The Dream Sphere
The Dream Sphere

Led by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), Singapore’s participation at the World Expo 2025 was an opportunity to share our nation’s story. Located at Yumeshima Island, situated near Osaka, Singapore's pavilion design is called "The Dream Sphere". It is a seven-storey bright red sphere that pays homage to Yumeshima Island’s name, meaning "Dream Island". With the tagline, "Where Dreams Take Shape", this sphere is designed and produced by Kingsmen Exhibits.

The Design

If the design looks familiar, chalk it up to coincidence. Leading Singapore-based multidisciplinary design firm, DP Architects spearheaded its architectural design. Inspired by Singapore’s endearing moniker, ‘the Little Red Dot’, DP interpreted the look of the Dream... quite literally. Conceived in line with the expo's theme of "Designing [a] Future Society for our Lives", the Pavilion aims for positive change to build a more sustainable and liveable city for Singaporeans. It's constructed around the tenets of 4Rs—renew, reuse, reduce and recycle. And staying true to the message of sustainability, the facade is made of more than 20,000 recycled discs. 

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Other design features of the Pavilion include its scaly exterior. It references the Seigaiha, a traditional Japanese wave motif, and Ema, a Japanese wooden wishing charm. The sphere’s colour coincides with Singapore's and Japan’s national colour. Its shape resembles the distinct silhouette of the Japanese ume. 

Carrie Kwik, Executive Director, World Expo and Special Project, STB, said, “Singapore’s participation at Expo 2025 in Osaka serves as an important platform for Singapore enterprises and talents to be profiled on a global stage and a chance for companies to enhance their brand visibility and engage potential business partners. We are proud to bring Singapore to Osaka and aim to have Singapore business missions visiting Japan to network and promote collaboration between Singapore companies and Japanese guests at our Singapore Pavilion.”

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Expo 2025 Osaka expects 28 million visitors over 184 days from 13 April 2024 to 13 October 2025.

If Shōgun's events feel like they're based in historical fact, that's because most of the story is based on a real-life power struggle. Author James Clavell borrowed many historical figures from the 17th century for his 1975 novel of the same name—which greatly dramatised the story of the first Englishman to sail to Japan. His work of historical fiction even garnered a popular miniseries in 1980, which was such a hit that many cultural observers attributed the show's success to the rise of interest in sushi in the West.


Although Clavell—who hailed from England himself—beefed up both the story of John Blackthorne's arrival in Japan and his influence on the eventual Tokugawa shogunate, many of the characters and events depicted in Shōgun are based on historical fact. This week, FX debuted the first two episodes of its take on Shōgun—and it's already a hit amongst critics. The series stars Hiroyuki Sanada (John Wick: Chapter 4) as Lord Toranaga and Cosmo Jarvis (Persuasion) as John Blackthorne. But what's fact and fiction in the latest Shōgun adaptation?

The events of the series begin with the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who was the second "Great Unifier of Japan." In Shōgun, he's called the Taikō, which was the title given to a retired advisor of a former emperor. Hideyoshi carried on the work of Oda Nabunaga, the first Great Unifier of Japan, following nearly a century-long of civil war. After the Taikō died, a new path opened for infighting. Five great lords, called daimyo, vied for the title of shōgun: the de facto ruler of Japan.

Japan feared another century of conflict after the Taiko’s death, so Hideyoshi established the five elders who would rule in his place. A prominent member among the five included Tokugawa Ieyasu, renamed Yoshii Toranaga in Shōgun and brought to life by Sanada. Over the span of just two years, he leveraged his power and close connection to the Taiko to become the new shōgun. Assembling his forces, he took Osaka Castle and easily won the bloody battle of Sekigahara—which is one of the most important battles in Japanese history.

Around this time, Takagawa met William Adams, the first Englishman to sail to Japan. Adams eventually became a trusted advisor to Takagawa, who was impressed by his knowledge of Western ships and navigation. He commissioned Adams to Japanese ships—and he later replaced Jesuit Padre João Rodrigues as the shōgun's official interpreter. In the miniseries, Adams’s counterpart, John Blackthorne (played by Jarvis), holds much more significance to Tokugawa’s rise to power than he did in real life. What really won Tokugawa the shogunate? It was military might.


