The Comfort Women of Singapore in History and Memory
by Kevin Blackburn
"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. It has become the term generally used in English to discuss the subject. The role of comfort women in history remains a topic of importance — and emotion — around the world. Most scholarship concentrates on Korean comfort women, with less on their counterparts in Japan, China, Taiwan and even less on Southeast Asia. It is well-known that an elaborate series of comfort stations, or comfort houses, were organised by the Japanese administration across Singapore during the Occupation from 1942 to 1945. And historians have recorded eyewitness accounts from Korean comfort women who served here, and from managers of Singapore comfort stations.
So why did no local former comfort women come forward and tell their stories when others across Asia began to do publicly in the 1990s? To understand this silence, the book details 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. Could it be that no former comfort women remained in Singapore after the war? Blackburn shows through a careful weighing of the different kinds of evidence why this was not the case. The immediate post-war years, and efforts to repatriate or ‘reform’ former comfort women fills in a key part of the history.
The author then turns from history to the public presence of the comfort women in Singapore's memory: newspapers, novels, plays, television, and touristic heritage sites, showing how comfort women became known in Singapore during the 1990s and 2000s. Blackburn brings great care, balance and sensitivity to a difficult subject.
“This detailed study brings the Singapore story into the growing scholarly literature on the comfort women, making clear the commonalities and contrasts with the wartime experiences of comfort women from and in other parts of Asia.”
- Carol Gluck, Columbia University
Kevin Blackburn is an Associate Professor in History at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Publication Year: 2022
224 pages, 229mm x 152mm
9 maps, 1 diagram, 1 table and 6 b/w photos
Series: Singapore Studies in Society & History