SINGAPORE - After a public outcry, the name of a World War II exhibition housed at the Former Ford Factory building has been changed.
On Friday (Feb 17), Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies will now be called Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies.
He also said he was sorry for the pain caused by the earlier name.
Some Singaporeans felt that the name Syonan Gallery glorified a painful period in Singapore's past.
When the Japanese occupied Singapore during the war, it named the island "Syonan-to" or "Light of the South". The Former Ford Factory was where British forces surrendered to the Japanese on Feb 15, 1942.
Here's a timeline of the controversy:
Media get a preview of the new World War II exhibition which is scheduled to officially launch on Feb 15 and open on Feb 16 to the public.
The exhibition is managed by the National Archives of Singapore which is overseen by the National Library Board (NLB). It replaces an earlier exhibition called Memories at Old Ford Factory, which closed a year ago.
The full name of the new gallery is Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies. But signage along the road and at the building entrance - as well as paraphernalia like tote bags - just say Syonan Gallery.
In an exclusive story, The Straits Times reports that the name Syonan Gallery has raised eyebrows and some protests. Some question if it is an appropriate name, saying that it seems to be honouring the period of the Japanese Occupation.
NLB explains its rationale for the war gallery's name. It says that it consulted historians and its advisory panel and "decided that no other name captured the time and all that it stood for". Elaborating, it adds: "The new name of the gallery reminds us how brittle our sovereignty can be, as Singapore lost not only its freedom but also its name during the Japanese Occupation."
But more Singaporeans protest the name, with some writing to The Straits Times Forum page. A smaller number say they don't have an issue with Syonan Gallery.
At the opening of the gallery, Dr Yaacob says it is understandable that the name has evoked some strong reactions.
He says some older Singaporeans who lived through the Japanese Occupation feel that the name legitimises the Occupation, while others among them say that Syonan was a painful fact of history, and that "we should call it what it was".
In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also notes: "We cannot erase our history or bury the past. The exhibition is a reminder of a traumatic period in our history".
Meanwhile, signs at the building depict the fuller name of the gallery, and also that it is within the Former Ford Factory. NLB says that earlier signs saying just Syonan Gallery were not completed.
Dr Yaacob issues a statement on the name change. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan also issues a statement saying he fully supported the name change.
Workers are seen at the building taking down the words Syonan Gallery at the entrance of the building, and covering a road sign with black cloth. The move is welcomed by netizens, heritage champions as well as some members of the Chinese community whose family members experienced the war.
Just over 12 hours after the name change, its entrance has been cleaned of most traces of the original signs. Many visitors say they support the change.
In a Facebook post, PM Lee thanks all who had shared their views and says such conversations bring S’poreans closer.