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Five on Friday: 5 random things about the 50-year-old Merlion

In CNA's regular look at what hit the headlines during the week, Five on Friday shines a spotlight on Singapore's favourite half-fish, half-lion mascot as it celebrates its golden jubilee.

Did you know that the Merlion at the Merlion Park turned 50 on Thursday (Sep 15)?

Singapore's foremost animal hybrid mascot, with the head of a lion and the body of a fish, has been spewing water over the Marina Bay horizon from the late 90s.

It was originally located at the mouth of the Singapore River and was unveiled on Sep 15, 1972 by the then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. 

From lookalikes scattered throughout the island to another country's unlikely obsession with lion-fish hybrid iconography, here are five things you may not already know about the Merlion:

    A woman walks past the Merlion statue on Sentosa Island resort in Singapore on Sep 11, 2018. (Photo: AFP/Jewel SAMAD)


    There are only six authorised merlion statues in Singapore: The original one at Merlion Park and the smaller "Merlion cub" located nearby, a pair that guard the entrance to a carpark along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 and at Tourism Court and Mount Faber.

    "But wasn't there one at Sentosa? That really big one that shoots laser from its eyes?" you may find yourself asking.

    Unfortunately, it no longer exists, having been demolished in 2019. The 37m tall behemoth no longer rules the skyline of the island.

    It will be replaced by the Sentosa Sensoryscape, a two-tiered walkway with features that stimulate the five senses. Good luck on replicating the feeling of nostalgia one feels when sighting the grubby, dirt-stained exterior of the old Merlion, though.

    The smaller "Merlion cub" - measuring 2m - located near the original Merlion statue at Merlion Park. (Photo: Unsplash/Jisun Han)


    The likeness - and even the very mention - of the Merlion is subject to strict rules and regulations, with the Singapore Tourism Board holding several copyrights, including the Merlion symbol and the word "Merlion" itself.

    The Merlion symbol was used by STB as its logo between 1964 and 1997, trademarking it in 1966.

    Anyone who wishes to use the Merlion symbol or any representation resembling it must apply to STB for permission. 

    The symbol is not permitted to be used as part of a logo, or in a manner that may cause it to be confused or associated with the applicant rather than STB or Singapore.

    According to STB's website, it also cannot be used in any "fresh food, medical product or any other product for which there may be substantial potential risk to consumers".

    Exceptions that do not require applications include products intended primarily as a souvenir, product packaging promoting Singapore as a tourist destination and collateral for a tourism event. Photography and film are also allowed, subject to STB conditions.

    The Merlion statue is seen in front of office buildings in Singapore on Aug 11, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)


    Here's a tidbit for those who believe in feng shui.

    Just as it is with many of Singapore's buildings, the Merlion's placement at Merlion Park takes feng shui into consideration. 

    Besides the immediate observation that the constantly flowing water from the Merlion's mouth represents an endless flow of good fortune into Singapore, the orientation of the statue has also been carefully thought through.

    The Merlion is aligned to face the east, the direction that is believed to bring the greatest success.

    How's that for a nice sunset view?


    The Merliger made its debut in the webseries Ultraman: A New Power of Singapore. (Image: Youtube/ULTRAMAN OFFICIAL)

    Lookalike Merlion statues have been spotted around the world, turning up in unlikely places including Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea. 

    However, no other place has caught the Merlion fever like Japan has.

    Merlions have been spotted in a kimono shop in Karuizawa and in Hakodate in Hokkaido prefecture. 

    The Merlion has also left an indelible mark on Japanese pop culture, showing up or being referenced in various anime and manga works, including Detective Conan, Cowboy Bebop, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and A Place Further Than The Universe, where an entire episode takes place in Singapore.

    The movie My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission released in 2021 introduces a professional hero whose appearance is themed around the Merlion.

    Not to be outdone, the Japanese superhero Ultraman gets some aid from the Merlion in the webseries Ultraman: A New Power of Singapore when it helps fend off a kaiju (big monster) attack on Singapore by manifesting its spirit into an armoured beast. The production was a collaboration with STB.

    Why the Japanese obsession with the Merlion? Maybe because hybrid animals are a common theme for yokai, or supernatural entities in Japanese folklore - or maybe they just think that it's cute.


    There will be month-long events in commemoration of the Merlion turning 50.

    From now until Sep 29, the Merlion statue at the Merlion Park will be illuminated in a colourful display from 6pm to 12am each day. The nearby Fullerton Hotel will also be lit in warm, golden hues.

    Exclusive themed merchandise from local brands will also be made, with some available for sale at Design Orchard until Oct 4.

    SingPost will also introduce an exclusive series of Singapore Mascots stamps, featuring Merli, a cartoon mascot based on the Merlion.

    The Merlion will also feature in the National Gallery Singapore exhibition Nothing is Forever: Rethinking Sculpture in Singapore.

    So if you are a Merlion fan, you're in for a treat.

    Source: CNA/nh(ta)


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