In Shōgun, Tokugawa uses Blackthorne’s presence as a Protestant to sow disagreement between the Five Elders—some of whom profited from the nation’s Christian colonisers, who hailed from from Portugal and Spain. Sure, the Five Elders demanding the persecution of one heretic among Tokugawa’s castle may be a tad far-fetched. But Clavell’s addition of Blackthorne is more so the story's powder keg. Clavell also added a relationship between Blackthorne and Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), whose real-life counterpart never even met Adams.

That isn't to say that Tokugawa and Adams didn't share a friendship in real life. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the two wrote many letters to one another, and the powerful daimyo was fascinated by Adams's knowledge of the globe. Tokugawa also greeted the Englishman during his trips to Japan, even after he had rose to the shogunate. Eventually, Adams was gifted the honorary title of samurai. Meanwhile, Tokugawa remained in power until his death in 1616. He constructed the great Edo Castle—the largest castle in all of Japan—and the Tokugawa shogunate ruled the country for the next 250 years.

Originally published on Esquire US

It’s hard not to be shaken by the current geo-political situation on our doorstep. And while many (if not all of us) are feeling somewhat helpless amid the turmoil, one common hope emerges: Peace.

A symbol recognised worldwide, a circle with an embedded branch, has come to represent this aspiration. Conceived by British graphic artist Gerald Holtom in 1958, it was originally associated with the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Hence its nickname: CND. Holtom’s intention was to convey the image of a stylised figure with outstretched, open palms, symbolising helplessness and resignation in the face of the nuclear threat. The original sketches of this iconic symbol can be found at Bradford University. Holtom, a committed pacifist and conscientious objector during World War II, intentionally refrained from copyrighting his design, making it accessible for all to use.

Earlier this year the US-based design museum, Cooper Hewitt, unveiled its ‘Designing Peace’ exhibition. It explored the unique role that design can play in the pursuit of peace. With more than 30 design proposals, the exhibit showcases how design can respond immediately to urgent humanitarian needs, providing products that aid individuals in rebuilding their lives and restoring their dignity. Creative forces are capable of addressing emergency requirements for secure, healthy and respectful environments. The United Nations, through its Sustainable Development Agenda (Goal 16), lays out a plan for nurturing peaceful coexistence. This exhibition is currently on view at the Museum Craft and Design in San Francisco, USA.

Social Change Through Design

In 2023, Tokyo hosted the World Design Assembly. One of the main themes was the pivotal role of design in driving social change across various dimensions. This includes design for peace, design for social change, innovation, inclusion, and cohesion. It is a thread that has played a prominent role in modern Japanese culture. Since 1983, the Japan Graphic Designers Association presented a project entitled ‘Hiroshima Appeals’ dedicated to creating posters with the purpose of promoting peace. Back in 2015, the Japanese government approved the ‘Basic Design for Peace and Health’ recognising human security as the fundamental principle.

In the aftermath of Japan’s defeat in World War II, the Japanese government harnessed the power of design. Through design, they rebuild the nation through innovative products utilising recycled materials to minimise production costs. Another testament to design’s influence on modern society is machizukuri. This is a process of community design that involves both local authorities and residents, allowing the public to play a part in shaping their own futures.

These initiatives illustrate the ability of design practitioners to reinvent their field. To address the economic and societal challenges that Japan, or any modern nation, may encounter in its history. Let’s embrace the Japanese concept of Kyosei or ‘conviviality’. That's where true peace encompasses not only the absence of violence but also the rectification of past injustices, exploitation and oppression.


The novelty of being a big city lad, strolling into a sexy London glass office with a latte in hand (as they do in the movies) doesn’t last long. By the time I was 30, on paper, I’d made it. I was working at a top television network, with a comfortable salary and business trips to Manhattan. I had a bachelor pad, bought nice clothes, and partied weekends. It was exactly what I pictured growing up, but I wasn’t happy.

The traditional outlook on life has always been to work hard, get married, buy a house, and at least for millennials, allocation of ‘fun’ is slotted in at the end, for retirement. That’s assuming we’re lucky enough to make it to our 60s. Spending the next 30+ years of my life in an office cubicle and mind-numbing marketing meetings was, to me, pure torture. I decided enough was enough.

The First Step

In 2016 I sold my things and moved to Tokyo on an English teaching visa, interning part-time as an entertainment reporter for a local paper. It was a chance to go to free gigs, make new friends, and get out there. Months later, came the big break. A friend moved to Singapore as editor of an airline magazine, and they needed a travel writer in Japan. I was now getting paid to write and explore.

