gue.

Entah bagaimana, muncul sebuah bisikan dari dalam diri gue, berkata “Nis, coba aja dulu .. toh gak ribet itu persyaratannya…” My innerself told me so!

The conspiracy between my unconscious self and my husband united.

I applied the program (of course my husband was very happy), then I failed.

Gue bahkan tidak surprise kalau gue gagal. Wong gue gak punya koneksi professor, apalagi apply sekolah di Jepang. Hihihi.

Niat gue yang awalnya masih setengah-setengah kemudian berubah seketika saat Professor yang mewawancarai gue mengirimkan email. She said she wants to talk with me, through Skype.

Tiba-tiba gue deg-degan sendiri. Kemudian kami diskusi melalui Skype.

From that moment I talked to my future professor, I told to my husband “I am going to apply again for PhD.. it seems the universe has spoken to me”.

“Yes, semangat sayang..” Gue rasa suami gue sudah memprediksi kalau gue akan berkata demikian. He knows me that ‘what I want is what I got’.

Sooo… with my irrational thought, I switched myself from being afraid to pursue higher degree to being someone who seems PhD might sounds fun for my 30s (which I regret later..).

My professor told me to apply again, she wants to be my supervisor (which is very important for me to get a scholarship). Maybe “belajar tapi dibayar” sounds a good idea, right?

Then, I had my second failure. My professor felt sorry to me, she still wants to keep me as her prospective student. She was hoping that I would not lose hope to apply again.

Well, kegagalan sudah menjadi teman terbaik gue. Gagal dua kali? I even failed 8 scholarship applications in a year before!

My professor told me to be prepared for the next call. This time, the university asked for more requirements, which I have to spend more time to do it, that led me to a new question: What if this opportunity is not meant for me?

I mean, PhD is a very serious journey, for those who have brilliant academic track records.

Dan gue? Kerjaannya Cuma dagang mainan anak, promosi sana-sini, ngurusin kiriman, ngurusin setoran pion dari teteh-teteh. Sejak lulus, gue belum pernah bikin proyek penelitian bahkan belum pernah bikin publikasi apa-apa!

Mendadak anxiety. Gak afdol kalau milenial belum anxiety.

Saat gue lagi sibuk nyiapin berkas-berkas, tetiba suami gue pulang bawain Cheesecake.

“Nih yank biar semangat persiapannya..” suami gue mendadak perhatian. Seumur-umur gue belum pernah dibeliin cake ama laki gue. Emang laki-laki jadi kayak malaikat kalau ada mau nya.

“Mas, kalau aku gagal lagi gimana?” tanya gue, ragu-ragu sambil memandangi berkas-berkas yang berserakan di meja.

“Ya coba lagi lah, daftar S3 kan emang gitu.. gak langsung dapet, selama Professor dukung lanjut aja” jawab suami gue enteng.

Hmm, what if this opportunity is not meant for me? I asked again to myself. I mean, siapa gue yang pantas dapat slot beasiswa untuk PhD? I don’t think my work with Ecofun is good enough to help me getting this opportunity.

My third application : submitted. If I failed again, maybe I should take a break, asking myself whether I really want to do this or not.

By the end of June last year, I was at the Writing Workshop. Too busy learning how to write again (My confidence in writing was suddenly sinking too, dunno why).

Tiba-tiba gue menemukan email dengan tulisan kanji. Seketika badan gue dingin. Oh my..

Gue hati-hati mengklik email tersebut. “SCHOLARSHIP ACCEPTED”.

Entah reaksi kimiawi apa yang muncul dari dalam tubuh gue, dopamine mungkin? Gue langsung lemas bahagia. Mata gue masih membelalak gak percaya. Is this for real?

It’s hard to believe but I’m going to pursue a PhD!

Mungkin ini jawaban dari doa-doa suami, ortu, mertua yang terus dukung segala keputusan gue, bukan semata-mata usaha gue.

Balik lagi ke narasi awal, gue hanya berpesan ke diri gue sendiri : be careful what you wish for.

Gue bilang mau sekolah terus, noh Tuhan kasih beneran kan.

Sayangnya euforia ini tidak berlangsung lama. Gue kira, semua akan berjalan mulus setelah nya, karena bottleneck dari lamaran beasiswa hanyalah diterima atau tidak, setelah diterima, sudah tidak ada lagi yang harus dikhawatirkan.

Ternyata tidak untuk 2020.

I was the peak level of preparing myself to Japan. Coba belajar bahasa Jepang, nonton film Jepang, pokoknya menyiapkan diri gue menjadi warga baru Jepang nanti nya.

Saat visa sudah selesai, tiket sudah di tangan.. Coronavirus datang. For the first time in my traveling life, my trip was cancelled two days before departure. Japan closed their border due to the virus. I was shocked, knowing that I couldn’t go.

The first half of 2020 was totally a nightmare. For my study, for my business, for my mental state. No one can predict about the future. Kita hanya bisa menunggu dan menjaga diri.

Sejak tahu gue batal berangkat, rasanya gue masih belum bisa mencerna kenyataan ini dengan baik. Ibarat kayak lagi mimpi indah, terus tiba-tiba kebangun.

