How to Explain the Relationship between Singapore and Malaysia to Japanese People

Throughout my five and a half years here, I’ve heard people refer to Singapore as the Merlion place, the hotel-with-the-rooftop-pool place, and the part-of-Malaysia place. And when they get to the last point, I always tell them we used to be part of Malaysia and no longer are. That naturally triggers the next logical question, “why did you break up?” and gradually leads to “are you friendly with Malaysia?”

It usually is a lot of work to explain the ideological differences which eventually led to the break up of Singapore and Malaysia, but whenever they ask how chummy we are with Malaysia, I always tell them we are like Kyoto and Shiga, Singapore being Kyoto and Malaysia being Shiga. And they always seem to have an epiphany with that.

Kyoto and Shiga are adjacent prefectures in the Kansai region like how Singapore and Malaysia are adjacent nations in Southeast Asia. Kyoto is deemed the classy and popular place where many travelers visit while Shiga is more countryside like how Singapore is the highly developed nation while Malaysia has parts of countryside. Kyoto has no water and buys them from Shiga’s Lake Biwa like how Singapore has no water and buys them from Malaysia. The people of Kyoto have this rivalry against the people of Shiga while the people of Shiga doesn’t think much of Kyoto like the rivalry between Singapore and Malaysia. Whenever the Kyoto people say something bad about Shiga, the people of Shiga would threaten them by saying, “we’ll cut off your water supply!” But when they learn that Kyoto is paying a large sum of money for the water, the Shiga people always go, “Ah, then it’s ok.”

Although our water issue with Malaysia is really old now, it always helps to explain it that way. So now, whenever people ask me about Singapore and Malaysia, I always tell them, “we’re like Kyoto and Shiga.” That takes care of everything.

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