"Sorry for the pain" the name 'Syonan Gallery' has caused: Yaacob

The new permanent exhibition at the Former Ford Factory will be opened to the public on 16 February. (Yahoo photo: Safhras Khan)

In an about-turn two days after the launch of the Syonan Gallery at the former Ford Factory, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim apologised on Friday (17 Feb) for “the pain the name has caused”, and said the gallery will be renamed.

‘Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies’ will be the new name of the gallery, said Yaacob in a statement posted on Friday evening.

Yaacob added, “We must honour and respect the feelings of those who suffered terribly and lost family members during the Japanese Occupation.”

Over the last two days, the minister said he had read several comments on the issue and received many letters from Singaporeans who said the words ‘Syonan Gallery’ had “evoked deep hurt in them, as well as their parents and grandparents”.

When the name ‘Syonan Gallery’ was announced last Thursday (9 Feb), Singaporeans were divided on the rationale behind the name. Some felt that the name legitimised the brutal occupation of Singapore by Japan between 1942 and 1945.

On Wednesday, Yaacob said the name was not chosen to indicate approval of the Japanese Occupation. Yaacob said then that the name symbolised the sacrifices of the older generation during the war.

The subject and contents of the exhibition will remain unchanged, Yaacob added.

The exhibition features contributions from the community and archival materials, many of which have never been displayed before. Visitors can gain a better understanding of the darkest chapter in Singapore’s history through the exhibition’s oral history interviews and interactive elements.

Here is Yaacob’s statement in full:

When I opened the exhibition “Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies” on Wednesday, I explained that we had designed this exhibition to capture the dark days of the Japanese Occupation, and remind ourselves never to take for granted our peace, harmony and sovereignty.

Far from expressing 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.

The name of the exhibition reflected the time in our history when Singapore was forcibly renamed “Syonan”. We have used the word “Syonan” before to factually describe this difficult period. For instance, in 1992, for the 50th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, we held an exhibition at the National Museum, titled “When Singapore was Syonan-to”.

But this particular exhibition name provoked a strong reaction. Over the past two days, I have read the comments made on this issue, and received many letters from Singaporeans of all races. While they agreed that we need to teach Singaporeans about the Japanese Occupation, they also shared that the words “Syonan Gallery” had evoked deep hurt in them, as well as their parents and grandparents. This was never our intention, and I am sorry for the pain the name has caused.

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. I have therefore decided to remove the words “Syonan Gallery” from the name of the exhibition, and name it “Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies”.

The contents of the exhibition remain unchanged. They capture a painful and tragic period in our history which we must never forget, and which we must educate our young about. It is vital for us to learn the lessons of history, and reaffirm our commitment never to let this happen to Singapore again.”