I have to wait for at least 6 months until I receive further notice. Gak ada yang bisa menjamin kapan gue bisa berangkat. Mendadak gue cemas luar biasa, what if I can’t go? What if the virus keep spreading like crazy? All I can think is “WHAT IF” in a negative sentence.

Gue mencoba mewaraskan diri dengan melepas diri gue ke alam. Mencoba meyakini bahwa semua ini ada maksudnya. Beberapa bulan setelah berdiam di rumah, betapa gue sadar kalau ini waktu terbaik buat menghabiskan waktu bersama keluarga. Kapan lagi ada semua anggota keluarga di rumah?

What if gue pun berganti, “What If I got a call from Japan, and I have to fly to Japan tomorrow?”

It’s weird but I had this feeling of “am I ready to go to Japan?” during my quarantine. Mungkin ini efek terlalu nyaman di rumah. Menghabiskan waktu bersama buku-buku dan kucing-kucing gue yang lucu.

Tinggal di rumah berbulan-bulan, perasaan nyaman, khawatir, hopeless, bingung bercampur aduk.

Enam bulan sudah terlewati, gue sudah mulai terbiasa dengan hidup di rumah, kembali bermain Harvest Moon, mengadopsi kucing jalanan, order makanan dari luar. It’s all good.

Sebuah email datang dari Kyoto University.

Entah gue menyebut ini good news or bad news. They said Japan Government will prioritize MEXT Students to come to Japan soon. Mereka meminta gue sebagai penerima beasiswa MEXT untuk memustukan apakah gue akan berangkat ke Jepang bulan depan atau menunda April depan.

Lagi-lagi gue dihadapkan oleh dua pilihan. Pandemi ini benar-benar mengobrak abrik perasaan gue. If I don’t have this sense of comfort in the past few months, gue tentu akan pilih berangkat segera.

Gue mendadak ragu. Gue harus pilih apa? Pergi secepatnya atau tahun depan saja? Mungkin tahun depan kondisi akan membaik.

Teman-teman saya memustukan untuk berangkat secepatnya, karena ya itu pilihan yang terbaik.

Saya terjebak pada dua pilihan ini, dan entah mana yang lebih baik. Tiba-tiba aku memikirkan kucing-kucing ku yang senantiasa menemaniku. I was too much attached to my cats.

First of all, I asked my husband. I told him every possibility that might happen if I choose this or that.

Saat itu, imigrasi belum dibuka secara utuh, artinya hanya pelajar yang boleh berangkat ke Jepang, sedangkan pasangan atau anak tidak diperbolehkan ikut.

Long Distance Marriage is not something new to us. But of course, this was always not an easy decision to make. I asked him if he’s ready to face this uncertainty. Ada banyak sekali kemungkinan yang akan terjadi, baik atau buruk. Setelah mempertimbangkan matang-matang, gue memutuskan untuk berangkat segera ke Jepang, memulai apa yang seharusnya sudah dimulai sejak 6 bulan silam.

Setelah melaporkan ke kampus tentang keputusan gue, everything happens sooo damn fast.

Gue hanya mendapat waktu dua minggu terhitung dari gue membuat keputusan hingga hari keberangkatan ke Jepang. Waktu persiapan ini bahkan lebih singkat dari persiapan mudik yang jaraknya tidak seberapa dibanding Jakarta ke Tokyo.

Tapi yah.. Corona can make this happen.

Dengan perasaan gugup, gue ikutin semua prosedur yang diminta. Keberangkatan gue ke Jepang sangatlah tidak seperti biasanya. Dulu keluar negeri cukup pegang visa dan tiket, sekarang tidak demikian.

Gue nerima tiket H-7 hari, gue baru packing H-4 hari. I wasn’t ready at all, but 2020 never ask me if I’m ready or not, whatever it is, I must go.

On my departure day, I felt relieved knowing that my COVID-19 test was negative. That means I’m allowed to travel. Ketika gue meninggalkan rumah menuju bandara, gue merasa lebih tenang dari hari-hari sebelumnya. Semua anggota keluarga juga baik-baik saja melihat gue sudah bersiap untuk tinggal di negara baru.

Bandara pun tidak seperti biasanya, hiruk pikuk hingar binger suara penumpang yang datang silih berganti. Bandara cukup hening di hari keberangkatan gue. Setelah menyetor koper biru andalan dan menerima boarding pass, gue terus mencerna bahwa hari ini hari terakhir gue di Indonesia, setelah sekian lama berdiam di rumah berbulan-bulan. Finally, gue akan pergi jauh lagi.

Gue dan semua anggota keluarga pergi menuju gate keberangkatan. Setelah melihat jam, waktunya ke ruang boarding. Gue memeluk orang tua, suami, adek hingga air mata terurai dari pelupuk mata gue. Gue tahu, ini bukan kali pertama berpisah kayak begini. But, this COVID-19 just hit me differently. Gue merasa perpisahan ini tidak semudah yang sebelumnya. Karena ketika gue berjalan memasuki gate keberangkatan, gue menengok kembali, melihat semua anggota keluarga yang melambaikan tangan ke gue. Gue tersadar..

” This is one-way ticket to Japan .. 

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