Be a Ninja, Find the Jinja

6 Sept 2013            Syonan Jinja

Somewhere in that overgrown forest could lay the ruins of a forgotten Japanese shrine.

I believe most of you have been to MacRitchie Reservoir, be it for a casual stroll, a routine jog or a family weekend picnic by the beautiful calm waters, but I bet many of you never knew about a Japanese shrine that is somewhere in the forests of MacRitchie Reservoir.

Ok, technically the shrine isn’t there anymore, only the ruins remain.

The shrine was named Syonan Jinja, which means ‘Shrine of the Light of the South’. As you might have guessed, it was built soon after the fall of Singapore by British and Australian prisoners of war to commemorate the Japanese soldiers who died while invading Singapore during the war.

The shrine was built on a stone platform. It had no walls, only wooden pillars fashioned in classic Japanese architectural style, topped with a sloped, triangular roof. There was also a fountain, made of granite that provided water during certain rituals, outside the temple.

As grand as it sounded, it was only the beginning of Major Yasuji Tamura’s master plan. He envisioned the Jinja to be the centre of a large park complete with facilities like gardens, lakes, playgrounds, promenades and sporting facilities.

Many Japanese cultural and religious ceremonies were held at the Syonan Jinja, including the Shinto ceremony, which was held every New Year’s Day. The ritual included the sounding of the temple bell, the arrival of the devotees and a Shinto priest who would preside over the rituals.

After the Japanese Occupation ended, the Syonan Jinja was burnt by the Japanese themselves out of fear that the British would treat it dishonourably, and today, only the granite steps leading to the temple and the fountains remain.

Attempting to visit the Syonan Jinja today is strongly discouraged because thick overgrown forests of the MacRitchie Catchment Area have reclaimed the grounds where it once stood, even though the National Heritage Board marks it as a historical site. Instead, I recommend you to view these two photo journals by people who dared to venture into the forests. It’s certainly much safer and far less tiring to do so!

By Jax Sparrow

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