Friday, August 27, 2010

The Re-colonisation of Singapore by Japan

This post may elicit howls of fury from patriotic Singaporeans (hmmm, do they even exist?) and peace-loving Japanese. Nevertheless these are my personal views and even Samurai T agrees with me.

So, we already know much about our dark history when the Japanese "colonised" us during World War II from 1942 - 1945 (if you don't know, time to go back to school, fellas, or Samurai T can give you a one-hour crash course). Obviously that created massive amounts of resentment among our grandparents, and to a lesser extent our parents, those who have lived through the war anyway. This feeling of resentment is not just localised in Singapore but around the region, particularly in countries which have been "victimised" by the Banzai Japanese during the war. Such anti-Japanese sentiments always explode during the time of the war anniversary and will hog headlines for a few days until the following year.

Happily, this "re-colonisation" that I am talking about is a much happier one. When I was a young kid in the 1980s (yeah, that was a long time ago), I remembered that J-POP was very hot then and a teenage neighbour was always blasting J-POP music from her room and singing at the top of her lungs (did she understand what she was singing? I wondered.) Then over the next couple of decades, the Japanese fervour died off and was replaced first by Cantopop and then the "Hallyu" Korean wave which swept me off my feet too. Bae Yong Jun and Winter Sonata, anyone!?

Prior to my first visit to Japan at the end of 2008, there was only a handful of Japanese food and retail establishments in Singapore which were unfortunately not very authentic and the food was not very good but Samurai and I were lapping them up anyway (cough, cough: Sakae), because we REALLY liked our sushi and sashimi and we did not have much choice. Compared to the number of Korean dramas I was watching week in-week out, there was also not many good Japanese dramas around to captivate me. Everyone was flying to Korea then to be physically closer to their Hallyu idols. Japan was here, but not really here.

Sometime in 2009, we had a slew of new mall openings, and re-openings (like Mandarin Gallery and Liang Court), and suddenly everyone was on the Japan bandwagon. A rush of Japanese retailers (most significant, Uniqlo) and restuarants were flooding our Singaporean consciousness. There was the fantastic Gindako Takoyaki (at Ion) and Ippudo Ramen (Mandarin Gallery) among others. We were suddenly spoilt for choice. 

Not that I wasn't delirious, you understand. After eating crappy Japanese food for so long, places like Saboten (Tonkatsu) and Santouka (Ramen) felt heavenly on my abused palate. I no longer have to slink to Japan to mass buy Uniqlo clothes, and the new Parco at Millenia Walk had fabulous Japanese fashion (albeit a bit expensive). But a comment from an acquiantance woke me up. He had just come back from Tokyo with his family and he said, "I did not really see anything new there that I cannot buy or eat in Singapore." Of course, true Japan lovers will know that is NOT TRUE, but he was right to a certain extent. Singapore had suddenly turned into a mini-Japan. There are Japanese supermarkets selling their confectionary and other products in popular malls, and so many new food establishments popping up that I am losing count. Isetan keeps holding numerous Japanese theme fairs - The Hokkaido Fair, The Kyushu Fair every other week, which is always packed with people to the brim.

Am I complaining? Not really. But this wave of re-colonisation may in time to come make me a little bored with all things Japanese. Too much of a good thing may become a bad thing, especially if we are going to have second string Japanese outlets setting up shop here to take advantage of the mass hysteria. Let's hope it doesn't all go pear-shape.

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