Friday Five Life in Japan

5 Things Japanese Associate With Singapore

15 March 2015

Whenever I tell Japanese that I’m from Singapore, I would always get the standard initial response. Without fail. It’s like they all sat through the same “How to react to when you meet a Singaporean” class lol.

#1 – Marina Bay Sands

This is the first thing all the Japanese I have met (after MBS was built) respond with after I tell them I’m from Singapore. ALL OF THEM.

Not many actually know the name of the building, but they gesture with their hands horizontally as they say “Yes! That ship thing on top of the hotel! Wow, it looks amazing. I really want to go there!”

I was surprised at MBS’ insane popularity here and wanted to find out why.

This is why:


Apart from SMAP’s SoftBank commercial, tourism and advertisement materials related to Singapore often portray MBS.

That solves the mystery!

But what about the period before MBS was built?

#2 – Merlion

That’s right. The Merlion.

Pre-2010, I always got “Ahh, Singapore! The Merlion!” in reply, which was why I was surprised in the complete difference in response when I returned to Japan in 2012.

ps: The Merlion still has some association to Singapore in the Japanese mind, which is why even in SMAP’s commercial above, they included a scene of the Merlion (which was switched to Softbank’s dog mascot)

#3 – Chewing Gum

Another reaction that I often received before MBS completely overshadowed it – Singapore’s ban of chewing gum.

Japanese often ask me if the ban is true and when I answer in the affirmative, they express their surprise all over again.

#4 – Clean and Green City

People who have been to Singapore all tell me that Singapore is very clean.

I honestly don’t really notice the difference, and when I say so, they are very shocked. “Eeeeeh?! But Singapore is so much cleaner!”

I think that it might be because of first impression. They arrive in Changi Airport and see such a clean, modern, world-class airport. All the roads leading to and from the airport are beautifully manicured with neat rows of blooming bougainvillea. It is not unnatural that their bias is firmly formed even before they stepped out of the airport area.

If they only knew about the armies of cleaners required to keep Singapore’s streets clean… (there are very little people hired to clean Japan’s roads, if at all)

#5 – Tea

This was the most surprising answer of all.

The rest, sure, they are quite unique to Singapore. But… tea???

Ehh, Singapore doesn’t even have any tea plantations! The tea was probably harvested in Sri Lanka, and the packaging manufactured in Malaysia. If only they knew… (I couldn’t bear to break the news to them)

But yes, tea is very popular with Japanese tourists. They flock to TWG and buy enough tea to distribute to their extended families when they go back. I hear there are also a few shops in Raffles Hotel that carries very good tea. Who knew?! The things I learn about Singapore outside of the country…

That’s this week’s Friday Five!

I know, I know. Why is Friday Five published on a Sunday, right? I have my reasons! And surely you’ve heard that “Better late than never”? :D

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