Visitors to former Syonan Gallery welcome change of name, new signs to be up in a month

The entrance has been cleaned of the original signs. The exhibition is now called Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW
Workers covering the signage at the old Ford Factory around 10pm, on Feb 17, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI, WONG KWAI CHOW
Workers removing the sign from the entrance of the gallery on Friday night (Feb 17). PHOTO: ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Just over 12 hours after the World War II gallery space in the Former Ford Factory was renamed from Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies following a public outcry, its entrance has been cleaned of the original signs.

And many visitors to the former Syonan Gallery on Saturday morning (Feb 18) said they supported the change.

"I'm actually quite impressed that there's a readiness to listen to how some people feel very strongly about this - especially those who lived through it, and what that name meant to them," said researcher James Low, 47, who was at the gallery with his family.

The original name of the National Archives of Singapore exhibition sparked a public outcry over the use of the word "Syonan". Singapore was renamed Syonan-to by the Japanese in 1942, following the British surrender. It means "Light of the South".

The exhibition is now called Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies.

Said Mr Low of the original name of the exhibition: "When the name was chosen, it reflected a factual consideration of that period of time. But deeper thought may only have been possible when people who lived through that time spoke up to share their thoughts and feelings."

The National Library Board (NLB) said there are a total of nine signboards which will be replaced.

"As design and production will take some time, the NLB targets to install the new signs in about a month. Meanwhile, visitors to the exhibition can look out for the sign, Former Ford Factory on the front gate," it added.

In a statement on Friday, Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim apologised for the pain that the name had caused.

He said people shared with him how the words Syonan Gallery had evoked deep hurt in them, as well as their parents and grandparents.

"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.

Some like retiree Tan Fong See, 79, cannot bring themselves to step into the exhibition.

While he was at the Former Ford Factory with a group of friends on Saturday, he remained outdoors as the group went in to view its exhibits.

He said he recalled seeing Japanese soldiers near his home in Woodlands during the war and remembered how he had to escape from his home as bombs fell from the sky.

"Many people did not like the Syonan name," he said.

Of the change, he added simply: "I think it's a good move."

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