Johor, the southern gateway and third largest state in Peninsula Malaysia is the keeper of many national and natural treasures untold. It is a delightful mixture of the traditional and modern, and natural and ultra-modern urban jungles.
A Rich History
Johor gets its name from the Arabic word Jauharmeaning 'precious stones'. Prior to that, it was known as Ujung Tanah which mean 'land's end' in Malay, due to its location at the end of the Malay Peninsula. It is also an apt name, as the southern-most tip of Asia is located at Tanjung Piai, Johor. The state derived its status as the country's Southern Gateway after it was connected to Singapore through the 1056m-long Causeway which was completed in 1923 after four years of construction. Johor has a rich and illustrious ancient history - its sultanate was established in the early 16th century, commanding the southern Peninsula and Riau islands. Upon Malacca's defeat to the Portuguese in 1511, the son of the last Sultan of Malacca, Sultan Mahmud Shah, had established a monarchy in Johor and had posed a constant threat to the Portuguese. Johor is the only state, apart from Melaka, that grew into an empire. During its peak, the whole of Pahang and the present day Indonesian territories of Riau Archipelago and part of Sumatra Island were under Johor's rule.
The Rise of a New Metropolis
Today Johor is poised to conquer the world with state-of-the-art metropolis Iskandar Malaysia, formerly known as the Iskandar Development Region (IDR). Officially launched by His Royal Highness the Sultan of Johor on the 4 November 2006, Iskandar Malaysia is set to become Southern Peninsular Malaysia's most developed region, where living, entertainment, environment and business seamlessly converge within a bustling and vibrant metropolis connected in an ultra-modern telecommunications network. The beacon of new growth, Iskandar Malaysia will spur economic developments that actuate Malaysia's global potential to greater heights. Sprawling 2,217 sq. km, it is 3 times the size of Singapore and is comprised of most of Johor's major hubs including Johor Bahru, Danga Bay, world-class ports Tanjung Pelepas and Pasir Gudang, amongst others.
A Melting Pot of Culture
With its 3.17 million population, Johor is the most populous state in Malaysia. Besides the cultural expressions practiced by the local Malays, Chinese and Indians, culture in Johor is also influenced by visitors and traders throughout history. The Bugis who first set foot in Johor would be biggest influence especially on the side of politics. The Arabs strongly influenced the arts like the Zapin dance and Hamdolok theatre performances and musical instruments like gambus (Arab lute). Ghazal Johor a love song or poem is sung in Malay with instruments like the gambus, accordion, drum, etc, but its songs reflect much Hindustani and Persian influence. The Kuda Kepang dance, a legless horse-shaped puppet straddled by the performers is inspired by the Javanese.
The rich culture and heritage of Johor is also reflected in its traditional costumes. The baju kurung Teluk Belanga, widely recognised as Johor's traditional attire since the 19th Century is also known as Baju Kurung Johor. It comes in both male and female versions. The man's costume has three pockets while the lady's version has one medium-sized breast pocket on the left. Cekak Musang and Teluk Belanga are types of collar design of the male version. It is said that Teluk Belanga was designed by Sultan Abu Bakar in 1866 to reminisce the shift of Johor's capital from Teluk Belanga to Johor Bahru.
Highlights and Attractions
Johor is divided into eight districts: Batu Pahat, Johor Bahru, Kluang, Kota Tinggi, Mersing, Muar, Pontian and Segamat, the largest of these being Johor Bahru which is the state capital. Visitors commonly head for Johor Bahru's royal palaces and lively night markets, considered as some of the state's best attractions.
The state's islands are a tourist attraction with their stretches of white sandy beaches and sparkling waters which beckons all and sundry to snorkel, scuba dive, wind-surf, sail and even reel in a fish or two.
Johor's five national parks are a wonderful representation of the sheer bio-diversity that is the state's natural heritage : botanical and wildlife paradise of Endau Rompin, the mangrove island of Kukup, the "mother of all dead ends" wetland of Tanjung Piai, the mysterious and legendary Gunung Ledang, and the heavenly Mersing islands.
Indeed there is so much more to Johor than meets the eye.
Words by Ariel Chew