Syonan a great insult to Singapore

From ‘Name is a great insult to S’pore’ and ‘Why should we name our gallery Syonan’, 11 Feb 17, ST Forum

(Ong Lay Eng): The name Syonan is a great insult to Singapore and Singaporeans (“Revamped war museum’s name sparks questions“; Feb 10).

We must not forget the war crimes of the Japanese during World War II and the immense sufferings Japan inflicted on our forefathers. This is Singapore’s history and we need to tell our descendants what their forefathers experienced.

(Gan Kok Tiong): If the gallery at the war museum was created by the Japanese for the people in their own country, then I would have nothing to say (“Revamped war museum’s name sparks questions“; Feb 10).

But in this instance, this is our gallery to show Singaporeans the atrocities and humiliation that our people, especially the Chinese, suffered during the Japanese Occupation.

What was light to the Japanese was calamity to the people of Singapore. I suggest that the name be changed to the hanyu pinyin shounan and zainan, meaning “calamity” in English; or simply “The Japanese Occupation Gallery”.

Last year, the National Gallery decided to name a gala event as ‘The Empire Ball‘ and anti-colonialists freaked out. Likewise, any reference to ‘Syonan’ would conjure images of our once imperialist tormenters decapitating prisoners or stabbing babies in mid-air with their bayonets. Though Syonan-to translates to ‘Light of the South‘, those 3 years and 8 months of the Japanese occupation were dark times indeed, but with the state of the world under a Trumpian leadership, perhaps our darkest days are yet to come.

But would this furore over historical fact be a case of jumpy denialism? Would simply naming the museum the ‘Japanese Occupation Gallery’ downplay the grisly emotional heft of ‘Syonan’, a word that implies utter domination and a loss of national identity? How would these symphatisers feel about the word ‘Nippon’, as in ‘Nippon-Go‘ (Japanese language), which children during then-Syonan were expected to attain a ‘complete mastery’  over, since it was the ‘lingua franca’ of Malaya? Or would they complain to MOE if teachers dashed into history class dressed as Japanese soldiers shouting ‘Banzai’?


Yes, we should not forget the dreadful war crimes inflicted upon our forefathers, even as we fiercely embrace Japanese culture today – from otaku to sakura, sashimi to hentai. But self-censoring a part of history just because certain people find it ‘insulting’ is exactly what our rulers tried to do with their propaganda drives during the Occupation. Now that, in my opinion, would be the true ‘calamity’.

UPDATE(17 FEB 17): After some ‘deep reflection’ by Yaacob, it was decided that Syonan Gallery would be renamed as the less hurtful-sounding ‘Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies”. Well, maybe not deep enough. You can’t even abbreviate the place now. If you’re taking a cab, you’ll probably have to tell the driver to take you to ‘the place formerly known as Syonan Gallery’.

Now let’s do something about ‘Syonan Jinjia (shrine)’ in Macritchie reservoir, perhaps ‘The Temple in the Woods that commemorates the Dead of our Japanese oppressors’


2 Responses

  1. I think you’re missing the point. The issue isn’t so much that there is no longer substantive continued enmity with the Japs but that the choice of naming a landmark using a term forced upon us by aggressors is just plain stupid.

    All that gobbledygook from NLB about the supposed reminder of dark times sounds too much like arse covering by a bureaucrat who is probably exceedingly book smart but has zero understanding of how people think or react in the real world.

    No one is denying Singapore was named Syonan-To by the invaders in 1942. But for all the professed good intentions by NLB, you don’t start with “hey remember the time you were subject to that raping ? Lets name our new building in honour the road where the raping occurred.”

    or “lets name our new building chinky land to remind us not to be racist.” wtf?

    While we’re at it, why don’t we hire Japanese speaking staff who will forcibly dress visitors in Japanese grab and have all signage and comms only in Japanese to remind visiting Singaporeans the life they would otherwise have lived?

    Call it “Gallery 1942” or keep the old name but have the phrase “When Singapore was Syonan To” displayed as the defacto location marker. Either options are superior.

    • Indeed, if it is no longer substantive enimity with the japs should I be telling a japanese friend “hey your grandfather/your japanese army beheaded my grand uncle” or, “hey, they raped and butchered my grand aunt” and happily laughing at it like we lost in a friendly game?

      Syonan-to was a pride to only the japs having violated us, and we wish to forget the sufferings and the gloom brought upon our forefathers. It is upsetting to witness a revival of the japanese jubilation over our great sufferings, let alone installing that hateful name that would hold out the insult.

      Those who think otherwise must have been too blase to be sensible of
      the realities of the atrocities the japs inflicted on our people. Maybe they are lucky as non of their relatives had suffered.

      david lee

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