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Syahri Rochmat is a 24-year-old railway worker living in Depok, in the suburbs of Jakarta. Shota Noda is a 21-year-old student studying in Yokohama, Japan, about 5,800 km away.

Rochmat and Noda did not know each other, but a missing cellphone led to a cross-cultural friendship between the two young men.

The story began in December last year when Rochmat, who has been a maintenance worker at Indonesia’s state-owned railway company for more than four years, was cleaning the interior of a used train car imported from Japan for use in the capital and its surrounding areas.

The commuter train used to operate on East Japan Railway Co.’s Nambu Line connecting Tachikawa Station in Tokyo and Kawasaki Station in neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture. It was one of 120 used 205 series JR East train cars sold to Indonesia.

Between a bench and a seat back, Rochmat found a case containing a cellphone, a student ID card and a prepaid public transport card.

From the script on the ID card, he felt sure they belonged to a Japanese passenger. “But I couldn’t read kanji,” Rochmat told Kyodo News recently.

Not knowing what to do, he posted photographs of the case, cellphone and cards to his Twitter account. Some of his followers — many of them also train enthusiasts — retweeted the posting.

A Japanese follower saw from the ID photo that it belonged to Noda and that he was a student at Yokohama National University, but his contact details remained elusive.

“The Japanese friend even told me to just throw away the cellphone as it could not also be used in Indonesia,” Rochmat recalled. He did not easily give up, however.

After struggling in vain to find Noda’s Twitter account, as many Japanese users’ accounts are written in Japanese characters, Rochmat found a Facebook account with a profile photo that looked like the person pictured on the student card.

In January, Rochmat sent a message to Noda using Facebook’s Messenger app and Google Translate, asking him if the cellphone belonged to him. Noda quickly said yes.

The student had lost his cellphone on Dec. 5 and had contacted the railway operator every day, even filing a report with the police.

Noda asked Rochmat to send it back to Japan, but due to cost constraints and some miscommunication — neither spoke each other’s language, nor were they proficient in English — that never happened.

The Japanese student eventually decided to visit Jakarta, and on July 27, the two of them met for the first time at a coffee shop, near Manggarai Station where Rochmat works.

Despite the language gap, they managed to communicate in gestures and through translation software.

Noda, Rochmat recalled, expressed his disbelief at getting his phone back.

“He asked me why I didn’t sell the phone. I told him that the price would be cheap and I wouldn’t be able to use it in Indonesia,” he said.

“And if I sold it, I wouldn’t have been able to befriend him,” he joked.

Expressing his gratitude, Noda gave Rochmat an ID card holder featuring a photograph of the latter’s favorite member of Japanese idol group AKB48, Mayu Watanabe. In return, Rochmat gave Noda a shirt with an old Japanese train picture he had designed himself.

“I love trains, especially the Tokyo Metro 05 Series,” said Rochmat, who dreams of being a train machinist like his elder brother and late father.

Less than a month after their meeting, Rochmat was in Japan, using money saved for two years to realize his dream of visiting the country.

Noda accompanied him while traveling around Tokyo. While in Tokyo, Rochmat accidentally left his bag containing souvenirs for his Indonesian friends on a train’s overhead rack. Luckily, he managed to retrieve it from a lost-and-found office at a nearby station.

He believed he could get his bag back, “because I’ve done a positive thing in the past” by returning Noda’s cellphone, he said.

In a telephone interview, Noda said Rochmat “was really a good man.”

The warm friendship still lasts, despite the language barrier.

“He is a very honest person,” Noda said. “I’m happy that I can be his friend.”

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