The Comfort Women of Singapore in History and Memory 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.
“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?
This volume thus uncovers to the extent possible the histories and memories of these forgotten comfort stations and the stories of the many varied groups of women who became comfort women in Japanese occupied Singapore during the Second World War. It offers explanations for why local Singapore women have not come forward with their testimonies as other comfort women have done so since the 1990s. At the same time, the book explores the presence of the comfort women in Singapore collective memory and popular culture, which has developed significantly after the comfort women became an international issue in the 1990s. The investigation aims to add Singapore to the scholarship on the comfort women of Asia by making a detailed study from which comparisons and contrasts can be drawn in this transnational history. Much of the literature on the comfort women concerns Korean comfort women, with a growing scholarship on the comfort women from China, Japan, and Indonesia. There is also work on Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, and some on Malaysia, bur little has been done on Singapore.
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