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Dislocated Ground – The Japanese Cemetery in Singapore

Part 2 Project 2005
Jane Ong Yu Zi
National University of Singapore Singapore Singapore
This project began with research into the way in which ‘the ground’ has been used by Japanese architect, Kenzo Tange, to construct cultural difference.

The project then goes on to investigate what happens when there is a dislocation of the ground. That is, what if the ground through which an attempt to construct cultural difference is no longer the ground as it is in Japan?

This issue is investigated through the site of the Japanese Cemetery in Singapore. The cemetery is the site of annual ‘clean-up’ visits by students of the Japanese School in Singapore. As the students clean-up the grounds of the cemetery, they are reminded of the “hardships faced” by their ancestors, and the physical relationship with the ground of the cemetery constructs for these students a sense of cultural heritage even as they live in another country away from Japan. However, this ground is not the ground as it is in Japan. The reality of climate and geography dictates that the character of the ground and landscape is inevitably and distinctly Singaporean. Thus there is a sense of dislocation between the ideological ‘ground’ and the actual ‘ground’. The issue is further complicated by the site being the burial ground of the ashes of several thousand Japanese WWII War dead. Many of whom were perpetrators of various war crimes against the people of Singapore.

Another issue is the growing interest amongst Singaporean students in Japanese language and culture. How does the learning of this particular foreign language and culture reconcile itself with the historical connotations?

The project uses the vehicle of a Japanese Learning Center sited adjacent to the Japanese cemetery in Singapore to explore these issues.

Jane Ong Yu Zi

Jane Ong’s work on Kenzo Tange comes at an opportune time to re-evaluate Tange’s with his recent passing away. In the dissertation, Jane dealt with a number of issues, namely notions of tradition and nostalgia and what it means for Japan to overcome Modernity as shaped by the West. Primarily, Jane worked through two buildings; both memorials, one to the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere and the other to the atomic devastation of Hiroshima. Jane illustrates that Hiroshima Memorial besides marking a shift in Tange’s work, how through Tange’s representations (photographic means) speak and distinguish further Japan’s tradition and through it, Tange’s shift in the use of Heidegger’s notion of “thingness”.

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