Photo of Syonan Gallery from CNA

The Syonan Gallery has been renamed under public pressure criticising the name for glorifying the Japanese invaders during World War 2. The new name will be “Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies”.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said on Friday (Feb 17) that he is “sorry” for causing hurt to relatives of the WW2 dead and that he is changing the name to appease the public:

“The 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. 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.”

The Singapore government was the one who chose the offensive name and has been widely criticised for lacking tact in their selection. The U-turn might be a relief for the discontented but damage has nonetheless been done.

Under Singapore’s Sedition Act, anyone causing “hurt” to feelings is liable for a criminal offense amounting to a jail term. However Minister Yaacob is let off the hook despite having done so and publicly acknowledging the mistake.