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JETAA Alumnus of the Month #3: Vivian Ong

October 5, 2016

Hello again! As mentioned before, we have a JET Alumnus of the Month interview. Each month, we will be speaking with a JET alumnus to know more about their JET experience and life post-JET. If you are interested to be interviewed, or if you would like to nominate someone, please let us know by dropping us a comment here, on our facebook, or email us at

Our 3rd  featured JET alumni is none other than Vivian Ong, who was placed in Mie. Vivian is also one of the few Singaporean JETs that stayed in Japan for the maximum period of stay that the programme allows. Mie has continued to enrapture her and she is currently still working in Mie. So do read on and check out this inside interview that she shared with JET AA!

What are you doing now after your 5 year JET Stint?
I started working with the local Board of Education in Ise city, a neighbor city from my JET stint (Toba). Although I am currently working with Elementary and Junior High Schools as opposed to the Senior High Schools where I was posted on while on the JET program, I feel that the Team-Teaching experiences that I gathered through JET have given me a better understanding on how Japanese students learn English. With these experiences, I was better able to modify my activities to suit the learning needs of Japanese who seem to learn better through fun and interactive communication.


Why did you decide to stay on in Japan after 5 years on JET?
During my stint on the JET Program, I was positively influenced by the sincerity of the people I met and interacted with. In particular, I started to grow close to a male friend who helped me a lot during times of troubles here when I had no one to rely on. Although he did not have great English speaking skills, he made an effort to understand my needs and the frustrations faced by a foreign living in the Japanese environment. Needless to say, the rest is history and touched by his kindness, we soon started a relationship and we were married in November 2015.

However, even without his presence, I believe I would have stayed on in Japan, especially Mie as I realize I have developed an aversion to the hustle and bustle of a city life. I have begun to appreciate the simplicity of life and to live in balance with nature and not take things for granted. Japanese are grateful and express thankfulness to their surroundings and it has become a habit in them. This can be seen in their daily life, for example in taking responsibility for their own trash by bringing them home, giving thanks before having their meals and sparing a thought for others with their actions, just to name a few.

What is it about Mie that made you stay for so long (5 years)?
I feel I have been blessed with an ideal location, Mie Prefecture, which is situated in central Japan. With its convenient access to the attractive cities of Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Nagoya, I am able to take various day trips to these locations whenever I have the urge to. At the same time, Mie, being in the countryside, allows me to appreciate nature and the resources it provides.

Ise-shima region, where I live is rich in its historical, cultural and natural heritage. In the historical front, we have the Ise Grand Shrine which is often known as the Imperial household’s family shrine and is considered one of Shinto’s holiest and most important sites. There is even a saying that Ise city will be spared from natural disaster due to the presence of the Ise Grand Shrine.

Ise shima region also still preserves certain aspects of traditional culture. A prominent cultural aspect that still lives strong up till today is the Ama pearl divers who are traditional free divers that dive without using any breathing apparatus in order to collect the pearl oysters from the seabed. Surrounded by beautiful mountains and the Ise Bay area, nature-based activities such as surfing, scuba diving and snorkeling can also be enjoyed in summer. Hiking are good options in autumn and spring, while winter brings in ideals conditions for cultivating delicious Matoya oysters and Ise lobster home to this region. As a nature lover and fan of fresh seafood, I believe I’ll never get tired of living in this region.

What is the JET experience you experienced which was unique?
Since I was teaching at a Senior High School, I had the opportunity to interact with students through their club activities, outside of the classroom. It was during these times that I got really close to my English club students and they gradually invited me to join the Tea ceremony club which was the other club activity that they were involved in. Initially I decided to just take a peep as I was curious on how Japanese Tea ceremony is practiced. However, overtime, I realize I have gradually fell in love with the art of making Japanese tea. Although it simply involved various steps in pouring and eventually drinking the tea, I was mesmerized by how each action has a reciprocal effect on the next step and how the whole procedure represents the flow of energy from one object to another.

I was so captivated by this beautiful art and decided to continue with my students throughout my times on the JET program. Over the years, I graduated from becoming a learner and started teaching the new incoming students on the proper procedures and sometimes even helped out in interpreting the steps in English when we showcase the art to foreign students and visitors to the school. It was fun practicing alongside my students and at the same time getting them to speak up more in English as we interacted through Tea ceremony.

What other activities did you engage in outside of the JET Programme?
I believe engaging in activities offered outside of the JET Programme is a key in understanding your community and getting to know the locals better. While on the JET Program, I scouted for a chorus group to join, thinking it would be one method in which I can engage in as a form of stress relief. It proved to be beneficial in many ways. Learning Japanese through songs have helped in my pronunciation and I was able to learn traditional Japanese songs both in general and unique to my region. Joining the chorus also allowed me to make friends outside of the JET circle and my local city, and it widened my opportunity to communicate using Japanese and learning the regional dialect, Kansai ben. Finally, it has also given me the unique experience of representing Japan in choral competitions overseas, which provided me with an eye-opener on how Japanese group behaviour are strongly influenced by their culture.


