As S’pore grows closer to Japan amidst the demise of TPP, naming of WW2 museum to ‘Syonan’ draws flak

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picture credit: ST

A World War II museum which is to be officially launched next week, on the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore to Japan, has drawn criticisms both offline and online. Many people feel that the name of the museum ‘Syonan’, which is emblazoned across the entrance of the museum in Upper Bukit Timah Road, shows insensitivity to the victims of war of the Japanese occupation.

Singapore was named ‘Syonan-to’ after it fell to the Japanese on 15 Feb 1942. The museum occupies a former car assembly plant at the site of the British surrender of Singapore to the imperial Japanese army. The building was gazetted as a national monument in 2006.

Facebook user Yuelin Chen responding the Straits Times article on the WW2 war museum said that the name “is hurtful to Singapore Chinese especially older generation who went through the atrocities during the occupation.”

Another user Lee Chong Leng said that the proposed name of Syonan (昭南) is idiotic and offers no respect to their 祖宗十八代 (ancestors).

Ken Siow said that the NLB should take collective responsibility for the WW2 war museum

“What do they mean when they say they have consulted historians and that a working group (consisting of who?) had studied the name ? Syonan To was ONLY called by the Imperial Japanese government, just like how they called the northeast of China 满洲国, which is not recognized anyone else. To call a Gallery in the darkest part of our history is an insult to many of the families who lost someone dear to them.” -ken Siow

Several members of the heritage-related civil society also agreed that there are negative connotations associated with the word Syonan.

Heritage expert and law professor Kevin Tan in speaking to the Straits Times said: “I think a more appropriate name might have to be found because it suggests a celebration of the time period. The frontage could be more sensitive.”

The National Library Board (NLB) acknowledged that the name “could evoke strong emotions”, but said that its advisory panel “decided that no other name captured the time and all that it stood for”.

“The period when Singapore was known as Syonan was a very important part of our history. The new name of the gallery reminds us how brittle our sovereignty can be, as Singapore lost not only its freedom, but also its name during the Japanese Occupation. It is a sombre reminder not to take our peace and harmony for granted, and to appreciate the need to defend ourselves.” -NLB

The museum project comes under the purview of Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim. Commenting on the museum after a tour of the site, Mr Yaacob said that the place is a reminder that peace and harmony should not be taken for granted.

“As a small nation, we always have to be on our guard and recognise that security is important and that everyone has a role to play.” – Yaacob Ibrahim

In December 2016, the Diplomat noted that Singapore had been growing closer to Japan since the demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The publication suggested that Japan provided a lifeline for the city-state amid regional and global anxieties.

“This is just the second time in history that a Singaporean president has visited Japan. Beyond diplomatic theatrics, this visit is significant as it signals Singapore’s desire to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties with Japan in the face of tumultuous Singapore-China relations and a possible U.S. retreat from the region.” – The Diplomat