• sponsored content

The ASEAN-Japan Centre in Tokyo, established by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states and Japan, produced a series of documentary videos that take a closer look at women from ASEAN countries who are active in Japan. There are about 500,000 women from ASEAN in Japan, and these videos introduce one from each of the 10 member states.

Their reasons for coming to and staying in Japan vary. However, each one is working hard to accomplish her dream. Although the pandemic has reduced opportunities to communicate with the people around us, make new friends and know their thoughts, we decided to create these AJC videos to show how women from ASEAN are continuing to try despite knowing their efforts may never draw attention back home.

Let’s take a look at how the journeys of these 10 fantastic women are deepening the relationship between ASEAN and Japan.

Brunei Darussalam

Sarah Wong Seow Chui discovered aikido in 2007 while working as an advocate and solicitor in Brunei Darussalam. After five years of training, she decided to spend a year in Japan to devote more of her time to the martial art at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. She ended up training there for two years, which deepened her passion for aikido and gave her a purpose in life. She began working as an English teacher at Berlitz Japan in 2014 while continuing to train and recently earned her yondan (fourth-degree black belt), making her the first Bruneian aikido practitioner to attain this high rank.

“The road to this point has been challenging, but I am grateful for the support that my family, aikido family and my husband have given me all this time,” she said. The support from her husband, Hiroaki Hirata, who is an active player and contributor in ice hockey, has been instrumental in her aikido pursuits. Aikido is not yet a popular martial art in Brunei, but Wong wishes to promote and share this beautiful martial art when she returns to her country.


Eng Kimpheng rebounded from tragedy after losing her father and brother in short succession and becoming unemployed while taking care of her mother and financing the education of her younger brother and sister.

Looking back, Eng said it was the warm encouragement of her host father in Japan that helped her overcome this moment of great loss and persevere for the sake of her family.

Eng earned her MBA in Japan and now works for Fuji Realty in Kanagawa Prefecture. She is thankful for her current environment, which allows her to try new things. At the same time, having overcome difficulties by connecting with others, she said, “I want to help others while steadily moving forward in my own life towards my future goals.”

When Eng feels down, she takes time to think things over alone in an unfamiliar environment. She is a strong person in the truest sense of the word, having learned that by thrusting herself into the unknown, she can find a new path from within.


Originally from Sumatra, Indonesia, Calista Chang is studying Japanese cuisine in Osaka. Chang was exposed to Japanese culture through anime and other media when she was a child. Attracted by the depth of the cuisine, which expresses the four seasons, she decided to study at the Tsuji Culinary Institute.

In Japanese cuisine, each and every detail and gesture has meaning, and it is important not only to have technique, but also to have a good attitude. By experiencing it firsthand, it is possible to approach the essence of Japanese cuisine. In Osaka, Chang is absorbing various things on a daily basis while enjoying life in the city’s downtown area. After graduation, she plans to work as a chef. Her dream is to open a restaurant in Indonesia that serves authentic Japanese cuisine. Through Japanese food, she hopes to be a person who connects Indonesia and Japan.


Not many people know much about Laos. Opportunities to eat its cuisine are very limited, and while its neighbor Thailand is famous for its popular food, Laotian cuisine remains obscure in Japan. Sinthana Chounramany hopes to change all this.

The Laos native has decided to make the most of her culinary skills to promote awareness of her home country’s culture. The road to opening the Pha Khao Asia Kitchen in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, however, was not easy. The language barrier was a major obstacle as she had to prepare various documents in Japanese. Her husband, Takafumi Kaneyama, who obtained Japanese citizenship as a refugee from Indochina, supported her in his spare time while working at an electronics maker. Their elder daughter, who was also working, pitched in as well.

After tackling the restaurant’s interior decoration and public relations challenges together, the family’s efforts culminated in a home-made grand opening in 2021, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. With support from the Laotian community in Hiratsuka, the restaurant is becoming popular, and she hopes it will be able to serve as a platform for the public to learn more about Laotian culture.


A former network analyst for a major Malaysian company, skin care enthusiast Zunita Ramli got into business importing and selling Japanese cosmetics out of a relentless quest for beauty. She then moved to Japan with her husband, before deciding to expand her business and develop and export her own original Japanese skin care products.

“I learned everything I know about beauty from scratch,” said Zunita, managing director of Zaineeta Global. “I studied a lot of books, and my friend who is a chemist also taught me.”

They say that if you love what you do, you can do well. Zunita says passion for beauty is what drives her to overcome obstacles. Her company is uniquely structured in that all its staff members are in Malaysia and only Zunita is in Japan. As a result, all internal communications at the company are conducted online, which is very much in keeping with current trends.

Beautiful skin makes women happy because it gives them confidence. Zunita says she will be very happy if she can make many women smile.


Phyu Phyu Thet had been hoping to study in Japan since she was a little girl and eventually received a scholarship to study urban planning as a graduate student at Hiroshima University. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was forced to do her research online for her first year, but finally arrived in Japan in 2021. Her interest in Japan was sparked by the TV drama “Oshin.”

