Heartlander Singapore through a Japanese Expat Blogger’s Eyes

Most Japanese expats would be intimately familiar with MBS, the Merlion, and the glitz and glam a la Crazy Rich Asians. Megumi Nakazawa, however, wants to show her countrymen a different side of the island she has lovingly called home since 2004.

Even after 15 years of living in Singapore, Nakazawa-san is still unabashedly fond of the country. The various experiences that she has had living in Singapore have made her feel that this is one place where differences are celebrated and appreciated. Unlike Japan, Singapore is extremely diverse, something that never ceases to amaze Nakazawa-san. She also loves that this diversity is coupled with convenience – Chinese, Malay, and Indian influences meet in a convenient melting pot, whose small size means that “everything is accessible.” 

What first started out as an opportunity to move overseas for work soon turned into a fascination with Singapore’s multicultural warmth and the laidback atmosphere of its heartlands, which Nakazawa-san tries to capture through photos on her Instagram.

She chronicles the daily lives of Singaporean heartlanders as they go about their business, trying to preserve little moments that show the island as the locals see it. In her blog, she writes about everyday Singapore – HDB blocks, hawker centres and vending machines –  to show other Japanese expats the unadorned face of Singapore that is not often visible to tourists. 

For Nakazawa-san, photography is a great way for her to meet and interact with the locals. She chooses her subjects intuitively and strikes up a conversation before getting permission to photograph them and their work. More often than not, says Nakazawa-san, her subjects are overwhelmingly supportive and friendly when she tells them about her project. She adds that most of them get extremely enthusiastic when they find out about her blog, and some even excitedly request her to promote their businesses to other Japanese people. 

Through her work, she hopes to uncover the real Singapore that lies beneath the glossy facade. To that end, she focuses on the heartlands – HDB shops and wet markets, as well as on the local fare that is an indispensable part of food-loving Singapore’s culture and heritage.  Nakazawa-san herself has some of her own memories to share as well. Taking photos of a street barber on Arab Street, possibly the last one of his kind in Singapore, stands out for her as a particularly poignant experience.

In this video, Nakazawa-san takes us on a tour of her favorite place in Singapore, Tekka Market.

Located in the heart of Little India, the cultural heart of Singapore’s Indian community, Tekka Market is one of the more Indian-influenced wet markets in Singapore. Nevertheless, as Nakazawa-san reminds us, there is no shortage of Chinese and Malay stalls there as well, making it a perfect symbol of multicultural Singapore. We see Nakazawa-san chat with friendly stallholders as she prepares to snap photos of them for her blog and Instagram account. Their smiles and heartwarming banter, in a mix of halting English and Japanese, is precisely what Nakazawa-san makes her mission to record. 

About the author

Translator, writer, and all-around multilingual person.
Always on the lookout for interesting people and projects in Japanese/English/Chinese.


A filmmaker who documents Japanese-Singapore stories.
When not on set or editing, I'm likely to be watching Japanese TV & movies while munching on Calbee's seaweed chips.
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