Eyebrows raised over cushion featuring Japanese flag and WWII plane sold at Air Force Museum gift shop

A cushion featuring a Japanese World War II dive bomber had been retailing at the Air Force Museum's gift shop next to the Paya Lebar Air Base for about five years.
A cushion featuring a Japanese World War II dive bomber had been retailing at the Air Force Museum's gift shop next to the Paya Lebar Air Base for about five years. ST PHOTO: MELODY ZACCHEUS

SINGAPORE - A cushion featuring a Japanese World War II dive bomber set against the backdrop of a crimson-red Japanese flag, and bearing the words 'I love Singapore' and another line below stating 'Air Force Museum' has raised some eyebrows.

The one-off piece had been retailing at the Air Force Museum's gift shop next to the Paya Lebar Air Base for about five years. A photo of the cushion, with a price tag of $15, was posted on online discussion website Reddit Singapore on Friday (Dec 15) morning.

The thread was titled: "Hey how should we commemorate our air defence history?"

It got 11 comments including one remarking that the design was "crappy". The photo was later removed.

Speaking to The Straits Times on Friday, the gift shop's co-owner Steve Soh, 39, said he had printed the cushion for a walk-in customer who never returned to collect the product.

He cannot remember if the customer was a local or foreigner but he recalls being asked to download the image from the Internet.

His approximately five-year-old souvenir shop also runs a customisation service, printing personalised mugs, water bottles and cushions.

Mr Soh said: "We only have one such cushion. The customer paid us a deposit of $12 but never came back to collect it. He didn't leave a number either."

Mr Soh said he then decided to put it on display, selling it at $15.

He said: "Nobody who has come in to our shop has voiced out on this issue. Perhaps I wasn't sensitive enough. I didn't think it would be controversial or problematic. To me, it's just another merchandise."

He said the shop is allowed to "operate independently" despite being housed at the museum that is run by the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

The museum, however, requires them to dedicate about half of the gift shop's paraphernalia to air plane-related products, he added, pointing out that the cushion is the only product in his shop featuring Japanese symbols and images.

Mr Soh said he is pulling the cushion off the shelf and will not be selling it anymore.

He said: "Perhaps I wasn't sensitive enough. I didn't think it would be controversial or problematic. To me, it was just another merchandise.

"We will still allow customers to make personal customisation requests, but I will share with them the implications of potentially controversial designs. We won't display them in our shop either."

ST understands that the shop owner has been advised by the Air Force Museum on the sensitivity of displaying and selling such items. The vendor did not seek approval from the Republic of Singapore Airforce for the printing of this cushion.

When shown a photo of the cushion, civil servant Serene Lee, 35, who was at the Air Force Museum for an event, said: "When they named the gallery Syonan, there was a bit of an outcry.

"Those who feel strongly about this part of our history might feel upset if they happen to pass by (the gift shop)."

She was referring to how a WWII exhibition housed at the Former Ford Factory titled initially as Syonan Gallery had to renamed earlier this year after protests against the use of 'Syonan' in its name.

Syonan-to was the name Japanese aggressors gave to Singapore during the Occupation.

Heritage blogger and naval architect Jerome Lim agreed with the sentiment.

He said that the cushion was designed in poor taste, "especially after the Syonan Gallery naming debacle".