6 Secret Traces of the World War II Japanese Occupation in Singapore You Never Knew Existed

24 June 2016

See these spots in a brand new way

For about three years in the 1940s, Singapore was renamed Syonan-to (which translates to “Light of the south”) under the Japanese rule after World War II. 

Today, there are several sites which have been officially gazetted and recognised in Singapore as a reminder of this period. We bring you some of these interesting places plus others which are not on the list that you may not know about. 


1. Japanese Cemetery Park

Secret Traces of the Japanese Occupation in Singapore in World War II Photo by Muneerah Bee

image by Muneerah Bee

This lesser known cemetery was the burial ground for the Japanese community in Singapore since 1891 until it reached its capacity in 1973. The tranquil memorial park also contains several tombs and memorials to commemorate the war dead and Japanese military casualties from World War II. We love how well-kept the cemetery park is and discovering Japanese cultural elements such as the statues of Japanese deities and the prayer hall. 

 22 Chuan Hoe Ave, Singapore 549854


2. Bukit Batok Memorial

If you’re visiting Bukit Batok Nature Park, don’t miss the chance to spot the Bukit Batok Memorial. This memorial plaque is a tribute to the soldiers and victims of the Second World War. The long flight of steps the plaque is on used to lead to two war memorials along Lorong Sesuai — the Syonan Chureito (for the Japanese soldiers who died in battle during World War II) and the Allies’ Memorial Cross (where ashes of the British and Australians soldiers were buried). 

image by Muneerah Bee

Both memorials are no longer around (but you can still see the remains of two pillars at the foot of the stairs) but the Bukit Batik Memorial serves as a reminder of them. The Syonan Chureito was also featured in a Malayan stamp during the Japanese Occupation, and you can still try to look for these stamps at trusted stamp dealers today. 

Lorong Sesuai 


3. Syonan Jinja


Did you know there used to be Shinto shrine at MacRitchie Reservoir? Built during the Japanese Occupation to commemorated fallen Japanese soldiers in the region, Syonan Jinja was said to be a grand wooden structure with a beautiful Japanese garden surrounding it. 

The Japanese destroyed the shrine when Singapore was handed back to the British to avoid desecration. However, its ruins can still be traced deep in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. (It is highly inaccessible to the public and we’ve personally never seen it for ourselves but it’s definitely on our bucketlist!)

MacRitchie Reservoir 


4. Sook Ching Centre Monument


During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore and Malaya, the Japanese military carried out an operation (Sook Ching) which targeted the Chinese community who were suspected of having anti-Japanese elements. They were screened and those who were perceived to be guilty were sent away for execution at various sites around Singapore. 

To commemorate all the victims who died during the Japanese Occupation, the Sook Ching Centre memorial was erected at the site of one of the screening centres in front of the Hong Lim Complex in Chinatown. It is one of those quiet reminders of the past that sometimes goes unnoticed. 

31 Upper Cross St (in front of Hong Lim Complex)


5. Changi Museum 


Documenting significant events during the Japanese Occupation, the museum is dedicated to those who lived and died in Singapore during World War II, particularly in the Changi area. The museum also showcases drawings and paintings by former Prisoners-of-War (POWs) and civilian internees at Changi Prison. You’ll also find a replica of the Changi Chapel, where prisoners used to gather to worship. To learn more about POW experience in Asia, the gift shop is a good resource for books on the topic. 

1000 Upper Changi Rd North, Singapore 507707


6. Memories at Old Ford Factory

Secret Traces of the Japanese Occupation in Singapore in World War II Photo by Muneerah Bee

image by Muneerah Bee

No, this museum is full of automobile artifacts. The factory was where the British surrendered to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, and today it is one of Singapore’s national monument and a museum to highlight what life in Singapore was like during the Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945. The boardroom where the surrender took place has been recreated as accurately as possible. 

Take a walk outdoors and find out how residents of Singapore survived food scarcity during the occupation by growing their own tapioca, sweet potato, yam, banana and other plants at the Syonan Garden. 

The Memories at Old Ford Factory is currently closed for renovations and will reopen in February 2017. We can’t wait. 

351 Upper Bukit Timah Rd, Singapore 588192


By Muneerah Bee, June 2016


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