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’