What insider’s secret can you share with someone who is about to visit Mie for travel?


Mie Prefecture is shaped in such a way that it is not very accessible from one end to the other. It measures 170 km from north to south, and 80 km from east to west, and includes five distinct geographical areas. One would therefore need more than one day to truly enjoy the beauty of Mie.

In a broad general summary, the northern area is famous for Mount Gozaisho and Japan most famous racetrack, Suzuka circuit. The west marks the birthplace of the ninja and is home to the Iga Ninja Museum. Way down south is the ancient road once used by pilgrims leading to the World Heritage Site, Kumano Kodo. In the centre of Mie is where one of the most famous beef types, both in Japan and internationally, is raised and produced in the quiet and serene areas surrounding Matsusaka. Last but not the least is the Ise shima region as described earlier.

What is your favourite Japanese phrase?
案ずるより産むが易し。 (Anzuru yori umu ga yasashi)
In literal terms, it translates as “giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it”, which means that an attempt is sometimes easier than expected.

I kept reminding myself of this phrase, since I began the journey on applying for JET and eventually in the various challenges that I’ve been faced with on my JET journey. Steeping out of Singapore to begin this JET journey only marks the start of many more adventures to come. Therefore, rather than worrying if you can survive in a countryside of Japan without any knowledge of Japanese language, just step forward and embrace the various challenges that will come your way.


(Credit for above picture:

Winners of the 2016 JETAA Singapore Photo Contest

September 7, 2016

Congratulations! These are the winners of the 2016 JETAA Singapore Photo Contest.

  • Category: 「給食」:Kyushoku, school lunches
Name: Felicia Lee Foong Lin

Placement: 2006 – 2008, Oirase-cho, Aomori

preparing lunch momoishi elementary school 2006.JPG

Preparing lunch

Photo taken at Momoishi Elementary School, September 2006


  • Category:「教室」 Kyoushitsu, classrooms
Name: Heng Kai Le
Placement: Kumamoto City 2011-2013

Preparing for the highlight of Sports Day: Human Pyramid!

Photo taken at Akitsu Elementary School, May 2012


  • Category:「国際交流」Kokusaikoryū, international relations
Name: Wong Shi Lei
Placement:  2012-2014, Shizuoka

International Yukata – A gift to the world

Photo taken at Shizuoka Prefecture Shimizu Minami High School, June 2014
  • Category:「祭り」Matsuri, Japanese festivals
Name: Anna Wong
Placement: 2010 -2013
Nanao Gion Matsuri, Nanao City, Ishikawa, July 2015.JPG

Nanao Gion Matsuri

Photo taken at Ishikawa, July 2015

Thank you everyone who had participated in this contest! We received many amazing pictures, and it was a tough selection process. We hope you had as much fun taking a trip down memory lane as the selection committee had. Your photos reminded us of our own adventures in JET, and how fortunate we are to be given the opportunity to experience them.

The above winning entries will be our postcard pictures for our SJ50 Celebrations.

All winners will receive a JETAA SG goodie bag and a Meidi-ya voucher by post. We will reach out shortly via email for your contact details. 

Participate in the 2016 JETAA Singapore Photo Contest!

July 25, 2016

In conjunction with the JET Programme 30th Anniversary Photo Contest, we are calling all photo-loving JETAA SG members to participate in the 2016 JETAA Singapore Photo Contest. Winning submissions will be printed and distributed in JETAA SG’s events as postcards.


1. The photo theme should be either of the following:

「給食」:Kyushoku, school lunches
「教室」: Kyoushitsu, classrooms
「国際交流」:Kokusaikoryū, international relations
「祭り」:Matsuri, Japanese festivals

2. Only submit photos that you’ve taken and have the right to share

3. Photographs featuring the faces of people are not acceptable.

4. All submitted photos must have been taken in Japan.

5. Each entrant may submit up to 2 photo entries for each theme.

6. Each image must be in JPEG format with a resolution of at least 1600×1200 pixels.

7. Each image should not be bigger than 10MB.

  • Entry method:

Send your photos to

Please indicate your:
– Full name (For winners, please note that your name will be published on the postcards)
– Your year and placement
– A title for each photo, where and when

This contest in eligible to all JETAA SG members.
Contest entry period: July 25 (Mon), 2016 ~ August 10 (Wed), 2016

General consent: By submitting your entry, you give JETAA SG permission to publish your photos and the information you provided on the Facebook page and other related social media channels. You also give JETAA SG permission to use your entry as a photo motif for the JETAA SG postcards.

