Syonan Jinja

Syonan Jinja was a former Shinto shrine in the middle of the MacRitchie Reservoir forest. It was built by the Japanese Army and British prisoners-of-war  during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore in World War II. It was officially unveiled on 10 September 1942. When the British forces re-occupied Singapore in 1945, the Shrine was destroyed. Today, only remnants of the Shrine foundation and pillars remains. In 2002, the Shrine site was declared a Historic Site by the National Heritage Board.

The Shrine was built to commemorate Japanese soldiers  who died during the Malayan campaign. A large tract of forest in the north-west side of  MacRitchie Reservoir was cleared to build the Shrine. The Shrine design was based on  famed Yasukuni Shrine in Japan. The Yasukuni Shrine  has been both the commemoration memorial and resting place for more than 2 million solders who died (from Meiji era till WWII) fighting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan. Shinto meaning “the way of the gods” is the native faith of the Japanese and is primarily pantheistic. The Shinto followers believe that “divine spirits” or kami reside in nature and thus the location of the Syonan Shinto Shrine in the midst of the forest.

(Reference article:

Our starting point of the trek to Syonan Jinja is Venus Drive Car Park located near the junction between Upper Thomson Road and Sim Ming Drive. For the first half of the trek, we followed the well marked trail towards HSBC TreeTop Walk. The other half of the trek involved bashing through relatively thick vegetation (off the well-marked trail) to reach the shrine site.

There is a small stream beside the initial stretch of Venus Link. The stream is very shallow but quite clear and abound with small fishes. The trail then goes into the forests for more than 1 km before coming out along the peripheral of the nature reserve. At this point, the trail runs parallel to Island Club Road, and Singapore Island Country Club is just on its opposite side. After 2.5 km from Venus Drive Car Park, the trail ends at the side of a bitumen road.

After about 300 m up (its a bit of up slope) the bitumen road, we reached a fenced up compound. This is the Bukit Kalang Service Reservoir. Beside the right perimeter of the service reservoir is small bitumen trail which leads to the TreeTop Walk. We followed the bitumen trail for about 200 m and reached a T-junction where the right trail (Peirce Track) leads to TreeTop Walk and the left trail (Terentang Trail) leads to Syonan Jinja (there is not a single signboard in MacRitchie that indicates the direction to Syonan Jinja).

From online sources, we know that Syonan Jinja can be reached via a deserted forest trail that splits from Terentang Trail. The entrance to this forest trail is marked by three big boulders. We managed to find the “landmark” after about 100 m along Terentang Trail. (As you walk down  Terentang Trail, look out for the “landmark” on your right side)

The forest trail is very well concealed by vegetation. From the outside, on Terentang Trail, we couldn’t tell that there is a side trail at all. Even on the forest trail, our forward view was always obstructed by the surrounding dense vegetation. Sometimes the trail splits into a few other trails. Fortunately, there are some markings – ribbons tied to the trees  by previous explorers which helped us to find our way. Frequently we had to stoop under overhanging branches or climbed over fallen logs.

After about 30 min of bashing through  the forest trail, we saw the first concrete structure. It is a small shelter with no flooring. Inside the shelter is a below ground water compartment which is flooded to thigh level. There are some polyester pipes inside the compartment. Around the shelter are some waist level rectangular tank-like structures. Maybe this area was a water pumping station and the shelter might house some water pump in the past. We have no idea whether it was built by the Japanese or someone else.

Slightly further down the trail, there are 4 pillars spaced out at an equal distance from each other in a straight line. One of the pillars had already fallen while the rest are still standing. At this point, we couldn’t see any other trail except the one we came from. We spent the next 15 min combing the area until we discovered one gentle uphill trail which leads towards the western direction. Along this trail, there are some small rectangular concrete pits which look like pillar foundations.

After about 15 min along the trail, we emerged out of the forest into an open space. Immediately in front of us is the font of the shrine. The font which measured about 3 m by 0.5 m was filled with rainwater and some tadpoles swimming in it. Around the 4 corners of the font are three circular concrete slabs, each with a square hollow in the center. These might serve as holders for some supports.

At one edge of the open space is a wall and a short flight of staircase that leads to the top of the wall. But there is nothing much up there.

At the other edge of the open space is a long flight of staircase that terminates perpendicularly to a  trail downhill.  In the past, this probably connected to the main entrance of the shrine. We turned right into the trail and trekked for another 10 min to reach the waterfront. Along the trail, we saw another small shelter that resembles the first shelter we saw earlier on. This is perhaps another pump house.

There is a warning sign at the waterfront that says “Deep Water”. On the other side of the water is Singapore Island Country Club beside which is a proper well beaten trail (Golf Link followed by Lorine Trail) that leads directly back to the Nature Reserves Visitor Centre. Short and sweet without backtracking and bashing through forest again. However there is no easy way to cross over to the opposite bank. Beyond the warning sign is a tiny peninsula (right side of it is a swamp and left side of it is the waterfront), the tip of which is the nearest crossing point to the opposite bank. Between the banks are six pillars protruding out of water, probably remnants of some old structure. We spent more than 15 min racking our brains for a solution to cross the water via the pillars(sounds like army situation test) but of no avail. In the end we had to take to take the “painful” decision to track back where we came from. So near yet so far!

Bonus Find

We found a geocache ( under the wall. It was hidden from sight by a slab of concrete that leaned against the wall. We actually learnt of its presence from the blog – This geocache is a waterproof container inside which are some trinkets “donated” by previous geocachers who found it. There is also a stack of paper slips for the geocachers  to record their names and the dates they found it. I remember seening some one dollar coins in the geocache photo in But the coins were not inside the geocache when we found it. We “donated” something that used to be potentially worth much more than a dollar coin – expired toto (lottery) ticket.

How to get there

The shortest way to reach the Shrine site is most probably via Venus Link, Terentang Trail and then the forest trail that branched out from Terentang Trail. This is the route which we followed and it took us almost 5 hours to and back. There were some hikers who started off from MacRitchie Visitor Center or Rifle Range Road, but it definitely took them much longer.

Hiker Advice

The forest trail is not very well defined and quite dense with vegetation. It is advisable to trek with a GPS and compass. The GPS coordinates are N 01° 20.900 E 103° 48.820.

I heard of hikers who lost their way, went merry-go-round but still couldn’t find the site. It is better to start the trek in the morning rather than afternoon so that in the event you get lost, you will still have time to find back your way before sunset.

The forest trail is not maintained by National Park Board. There are many fallen logs and branches along the trail. Beware of deadfall and falling branches especially after rain.

Here are some essential items which you should bring for the trek:

  • GPS and Compass (cellular phone based GPS are not reliable as GPS signal gets weaker under forest cover, a standalone GPS unit with strong receptivity is the best)
  • Sunblock lotion (You can still get sunburn even under forest cover)
  • Mosquito repellent (You will regret if you forget to bring one)
  • At least one litre of water (we actually survive on 500ml each for 5 hrs, but in the end we were like as thirst as camel)
  • Long pants (I wore shorts and suffered many cuts on my legs by the vegetation)
  • Raincoat (Don’t believe in weather or your own forecast)
  • Sense of adventure
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