Saturday, 15 August 2015

Syonan Jinja

This visit has got to rate pretty much top of all the places I have visited and explored here, what an experience! it has to sit right up there with Istana Woodneuk and the Jin Dong Fu festivities, for experiences never to be forgotten, here in Singapore. I don't think I stopped smiling the whole time. Having said that I don't think I have ever sweated as much either, by the time we had 'discovered' the site I looked like I had gone for a shower fully dressed!

I had long wanted to discover Syonan Jinja, I even knew where the tracks were leading off to it, but just wasn't confident enough to explore on my own. A few people I knew, who had found it, they themselves weren't confident they could locate it again without a guide. Anyway a few months ago, after chatting with a Facebook friend, the opportunity arose for a group of us to set out, as a few had been there before. So before dawn on a weekend morning, I waited for the bus I needed to catch, to meet my long suffering friend and we joined a great group of people to discover this Japanese Shinto shrine. I had bade hubby off in the morning with 'I'm off to meet a complete group of strangers to get lost in the jungle! See you later!!! Not that unsurprisingly we were spotted easily as we were the only Westerners, not withstanding the only western women there! We were made incredibly welcome and got to meet people we had only seen online. 

I was pleased to see that we followed the trek I had thought was correct and although we had to walk single file it didn't seemed to difficult a route. Just look out for the coloured tape or arrows etched on trees or indeed upturned plastic bottles on sticks (something we later failed to do!)  ok we may have had to duck down as we entered tunnels of foliage, clambered over fallen trees and even detour around a massive fallen tree, walking over spongy leaves and plants, trying not to trip over vines or even walk into over hanging vines strung as washing lines across the path, or not take out the persons eye behind us with pinging leaves and branches, but all was good. Now it should of taken only a couple of hours to reach our destination but somewhere we lost the path! How? Well we are rather off piste in the rainforest, no manicured signposted paths that SIngapore so likes here. What happened was we missed that upturned water bottle and failed to turn right! In fact this made the exploration, for me, much more real and exhilarating. Thanks to our super guides that had been previously and also GPS with the coordinates we treked on, through the rainforest, making our own route. Even standing on what seemed a solid large fallen tree only for it to silently sigh and disintegrate as my foot stepped on it. I will admit to being tired, I can certainly see how people could easily get lost in a true thick rainforest, but in all honestly we were close to paths and civilization all the time, after all Singapore isn't that large, but we certainly felt cut off from the world - bliss. At one point we heard calling and came across another group of Trekkers (from a local school getting ready for an expedition to Mt Kinabalu) they were also 'misplaced' but found their way to our voices and they joined us to our goal. 

Eventually we found our shrine and arrived at the time the trek was in fact due to end. Tired, dripping in sweat but totally exhilarated we had achieved our goal. Deep in the heart of the undergrowth we had 4G phone signal!!!! I texted hubby to say I'd be late back!

Although destroyed by the Japanese when they surrendered and then the British having a second attempt at obliterating the site, remnants still remain. Footings of buildings, steps leading up from Macritchie reservoir where once a bridge crossed, the old pump house, round stones, looking like large Chinese coins which probably held the wooden pillars holding the roof up, but most special of all the enormous stone trough/font known as a chozuya, which would have been used for purifying oneself before entering the shrine, as well as being used in ceremonies and rituals. Myth has it that there is treasure hidden beneath it! 

Syonan Jinja (Yasukuni shrine) is a Japanese Shinto shrine built by 2,000 POWs from the nearby Sime Road Camp, many of those were then sent to build the notorious 'death railway' during the Occupation of Singapore. Started in April 1942, the foundation stone was laid by Commander in Chief of the Japanese in Singapore Tomoyuki Yamashita on 7 May 1942. A ceremony was held slightly later on 30 July 1942 for the completion of the framework before it was officially opened on 15 February 1942, on the first anniversary of the Japanese Occupation. The Japanese had renamed Singapore Syonan, meaning Island of the light of the South. Jinja is a Shinto shrine therefore why it is known as Syonan Jinja (Singapores Shinto shrine) It was dedicated to Amaterasu- Omi Kami, a major Japanese deity, the Goddess of the Sun and Universe (the August God) 

In 2002 the National Heritage Board gave it historical Site status, but officially the site has no access, although it was surprising how many people we met, from the lone jogger to other shrine hunters. There was reportedly discussions had in the 1990s about rebuilding it but it was thought too sensitive. After all look what is reported on the news when anyone visits the Yasukuni shrine in Japan. The Japanese still refuses to apologize, which upsets South Korea and China. Singapore likes to keep on good relations with everyone :) On a side note I found out the other week that there was once a Shinto shrine on Mount Emily which is the site now of the Christian Assembly Hall. 

The shrine was built to commemorate the Japanese who died both in Singapore and throughout Malaya, as it was then. The Japanese in fact also built a cross behind the shrine in remembrance of the Allied fatalities, but nothing remains now of this. As mentioned after they surrendered all was destroyed along with other shrines, including the one at Bukit Batok and any remains were reinterred at the Japanese Cemetery (

There were grand plans for the shrine and its area. A bridge 'The Divine Bridge' was built crossing the reservoir (remains can still be seen now when the water is low) crossing from what is now the golf course, once Sime Camp. From the Divine Bridge you would of walked through the grand Tori Gate walking up steps as you entered through up to Syonan Jinja. What is now rainforest smothering and hiding any remains was once a beautiful Japanese garden. The primary rainforest had been cleared and the whole area was meant to become a public recreation area, with swimming pools and bandstands. It had even be planned to hold the Greater East Asiatic Olympic Games there. 

However this never came to pass. When the Japanese surrendered, they burnt it to the ground so as the British wouldn't  desecrate what for them was sacred. The act of burning was intended to purify. The British then further destroyed it so all that is left today is what, if you are very lucky to find, are the few remains now hidden by thick vegetation, the rainforest taking back its land.

For me this really was one of the outstanding experiences of my time here in Singapore - still smiling

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