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SG50 sequel: Singapore, Japan to launch SJ50 to celebrate bilateral ties

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Left) and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (Right).
The Asahi Shimbun | Getty Images
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Left) and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (Right).

Singapore's success with SG50 - the country's 50th anniversary of independence - has spawned a sequel: SJ50.

The project - planned as a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of Singapore-Japan diplomatic relations - will be launched by the Embassy of Japan in Singapore next year.

During World War II, when Japan occupied Singapore, thousands of Singaporeans were killed for being "anti-Japanese" or for being "Chinese sympathizers."

But there has been a sea change in relations since the 1945 end of the occupation. The countries launched diplomatic relations in 1966 - a year after Singapore gained its independence - and in the 1970s Japan became Singapore's largest foreign investor and trading partner. The Lion City was also the first country to sign a free-trade agreement with Japan in 2002.

"I can feel that Singaporeans love Japanese culture very much, and know a lot about it," said Satsuki Ikegami, secretary general of the Japanese Association in Singapore.

She told CNBC that the popularity of Japanese culture in Singapore could be seen from the crowds of locals drawn to Japanese Association-organized events, such as the annual Summer Festival.

Among the projects slated for the SJ50 celebrations are the Japanese Food Festival in January, a Japanese Festival by Esplanade in May and a film festival in July.

A lot like SG50

SJ50 may hope to piggyback on the success of the city-state's 2015 Golden Jubilee celebrations, during which the SG50 brand became ubiquitous, with offerings ranging from special frozen food packaging to stores' promotional sales to fishcakes - a local culinary staple - with "50" cutouts.

SG50 spawned heated online discussion and public blogs tracking everything with the SG50 logo, and allowing readers to vote on whether it was "sai" or "not sai" (translated from the Chinese Hokkien dialect, this means "crap" or "not crap.")

SG50 had some notable success. Singapore's tourist arrivals were down in the first four months of the year, but picked up from May to October after the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) unveiled a $20 million Golden Jubilee campaign to combat the weak tourism numbers. Arrivals in July and August, when SG50 activities and promotions were held, were up 7.9 and 6 percent from 2014, respectively.

Organizers of SJ50 are understandably hoping to replicate its success.

But unlike SG50, which allowed companies to use its red and white logo as long as the company adhered to brand guidelines, SJ50's executive committee - led by Japan's ambassador to Singapore, Haruhisa Takeuchi, and several organizations promoting friendship between the two countries - has set up an approval process before companies can become official SJ50 supporters.

Meanwhile, there's another major Singapore-Japan collaboration coming next year: MOSH!, Singapore's first immersive digital media playground, will open in February in the entertainment and residential suburb of Sentosa.

The brainchild of several Japanese partners including Coconoe, a digital technology development firm, and creative agency 1→10, MOSH!, which cost nearly $1.8 million (2.5 million Singapore dollars) to build, is a "family edutainment facility" that aims to foster creativity and imagination through play-to-learn. The project will showcase the latest interactive digital and projection-based technology to create an interactive virtual environment.

MOSH! is "an apt cultural exchange as we bring the Japanese unique brand of creativity to Singapore," said Hitomi Komuro, director of Creative Future Park, which specializes in digital theme parks and is heading the MOSH! project.

MOSH!'s February open is timed to coincide with "the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Japan," added Komuro.

-- Leslie Shaffer contributed to this article.

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