Syonan Jinja @ MacRitchie Reservoir

A former Shinto shrine located in the thick jungles of MacRitchie Reservoir, Synoan Jinja is a little-known remnant of the Japanese during their occupation of Singapore in World War II. Officially unveiled on 10 September 1942, the shrine was demolished nearly 3 years later after the Japanese surrendered to the returning British forces in 1945.

No one knows who were the people responsible for its demolition. Some say that the shrine was destroyed by the returning British forces as revenge, while others say that the Japanese did the deed themselves as they did not want the shrine to fall into enemy hands. There is also a conspiracy speculating that the shrine was destroyed to hide the treasure left here by the Japanese, as they were unable to bring it with them in their hurried retreat. As the years went by, the shrine was slowly forgotten as it was swallowed by the dense foilage of the nature reserve. A fountain in the shrine, made from a massive granite boulder, still lies intact today. Under it lies a secret tunnel with an unknown purpose.

Syonan Jinja is Japanese for “The Light of the South." The shrine could be said to be a replica of the now-controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Japan, which dates back to 1869 and has been the resting place for more than 2.466 million Japanese soldiers who died in service of their country. It serves as a national symbol to remember those who died in World Wars I and II. Reflecting its design, the Shinto shrine was a 12-metre high cylindrical wooden pylon with a brass cone tipped on its peak. At the base of the pylon, in a small shed-like shrine are remains of fallen Japanese.

A ceremony took place in Syonan Jinja every New Year’s Day during its short lifespan. This was marked by the ringing of the temple bell, the arrival of worshippers and the presence of a Shinto priest that presided over a ritual. It is believed that during rituals, worshippers drank from a huge granite ceremonial fountain located outside the shrine.

Plans to rebuild the shrine were discussed in the 1990s, but were ultimately shelved due to the sensitive nature of the site. As the shrine was a remnant of the Japanese Occupation, a dark time for many Singaporeans, rebuilding the shrine was considered to be in poor taste.

Today, the shrine is covered by dense jungle vegetation and surrounded by waist-deep waters. Infested by various snakes, scorpions, spiders and mosquitoes, superstitious trekkers who lose their way in search of the Syonan Jinja would blame it on the haunting of the Japanese spirits who protect the Jinja its treasures from intruders.

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