JET Alumnus of the Month #2: Kennard Xu

July 21, 2016

Hello again! As mentioned before, we have a JET Alumnus of the Month interview. Each month, we will be speaking with a JET alumnus to know more about their JET experience and life post-JET. If you are interested to be interviewed, or if you would like to nominate someone, please let us know by dropping us a comment here, on our facebook, or email us at

Our 2nd featured JET alumni is none other than Kennard Xu, who was placed in Kagoshima from 2010-2015. For many of us that didn’t have the fortune of staying the 5 year term in Japan, Kennard was able to savour the full flavor of Japan with his extensive 5 year stay! So drumroll please for Kennard and read on to be inspired by his experiences in this full exclusive interview with JETAA!

Here’re some questions:

What are you doing now that you are back in SG?

I have registered a company and started my own business in marketing and trade. At the same time, I have also been appointed as the Kagoshima Prefectural Government ASEAN Regional Director to assist them in their overseas promotional efforts in Southeast Asia.

How did you come to make the decision to set up a company promoting Kagoshima in Singapore?

Towards the end of my fifth and final year as a CIR, I happened to speak with my then Executive Director, who asked about my future plans. I told him about my interest in promoting Kagoshima overseas and that led to further discussion on the possibility of setting up a Kagoshima Prefectural Government representative office in Southeast Asia. Things ended up with me registering a company in Singapore, which at the same time acts as their Southeast Asia representative office, promoting trade and tourism in the region.

001 - Appointment as Kagoshima ASEAN Director

How has your experience on the JET Programme helped you reach this decision?

Through my work such as translation and creation of tourism promotion materials, interpretation for foreign dignitary visits, giving presentations on Kagoshima to foreign audiences, participating in local festivals, etc., I was given ample opportunities to interact with the locals, and to learn more about Kagoshima. With a rich history, great nature, and unique culture, I came to realise that Kagoshima, a Japan yet to be discovered by many, has got a lot to offer. I would very much want to be part of the effort that helps promote this wonderful place, and this led me to where I am today.

What is it about Kagoshima that made you stay for so long (5 years)?

It was the good work-life balance and ideal living environment. However, I have to admit that things didn’t start out too well initially, and I almost wanted to leave the programme after two years. In April that year, a new Director was transferred into my office. She was highly motivated and goal-oriented, and was very supportive of the CIRs, giving us lots of room and opportunity to develop ourselves professionally. The newfound challenge and sense of purpose at work made me reverse my decision to leave, and I stayed on till the end.

In terms of living environment, Kagoshima city is a well-developed regional capital city with all the necessary services, facilities and conveniences of a modern city, and great nature just a stone’s throw away. Commuting to work was stress-free, as I either cycled or walked (no packed trains and buses!). On weekends, my wife would make some rice balls and tea and we would spend the late afternoon at the bay side or up in the hills, overlooking the majestic Mt. Sakurajima and enjoying the peace.

One other important aspect would be social support. Kagoshima people are known for being very hospitable and friendly, and the many friends I have made, both locals and foreigners, had made my life in Kagoshima a fulfilling one. I had been on camping road trips with friends, was invited regularly to attend home parties and participate in local festivals, and as such, never did I ever feel lonely or homesick.

003 - Friend Home Party

004 - View of Sakurajima during weekend outing

What are some of the challenges you faced when you returned to Singapore after such a long 5-year stint in Kagoshima?

The biggest challenge for me is to manage both work and family, starting everything from scratch. We moved into our new flat in early May this year, but as we unpacked and sorted our belongings shipped from Kagoshima, we also had to liaise with our contractor to discuss our flat renovation. I also had to quickly set up my new business and office, opened bank accounts, signed up for mobile phone and home internet, bought printers and office equipment, etc. At the same time, as new parents, my wife and I have to learn to care for our new-born, bringing him for medical check-ups and vaccinations, registering his citizenship with the Singapore government, etc. With all of the above coming together at once, I have to say it was, and still is, quite a challenge for us.

What is the JET experience you got which was unique?

As a prefectural CIR with Kagoshima, my unique work arrangement required me to rotate between the Prefectural Government Office and the Kagoshima International Association every six months. At the Prefectural Government Office, I dealt mostly with government administration, translating official documents, interpreting during foreign VIP visits, support the planning and execution of government conferences, etc. At the Kagoshima International Association, I focused more on cultural exchange and interaction with the locals, through the organisation of events such as Singapore seminars to introduce Singapore culture, and cooking sessions to share Singapore recipes, school visits, and English Story Telling sessions for children.

On top of that, Kagoshima has an on-going, long-running bilateral exchange relationship with Singapore for 34 years (it started in 1982). This gave me the unique experience of working closely with several Singapore government agencies when we organise the biennial “Singapore Kagoshima Conference”. I believe not many CIRs get to work with their home country government and receive ministerial level VIPs, and I am very thankful for this unique experience.