The lack of English-speaking reporters in the region, at least compared to back home, meant I was able to secure a steady flow of work covering Japan. Eventually, I ditched the English teaching job to write full-time, forfeiting the visa. That was fine as I could work anywhere with a good Wi-Fi connection.

Being used to a routine, things were tough in the beginning. You never know when the next job is coming, and finding a new place to set up shop can be stressful. Things have got easier, especially post-pandemic now that digital nomads have surged (131 per cent since 2019, according to Forbes). I’ve spent extended time in Da Nang, Bali and Kuala Lumpur, meccas for remote workers, thanks to special digital nomad visas, flexible co-working spaces and value long-stay rentals and travel.

Every day isn’t coconut cocktails on the beach. I still go to an office. I make my own hours and choose when and where I want to work. I’m based between the US and the UK. I rented desks or WFH, but you’ll find me and my laptop all over the place. Mostly in coffee shops and hotel rooms. I also try to make the most of transit time that can sometimes be a challenge. For example, on the Caledonian Sleeper train to Inverness, though the purpose was to sleep, I stayed up all night to meet a last-minute deadline. A couple of weeks later I sailed the Indian Ganges on a boutique rivercruise called Uniworld. It was pretty remote, and l got frustrated with Internet speeds. Maybe it was a sign to switch off and enjoy the ride.


Though the money I earn now is far less than before, so are my outgoings. I used to live rather excessively. But now I don’t need the latest gadgets, a car, or a swanky downtown apartment. Why? Because I get plenty of enrichment on the job. One week I can be surrounded by rescued elephants in Chiang Mai. And the next I’ll be surrounded by celebrity chefs at The Dorchester in Mayfair. In a single year, I can check off more bucket list activities than one could in a lifetime. I’ve had to make a whole new list, actually. Things I've done: hot air ballooning, snowmobiling, and safari; interviewed Sir Richard Branson and Michelle Yeoh. I’ve even written two best-selling guidebooks.

Before leaving the rat race, my stories weren’t particularly noteworthy. Unless you’re into drunken anecdotes, but everything that’s happened in recent years would make a real page-turner of a biography. I skim my travel journals in disbelief. Best of all, I’ve been able to share many special moments with the people I care about. Working remotely means more time with loved ones and less time with Karen from advertising. It’s ironic because we all know time is finite. And yet,most people prioritise making money in the hopes of using it later to live their best lives. Think about all the things that make you happy. Travel, music, cooking, sports, spouse, kids…How much time are you dedicating to them? Are you justifying a lack of time now for more later? I’m always conscious that later often becomes never, and remember, never is the saddest thing anyone could work toward.

James Wong can be reached here.

No one would ever think that the picturesque and serene Mount Fuji is still an active volcano. And none might even hazard a guess that the sacred mountain would also be the base for a time-honoured Japanese tradition of tea-making that gives way to TWG Tea's Hon Gyokuro.

The suffix "gyokuro" is a kind of shaded green tea. The prefix "hon" denotes the work of a master artisan. Gyokuro is cultivated through laborious means. That's where the tea isn't grown under the full glare of the sun but rather under the shade.

They are matured under a careful arrangement of handcrafted straw mats known as 'Komo'. Over 25 days, these tea leaves draw in the nutrients of precious minerals that are nurtured by rain showers and dewy mornings. The slow growth of Hon Gyokuro is further nurtured by gentle breezes and sunlight filtering through the woven mat.

After harvesting, the freshly picked tea leaves are promptly processed on the same day. Stored in a wooden box known as Cha-Bako, the leaves rest and mature until autumn, enhancing their exquisite flavours. You get seaweed-green leaves that are rich in chlorophyll. With a flavour profile that hints of honeysuckle and that ends in a velvety finish with a touch of ooika—a thick, heady note that ignites the senses. This is a tea of brilliant sweetness and concentrated flavour.

Last of its Kind

This ancestral Gyokuro technique is practised by only a handful of tea plantations in Japan. There, where Mount Fuji sits, the altitude and terroir add to the Gyokuro harvests. The two renowned tea estates which TWG Tea sources from are managed by a single tea planter. In the case of Master's Gyokuro, the plantation's lone producer and craftsman of Hon Gyokuro is the last in the line of tea planters. He harvests the leaves by hand once a year in the spring. Only a mere five-kilogramme yield is passed onto TWG Tea. Needless to say, for the sort of exceptional quality, the Hon Gyokuro is highly limited.

