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Featured Article of the Month

Nine Students from Singapore Experience Japan Firsthand Through The JENESYS Programme

By Mr Craig McTurk

The JENESYS Programme, now in its 13th year, was designed to expose students from ASEAN countries to Japan through a week-long immersion trip that showcases the country’s renowned culture, history and scenery. A secondary but equally important purpose is to connect youth from across Asia through their shared love of film and media. To this end, The Asian International Children’s Film Festival has become its flagship event, for which student teams produce short films based on a given theme. The theme for 2019 was, “How do you think about causing others trouble? Is it okay if only you are good? Can you think about other people?”

Between December 2-9, 2019, nine students from Singapore attended the JENESYS Programme to compete in this film festival. Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Temasek Polytechnic and Nanyang Polytechnic were each represented by teams comprised of three media students. For most of them, it was their first time to visit Japan and interact with Japanese society. This trip was designed to both inform and entertain, and the itinerary was masterfully curated and conducted through the combined efforts of the Embassy of Japan and JTB.

From the moment we arrived, we were whisked off by coach buses to visit iconic Osaka Castle. The following day, we proceeded to what would be the primary destination of our trip: Awaji-shima, a small island in Hyōgo Prefecture that overlooks the Seto Inland Sea. This island, nestled between Kobe to the northeast and Shikoku to the southwest, is famous for its Japanese puppetry, stunning views and its local produce; namely, onions (said to be the tastiest in all of Japan), mikan oranges, sweet potatoes, and seafood.

The 150-strong delegation, plus dozens of JTB organizers and translators, were ensconced for five nights at Hotel & Resorts Minamiawaji, where the participants were able to sample a range of Japanese cuisine and unwind in the on-site hot springs. For many, the thrill of sitting in the warm outdoor baths (rotenburo) on chilly nights was palpable.

We heard from representatives of Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and ASEAN about the goals, challenges and opportunities facing these organisations. With so many languages spoken amongst us, we became accustomed to wearing headphones through which we heard simultaneous translation at numerous sharing sessions such as these.

The centrepiece of the trip was the Asian International Children’s Film Festival, which entailed one day of viewing every entry in its entirety before the awards ceremony that was to follow some days later. At the preliminary screening session, we were treated to a memorable dance performed by primary schoolchildren before hearing the keynote speech delivered by the mayor of Minami Awaji City. The films that we saw that afternoon were a testimony to the creative spirit of the next generation of filmmakers from Asia, and allowed everyone to see how each country handled the given theme in their own distinctive voice. Films ranged from the whimsical, to the comedic, to more serious as they addressed social problems such as littering, lack of respect for elderly and society, and uncaring behaviour towards others. Through the power of cinema, youthful filmmakers crafted heartfelt stories, with Timor-Leste emerging victorious as the Grand Prize winner.

Throughout the week, there were ample excursions designed to expose students to the majestic scenery and cultural traditions that make Awaji-shima such a unique destination. An hour-long boat ride provided us with the opportunity to view Naruto Whirlpools, a natural phenomenon created by incoming and outgoing currents meeting head-on near the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world. Participants experienced the traditional art of Japanese puppetry at a specially-built theatre, and made handbells from molten tin at a rustic village and zoo called England Hill. Visits to Otsuka Museum of Art, the Bicycle Museum and the Tomb of Emperor Nintoku rounded out the trip. We even had a chance to interact with local schoolchildren in the classroom and on the sports pitch.

The fact that JENESYS leaves an indelible impact on its participants is evident in the words of Jerry Ding, a Singaporean enrolled in the Film, Sound & Video diploma course at Ngee Ann Polytechnic and a first-time visitor to Japan: “JENESYS 2019 has given me the opportunity to not just make friends from more than 10 different countries, but to also enjoy and appreciate the culture and landscape of Awaji Island.”

About the Author

Mr Craig McTurk is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Film & Media Studies at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. An American citizen and a Permanent Resident of Singapore since 2004, McTurk previously worked for numerous broadcasters in the US, including PBS affiliate WQED and National Geographic Television. He recently served as co-producer for Satan & Adam, now appearing on Netflix in the US and UK markets, and produced The Last Artisan (slated for release later this year). His writings include the 2013 hardcover book, Parting Glances: Singapore’s Evolving Spaces. McTurk received a BA from Oberlin College and a Master of Fine Arts degree from California Institute of the Arts.

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