006 - JET Experience Children Story Telling

What insider’s secret can you share with someone who is about to visit Kagoshima for travel? 

A picture paints a thousand words and well-filmed high definition videos would paint a billion. I would like to take this opportunity to share the following two websites with our readers to save them the trouble of having to read a billion words.

  1. Kagoshima Energetic Japan – a collection of 34 high resolution videos depicting the charms of Kagoshima (
  2. Bird’s Eye View of Kagoshima – a collection of 31 high resolution videos on amazing islands in Kagoshima, taken by a drone (

My current job requires me to promote Kagoshima, so I greatly welcome interested parties to contact me at for more insiders’ information on tourism in Kagoshima. I also conduct presentations and seminars on Kagoshima, so for those who are planning school excursions, exchange programmes, corporate incentive trips, etc. and need more information on Kagoshima, please feel free to get in touch with me!



JET Alumnus of the Month #1: Anna Wong

June 11, 2016

Hi guys! We are excited to announce we are launching a series of JET Alumnus of the Month interviews. Each month, we will be speaking with a JET alumnus to know more about their JET experience and life post-JET. If you are interested to be interviewed, or if you would like to nominate someone, please let us know by dropping us a comment here, on our facebook, or email us at

Our top batter of the series is Anna Wong, who was placed in Nanao City, Ishikawa Prefecture from 2010-2013. All JET participants would agree that when we left Japan, we took something precious with us. For Anna, she was introduced to Taiko (Japanese Drums) while in Ishikawa, and has since been involved with the art form. She had very recently assisted Kodo, a professional taiko drumming troupe from Japan that had popularised the art both in Japan and abroad, in their Singapore performance. Here is Anna and our interview with her.


Anna performing with her taiko troupe

How long have you been practising Taiko?
About 4 years

Why did you decide to take up Taiko?
It looked really cool and was something I wanted to try in Japan. My friend also wanted to learn, but we didn’t know of any groups that had female members, which was what we wanted. We later found our group, Nanao Kashimazu Taiko, by serendipitous coincidence one day when they had a meeting in the same building where we had Japanese class.


Nanao Kashimasu Taiko

How was your experience playing Taiko in Japan?
It was awesome. The group was really friendly and welcoming to foreigners. They treated us as equals, not foreigners or guests, and included us in all the performances and events. They are like family to me.
Playing taiko exposed me more to the local community and gave me the chance to experience things that I would never have been able to do otherwise, like attend a sumo wrestler’s party, appear in the newspapers and on TV, and play at local and regional competitions. It also opened up the performer side of me that I didn’t know I had. And it probably made me seem cooler to my students too!Kashimazu family


What keeps you going?
I want to get better at playing and I also want to keep performing. In Nanao, I only learnt one style, but there is so much more in the world of taiko that I have yet to touch. I also like the taiko community and playing together with people who enjoy playing as much as I do.

What was your role in the opening act with Kodo? How was the whole experience?
I was in the logistics team helping out backstage. It was a great opportunity to be exposed to more music pieces, learn more about the taiko world in Singapore, and get to know the Hibikiya*(the taiko troupe Anna now plays with in Singapore) members more since I’m still very new to the group. It was also a rare and valuable chance to watch the professionals from Kodo up close, see how they play and learn from them. They are on a completely different level. Overall it was a wonderful experience and I’m glad that I got to be a part of it.


Kodo x Hibikiya at the Esplanade

What is the JET experience you got which was unique to Nanao City?
Aside from the wonderful location and wonderful people I’ve met there, I think what was unique for me was the schools that I got. I taught at a nursing high school which has a nursing and care-giving stream. Not surprisingly, the school is 90% girls. The nursing students do 3 years of high school followed by 2 years of a specialised nursing course in the same school. The general environment is different from a regular high school as the students have many specialised classes and do attachments at hospitals and nursing homes, and given their choice of study, I think they’re kinder and more caring in general. I taught all 5 grades, which meant that I also taught nursing English to the 4th and 5th years. My visit school was a night school with a range of students, both younger and older than me, with different situations that didn’t allow them to go the regular high school route. I think my oldest student was about 60. I really got a range of students that I think most JETs don’t normally get.

Finally, what insider’s secret can you share with someone who is about to visit Ishikawa for travel?
You need to drive to really be able to see the place because things are pretty spread out and public transport isn’t very frequent. If you want something specific, there is a massive rock shaped like Totoro on the coast of the Noto Peninsula that isn’t on tourist maps and can only be accessed by car.

Totoro rock.JPG

Totoro rock on the coat of Noto Peninsula

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?
If anyone is interested in joining Taiko and wants to know more about it, please feel free to ask me (drop a comment below). Pease also feel free to check out Kashimazu Taiko’s facebook page and Hibikiya’s website.


May 7, 2016
via Jetaa Singapore

May 7, 2016
via Jetaa Singapore