The Comfort Women of Singapore in History and Memory
“Comfort women” or ianfu is the euphemism used by the Japanese military for the women they compelled to do sex work in the Second World War, and has become the term generally used in English to discuss the subject. The role of comfort women in the Japanese empire during World War II remains an important and emotional topic around the world. Most scholarship concentrates on Korean comfort women, with less on their counterparts in Japan, China, and Taiwan, and even less on Southeast Asia. That gap persists despite widespread knowledge of the elaborate series of comfort stations, or comfort houses, that were organized by the Japanese administration across Singapore during the Occupation from 1942 to 1945. So why, the author asks, did no former comfort women from Singapore come forward and tell their stories when others across Asia began to do publicly in the 1990s?
To understand this silence, this book offers a detailed examination of the sex industry serving the Japanese military during the wartime occupation of Singapore: the comfort stations, managers, procuresses, girls, and women who either volunteered or were forced into service and in many cases sexual slavery. Kevin Blackburn then turns from history to the public presence of the comfort women in Singapore’s memory, including newspapers, novels, plays, television, and touristic heritage sites, showing how comfort women became known in Singapore during the 1990s and 2000s. Bringing great care, balance, and sensitivity to a difficult subject, Blackburn helps to fill an important gap in our understanding of this period.
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