Singapore renames ‘Syonan’ second world war exhibition after public outcry

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 February, 2017, 2:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2017, 9:41pm

Singapore has renamed a second world war exhibition after the original title, which used the name given to the city-state by Japan under its brutal occupation, sparked a public outcry.

This was never our intention [to cause hurt], and I am sorry for the pain the name has caused
Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim

The exhibition opened earlier this week under the banner “Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies” to mark the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, then a British colony, to Japanese troops.

But many locals protested use of the term “Syonan” – Japan’s name for the island during its three-year occupation – saying it “evoked deep hurt” among individuals, parents and grandparents.

Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim publicly apologised for the mishap.

“This was never our intention [to cause hurt], and I am sorry for the pain the name has caused,” he said in a Facebook post on Friday after receiving letters of complaint.

“I have reflected deeply on what I heard. We must honour and respect the feelings of those who suffered terribly and lost family members during the Japanese Occupation,” he added.

The words “Syonan Gallery” would be removed from the name of the exhibition and the new title would be “Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies”, he said.

Yaacob also rejected suggestions that using the name “Syonan” implied approval of the Japanese occupation.

“Our intention was to remember what our forefathers went through, commemorate the generation of Singaporeans who experienced the Japanese occupation, and reaffirm our collective commitment never to let this happen again.”

Japan Imperial forces captured Singapore in February 1942 in the British military’s biggest ever surrender. Singapore suffered heavily under Japanese rule, with as many as 50,000 ethnic Chinese men between 18 and 50 years of age massacred according to historians and survivors.

The island’s independence leader Lee Kuan Yew, who was 19 when the Japanese invaded, only narrowly escaped being rounded up for the massacre.

Japan surrendered to Britain on September 12, 1945.

Yaacob said the contents of the gallery have not been changed as “they capture a painful and tragic period in our history which we must never forget, and which we must educate our young about”.