SINGAPORE — Following a public outcry, Syonan Gallery will be renamed to “Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies”, Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said on Friday (Feb 17) as he apologised “for the pain the name has caused”.
The U-turn came two days after both Dr Yaacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted the strong public reaction but said the name was a reminder of a traumatic period that Singapore must not forget.
In a statement, Dr Yaacob said: “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.”
Stressing this was never the intention, Dr Yaacob said: “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.”
The gallery was opened on Wednesday by Dr Yaacob, amid criticism from some members of the public who felt the name appeared to honour the Japanese Occupation while evoking painful memories.
Then, Dr Yaacob had said that far from expressing approval of the Japanese Occupation, the intention was to remember what the forefathers went through, and commemorate the generation of Singaporeans who experienced the Japanese Occupation.
Commenting on the issue in a Facebook post on the same day, Mr Lee said: “We cannot erase our history or bury the past. The exhibition is a reminder of a traumatic period in our history and the suffering our pioneers experienced when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name.”
The contents of the exhibition will 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,” said Dr Yaacob in his statement on Friday.
In a separate statement, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said he deeply appreciated and supported the decision to rename the exhibition, which he will visit with his Sembawang residents.
“Some of them have parents or grandparents who were killed during those dark days. My own maternal grandfather died of starvation and for lack of medical care while in hiding. These personal sufferings and losses form deep scars in us,” said Mr Khaw on Friday.
“That is why the initial naming of the Exhibition Gallery provoked such a strong reaction among a segment of the population.”
He added: “It does not mean that we should strike ‘Syonan’ out of our vocabulary but using it to name the gallery can unintentionally cause hurt. I fully support Minister Yaacob’s decision to drop it from the name.”
Some netizens applauded the decision, commending the Government’s willingness to listen to feedback. Said Facebook user Kwok Ping Choon: “Well done Mr Minister. Though I still feel that it is only right to face the fact of history ... I hope this change of name could still achieve the same purpose.”