TWG Tea's Imperial Gyokuro (SGD264 per pot / SGD1,271.50 per 50g) and Master's Gyokuro (SGD61.50 per pot / SGD258 per 50g) are more than just a cup of tea; it is an experience. Where contemplation over a comforting brew brings to the fore the appreciation of long-cherished heritage and craftsmanship.


If you know Envy, you probably know Envy. The Japanese band with more than 30 years of post-hardcore legacy revisits us this week. Coming off a successful European tour spanning nine countries and 16 shows, as well as their recent stint at Maho Rasop in Thailand and the release of their 10-inch EP Seimei last year, they will be showcasing an impressive catalogue in one night.

For those that don't know Envy, that's seven albums, six EPs and more seamlessly blending aggressive and melodic elements. We could talk about how the signature music profile is characterised by intense dynamics of hardcore punk and atmospheric soundscape but better to experience it for yourself. Especially if the genre sounds like your thing.

The six-strong powerhouse comprise original members Manabu Nakagawa on bass, Nobukata Kawai on guitar, and lead vocalist/keyboardist Tetsuya Fukagawa, and the fitting subsequent additions of y0shi and Yoshimitsu Taki on guitars, and Hiroki Watanabe on drums.


The upcoming performance marks a momentous occasion since the last live show was 2012 at the Substation. Other festivals Envy has graced include HELLFEST (FR), FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL (JP) and the very recent MAHO RASOP (TH).

Top Recommended Records To Check Out

  1. Formation and Early Years (1992-1996): The band's early years were marked by a DIY ethos, and self-released first EP "Breathing and Dying in this Place" in 1996.
  2. A Dead Sinking Story (2003): Often considered a landmark in Envy's discography, "A Dead Sinking Story" received critical acclaim for its emotional sound.
  3. Insomniac Doze (2006): Another well-received album, this showed Envy's ability to blend intense, chaotic moments with beautiful, atmospheric passages.
  4. Recitation (2010): Besides continuing Envy's exploration of post-rock and post-metal influences, the album demonstrated their musical evolution and experimentation.
  5. Collaboration with Tetsuya Fukagawa (2016): Envy faced a significant change when vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa left the band in 2016. However, his departure was amicable, and the remaining members continued to make music with guest vocalists. (Fukagawa’s retirement was short lived as he returned to the band in 2018.)

Envy Live In Singapore

Date: Wednesday, 6 December 2023
Time: 8pm till 10pm, doors open at 7.30pm
Venue: SCAPE The Ground Theatre, Singapore 239978

Purchase tickets on Eventbrite

A bottle of Yamazaki 18 and a bottle of Hakushu 18, both from Suntory.
Suntory's Yamazaki 18 and Hakushu 18

Dive into 100 years of whisky innovation. At the ArtScience Museum, you'll meet with an immersive exhibition about the humble beginnings of Suntory, the process of its storied whisky and where it is heading.

Called, The Legacy Continues: 100 Years of Suntory Whisky Innovation, visitors can revisit key moments of the whisky house. Running until 17 July, not only do you get to witness history being made but you can also sit in on an exquisite tasting of Suntory's rare and iconic whiskies.

Entering the exhibit and it feels like you've stepped into the past. Inspired by Suntory's legendary Yamazaki distillery, the exhibit showcases the sights, scents and sounds of the place. With interactive displays that guide you through the taste profiles of each of Suntory's iconic whiskies, you'll also appreciate the work and artistry that went into making Suntory a global sensation.

Don't miss out on the exclusive showing of the docuseries, The Nature and Spirit of Japan. Directed by Roman Coppola and starring Keanu Reeves, discover Suntory via its pillars of nature, spirit and the essence of Japan.

The Bar

And finally, the journey reaches its crescendo at The Bar. Sit at the counter, where you'll go through three distinct eras of Japanese culture. You'll be privy to curated visual projections, carefully selected playlists and a refined selection of whisky flights and cocktails. The drinks feature Suntory's coveted limited-edition Yamazaki, Hakushu and Ao whiskies.

Missed Out on the Exhibition?

If fate isn't kind to you and you missed the exhibition, there's still a reprieve. At Changi Airport Terminal 1, there's a global travel retail launch outpost at the transit area. It'll feature animmersive exhibition, interactive video elements and, of course, a moment to sample the finest of Japanese whiskies... unless you're the pilot. We suggest holding off the drink unless you're returning from landing a plane.