As Phyu Phyu Thet came to admire the lead character Oshin, who persevered and worked despite the harsh environment around her, she thought, “I want to be someone who can work hard like Oshin.” And indeed, she became a hardworking adult. Unless the weather is very stormy, she heads to the laboratory even when there are no classes. She works hard on her research, stimulated by her peers.

Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital, is a new city that was built to replace Yangon as the administrative capital. Naypyidaw’s transportation system is still in its infancy. But its convenience will be enhanced while considering the environmental issues the city will face as it develops. Creating a new image for the country and a bus service for public transportation will require her to tap the experiences she had in Hiroshima.

The Philippines

Beverly used to be shy when she was young. But when she watched TV, she would always tell herself, “I want to be a singer.” After her natural talent for singing became obvious to everyone around her, she began taking lessons. If there was a singing competition, she would participate but winning was not easy. Talent is not the only thing that determines success in the performing arts. It also takes courage, determination and self-confidence.

One day, she had an opportunity to be featured on a famous TV show. Her beloved father was so happy that he told everyone “My daughter is going to be on TV! Take a look!” The day after the broadcast, Beverly’s father collapsed and died. As if it was fate, like a gift from her father, she met her future producer Haruo Yoda right after her father passed. It was the moment when she decided to make her debut as a singer in Japan. Her mother encouraged her, saying, “It’s okay if things don’t go the way you want, we are still in the middle of our journey.” Now, she feels happy that her singing voice can cheer people up.

Beverly was named top new artist in Japan’s 2017 RecoChoku Awards and her album, “from JPN” was released in 2022.


When she was in elementary school, one of Oh Xuemin’s teachers realized she had perfect pitch and invited her to join the choir. Since then, Oh and music have been living as one. Oh explored singing, piano, guitar, ukulele and more, and even dreamed of going into the hospitality industry. But when she was a college student, her boyfriend told her, “You teach better than anyone else!” That was when she discovered her talent for teaching. Making a living off of music is difficult, so she got a job as a Chinese teacher at a preschool and started teaching music in extracurricular classes, later launching her own ukulele school Minim for children.

After having a child, she found it difficult to continue her business. But she trained a staff member who had been an assistant teacher and turned her into the main teacher. She is now a great teacher. Oh learned that trusting people and delegating roles make a business stronger.


Ubonthip “Bonny” Sethtasakko came to Japan in 2011, curious and eager to explore new places. When she and her husband Teerapat Sethtasakko started providing information about Japan online in 2017, they hopped on the inbound travel trend and saw their Facebook soar to over 740,000. Encouraged by their success, they expanded their activities to YouTube and began producing introductions to various parts of Japan under Krobkrueng Japan for their website and social media accounts. The couple handle the entire process, from site selection and interview negotiations to introducing, shooting and editing the videos and communicating with their followers. Sethtasakko is a freelancer who needs autonomy to survive. She became more aware of the need for self-discipline when her husband encouraged her to participate in the Tokyo Marathon. Having never run a marathon before, she trained anyway for three months.

“I may not be able to finish the marathon, but I don’t want to regret it,” she thought to herself during the race. With this in mind, she kept running and successfully reached the finish line before the cutoff time. By conquering this arduous event, Sethtasakko learned that hard work always pays off. Her story shows us that behind the glamorous appearance of an influencer, there is always an internal battle being waged against oneself.


Six months after coming to Japan as a student, Doan Le Hai Ngoc experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake. She volunteered to help in quake-hit areas through activities organized by her university. Through her experience with a park built on unused municipal land, she learned that urban development has the power to bring smiles to the faces of many people.

Doan is now involved in a redevelopment project around Shibuya Station. Various entities, including municipal governments and private companies, have come together to create a more attractive city despite ordinances and other restrictions. Urban development is not an activity for those who desire instant gratification because development projects take a lot of time and the involvement of many parties. Urban development, she says, is like a torch relay, where the flame needs to be passed from one person to another to keep it alive as it reaches its goal. She hopes her dream of gaining experience in Japan and participating in urban development projects in her own country someday will come true.

Note: The information in this article and video was current at the time of the interviews (December 2021 to March 2022)

About ASEAN and AJC

ASEAN was established on Aug. 8, 1967, for the purpose of promoting peace and economic growth. The original five members were Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei Darussalam joined in 1984, followed by Vietnam, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Cambodia, bringing membership to 10 countries.

ASEAN is an important economic partner of Japan, and the association and Japan are bound by trust to protect and nurture our diverse cultures together, to deepen our understanding of each other through exchange, and to strive for prosperity together. The ASEAN-Japan Centre was established in 1981 to promote trade relations, investment, tourism and people-to-people exchanges through seminars, workshops, capacity-building programs, research and policy analysis, cross-cultural events and public relations.

As 2023 will mark the 50th year of ASEAN-Japan friendship and cooperation, the AJC will conduct commemorative projects to promote bilateral and multilateral exchanges between ASEAN member states and Japan in various fields. The AJC will be launching a special anniversary website in the fall.

For more information on AJC activities and programs, please visit our website; https://www.asean.or.jp/en/ or follow us on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/aseanjapancentre/