A Shin Megami Tensei Fan Visit to the Asian Civilisations Museum

A Shin Megami Tensei Fan Visit to the Asian Civilisations Museum
A Shin Megami Tensei Fan Visit to the Asian Civilisations Museum

Visiting the Asian Civilisations Museum as a Shin Megami Tensei Fan!

I have quite a lot of pictures to share and comment about. So I’ll keep my introduction short. J

  1. The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) has long been my favourite Singaporean museum, thanks to its extensive collection of Asian religious and mythological art.
  2. I haven’t visited the galleries of the ACM since 2016, though.
  3. Last Wednesday, I had a couple of banking chores to attend to at Raffles Place. Uninterested in returning home after those chores, I hunted for somewhere in the vicinity to spend an hour at.
  4. While browsing ACM’s website, I came across a section featuring a Makara Processional Vehicle. The name Makara immediately leaped at me.
  5. Within seconds, I remembered. Makara is a mid-level “demon,” or mythological creature, that occasionally appears in the Shin Megami Tensei games.

Summary: I headed to the museum right away. I’m delighted to say I not only “encountered” quite a few famous mythological characters from the SMT games in the ACM, I also discovered a few that have yet to make appearances.

Down the road, I’m sure these other legendary creatures would be included in the SMT universe too.

All SMT illustrations belong to Atlus, of course.

Shin Megami Tensei Nakama Hunting at the Asian Civilisations Museum

A note. The Shin Megami Tensei (and Persona) games refer to all mythological creatures and characters, and gods, as “demons.” The term itself doesn’t correspond to how it’s usually used, but so as not to come across as religiously disrespectful, I’ll use the abandoned SMT term, Nakama.

Nakama (仲間), which means “companion” in Japanese. But within the games, written as 仲魔. The second kanji was changed to that for, err, demon.

Northern Vietnamese Ceramic Figure at Asian Civilisations Museum
Water vessel from 15th century Northern Vietnam.

I’ll start with this unusual-looking Northern Vietnamese ceramic figure. A water vessel of sorts, the imp-like character is simply named Kneeling Figure and is believed to be a special commission from Java. Looking at that earnest face and those … teeth, don’t you agree he is just perfect for the SMT games? Any fantasy game, for that matter?

Fish Vessel at ACM
This fishy vessel is displayed in the same cabinet as the above kneeling figure. Not based on any mythological figure, but I thought the graceful artwork makes it suitable for any video game too.
Al-Buraq Wooden Statue from Mindanao, Philippines
On to the good stuff! Here’s a large wooden Buraq, displayed at the Islamic Art Gallery.

In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad flew across the heavens while riding the Buraq, a white half-mule, half donkey steed with wings.

This large carving, found in Mindanao, appears quite different from the way the Buraq was depicted in Soul Hackers. But look closer and I believe you’d see both depictions share the same facial and hair features. Yes?


Ravana and Mount | Asian Civilisations Museum
Javanese interpretation of Demon King Ravana atop his mount. Very different from the traditional Hindu version in Shin Megami Tensei and Avatar Tuner 1.
Shin Megami Tensei Barong
Barong Mask! Any SMT player worth his/her salt will know which kickass companion you get, when you fuse Barong with his mortal enemy.
Makara Processional Vehicle
The Kelantan Makara palanquin ornament that made me revisit the Asian Civilisations Museum. Isn’t it spectacular? I think it’s even more visually captivating than Atlus’ reimagined version.

3 Mythological Creatures That’d Be Perfect for the SMT Games

As mentioned in my introduction, I came across a couple of Asian mythical creatures that have yet to appear in the Shin Megami Tensei games. Some of these would be awesome if reimagined for the series.

Aso Dragon Dogs
Aso. Dragon-dog mythical guardians from Borneo.

These ferocious-looking dragon-dogs are spiritual protectors from Sarawak, and associated with water and fertility. The Dayaks also believe that Aso rule the underworld and are guardians of the dead.

Looking at those … fangs and horns, I assume they are pretty great at their jobs. I’m sure they’d cast great Bufula spells too.

Mentawai Spirit Birds.
Mentawai Spirit Birds.

