An Alumni Story – My Study Abroad journey in Japan

An Alumni Story – My Study Abroad journey in Japan

Story by Joseph Jonathan (JJ) Chua Yi Han

Here in At-Sunrice, we are constantly looking out for opportunities to give our students the most internationally diverse education possible. We have internationally recognised faculty in the classrooms, 6-month Overseas Industrial attachments with esteemed restaurant partners as part of the 18-month diploma programmes, and now, a 1-2 week Study Abroad programme that allows students and alumni to travel and learn in Japan or Australia for their culinary training.

At-Sunrice alumni JJ recently embarked on a 6-day learning experience at Hakodate Culinary School, Japan, as part of the Study Abroad programme.

Learning all about Sake from the guest teacher

Day 1. A team of 6 and me arrived in the small, yet stunning, town of Hakodate. We were greeted by the principal and teachers of Hakodate Culinary School. As soon as we saw their gifts of delicious chocolate-filled marshmallows, we knew we were in for an amazing week. Later in the evening, we were treated to bento box dinners and relaxed in the Onsen: a Japanese hot spring that was famous in the area.

Day 2. The team woke up to a delicious wholesome breakfast. We arrived early at the school, and were welcomed to one of the most beautiful classrooms I’ve ever seen, with tatami mats on the floor and incredible hospitality by the faculty. We went through a fun orientation process where we were instructed about the week and taught the basics, like how to correctly break open chopsticks, and what dinnerware to select for certain dishes. Lunchtime was a delicious Pork Curry Rice at the in-house cafeteria – I’ll be dreaming about that for a while!

Post-lunch, we changed into traditional Japanese chef jackets and started cooking. The first dish was Japanese Nimono: a flavoursome meal made up of daikon, carrots, sweet pea and shrimp in a dashi-based stock. We spent the rest of the day learning about Daishi – the main base to Japanese dishes such as Ramen and Miso soups.

Day 3. Being schooled in Ingredient Hygiene management, sushi rolling and specialty Japanese products was the name of the game today! We had a private tour of two Michelin Star hotel kitchens to watch the chefs at work. A favourite moment was seeing the chefs handle the delicate puffer fish, a skill that requires the chef to have 10 years of experience in the field.

The ‘deadly’ puffer fish

We ended the day with shopping and dinner in the Bay area, along with tasting the delicious local ice-cream!

Day 4. We focused on knife skills. This was used to fillet fish and create beautiful shapes out of both proteins as well as Japanese vegetables. This was a special part of the trip, as the Japanese have always been known for their attention to detail. The afternoon was spent learning how to perfect the dough for soba noodles. That was, without a doubt, the best soba I’ve ever had!

Following this, we were lucky enough to have the Chairperson of the Traditional Tea Ceremonies teach us about how these should be conducted and what they stand for. It was an extremely calming and zen experience. It was my birthday that day – thank you team for the cake!

Day 5. We had an early start – a 5am tour of the local fresh fish market to watch the auctions take place for the day. Autumn is the season for Ika (Squid), so we learnt a lot about the handling of this fish, how to buy it, and most importantly, how to preserve our oceans and its inhabitants for the future.

After this, we headed back to the school to learn about (and sample!) fresh Japanese vegetables. We saw how the farmers produced multiple dishes out of their harvest, such as spicy chilli miso paste.

Wagashi: A traditional confection used in japanese tea ceremonies and a popular dessert in Japan and around the world.

Next-up was a very delicious lesson on Japanese confectionary. These were almost too beautiful to eat, though it didn’t stop us in the end! We followed this lesson with a 7-course dinner, trying fresh natural umami and other local favourites.

Day 6. Time for Sake! We learnt about this traditional beverage, from its heritage to the best conditions required to make it. Our final lesson was in Sashimi, one of the most important dishes in Japan, and also one of the hardest to master. This is where the knife skills really came in handy!

Examination dish of sashimi, nimono & grilled pacific saury

Following this, we had a practical exam that assessed everything we had learnt. I was surprised and appreciative to see that the specialty chefs came in specifically to judge us. Post-exam, we were presented with our certificates, and felt so excited. It was now time to celebrate the week with a big Japanese feast!

With a heavy heart, we come to the end of our 1-week intensive Japanese Culinary Programme. We’ve been blessed to have met everyone at Hakodate Culinary School: from Chairperson Nomata-San, Principal Yamamoto-San, translator Mika-San and all of the amazing faculty staff of Hakodate Culinary School. Your kindness and hospitality will not be forgotten.


Thank you to At-Sunrice for having this course collaboration. Without it, I would not have known of Hakodate, the town that flourishes with agriculture and amazing seafood. What more could a chef ask for!

The Overseas Industrial Attachment (OIA) and Study Abroad (SA) are new additions to At-Sunrice’s Diploma programmes, that is open to students and alumni. Check out our new diploma programme brochure here.

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