According to the accompanying description, the people of the Mentawai islands hang spirit bird carvings not just for decoration, but also because such birds attract souls. (!) Doing so then keeps the souls of the living and ancestors close to home. It furthermore ensures success in hunting because the souls of animals are attracted.

In the context of the SMT games, I guess Mentawai Spirit Birds would cast Spirit Drain +3.

Chinese Tomb Guardians
Chinese Tomb Guardians.

Just a look and you can tell why these ornate funerary statues are perfect for any SMT game?

According to information online, these Zhenmushou (镇墓兽) are meant to scare away evil spirits, not humans or grave robbers. That means, they’d be great at light magic. It’s Hamaon instant kill all the way for these dudes!

Asian Gods and Guardians

Yaksha Statue at Asian Civilisations Museum
A Yaksha statue with an animated expression. (He looks like he’s wishing you a happy new year …) In most SMT episodes, encountering these guys mean the game is getting serious.
Guan Yu | Chinese God of Honour and War
The museum’s Guan Yu statue is one of the largest I’ve ever seen. One of the most realistic too.
Shin Megami Tensei Hindu Gods at the Asian Civilisations Museum
The ACM has a sizable collection of Hindu art. So Garuda, Hanuman, and Lord Ganesha are, of course, all here.
Simhavaktra Dakini
Simhavaktra, a Tibetan Buddhism guardian. She is also a “Sky Walker.” In other words, a Dakini. (The latest ones in SMT V can be a real pain!)
Chamunda Kali
Mother Kali in her terrifying Chamunda form. This depiction feels quite similar to the one in the SMT games! (Incidentally, Dakini are her attendants too)
Sarasvati Shin Megami Tensei
The graceful Lady Saraswathi, consort of Brahma. She’s quite a nightmare in the games if you’re weak to ice magic, or mind spells. (But like all goddesses in the games, she can be a great healer too!)
Shiva and Vishnu (SMT)
Lastly, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva! These displays at the museum look different from Atlus’ interpretation, but all wield the same weapons and artefacts.

Representatives From the Western World

The Asian Civilisation Museum has a chamber devoted to Christian art. However, most displays here feature Christ or his mom. That is, with the exception of:

Archangel Michael Defeats Satan
Someone defeating another someone with Megidolaon.

I don’t think you need me to tell you who the above dudes are. I’ll just say, it’s a scene that DIDN’T happen in any of the Shin Megami Tensei games!

Two Truly Unusual “Heads”

Gandhara Bodhisattva Head
Is he Greek, Roman, Indian, or … ?

The above terracotta “head” is huge, and is the showpiece of the chamber it’s in.

At a glance, would you assume it’s Hellenistic in origin? But it’s actually from Gandhara, i.e., modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan, an area previously conquered by Macedonian warboy Alexander the Great. The statue itself is that of a Buddhist Bodhisattva.

With reference to the Shin Megami Tensei games, remember Maitreya’s weird second form in SMT IV: Apocalypse? Some historians have speculated that the “Future Buddha” was inspired by the Zoroastrian light god Mithra. Zoroastrianism itself was possibly influenced by Hellenic culture after Persia was conquered by Alex.

In other words, SMT IV: Apocalypse wasn’t completely imaginative with its interpretations. The world has long been connected, in more ways than one.

A most unusual religious artefact.

This strange relic is a Linga, and presents the Panchamukha, the five faces/aspects of the great Hindu God Shiva. In short:

  • Even in its completed form, there would only have been four faces. The fifth face, which represents ether, is invisible.
  • A partially-damaged face (not shown in my pic) represents Uma and water. Uma is, of course, the wife of Shiva and also known as Parvati. (One of the best mid-level healers throughout the whole SMT series)
  • The complete form or damaged, don’t you agree this Linga would be perfect as a Persona boss?
  • It reminds me of the final boss in Avatar Tuner 2 too! Even though that boss is actually Brahma.

The Asian Civilisations Museum is open daily from 10 am to 7 pm. On Fridays, the hours are 10 am to 9 pm.

Read my other Home Tourist photo essays.

A Shin Megami Tensei Fan Visit to the Asian Civilisations Museum
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A Shin Megami Tensei Fan Visit to the Asian Civilisations Museum

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