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What is life like during the Japanese Occupation in Singapore?

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For the people of Singapore, the Japanese occupation was a virtual reign of terror with high inflation, limited supplies of food and other necessities, and the mass execution of many deemed dangerous or disloyal by the Japanese.

The Japanese set up a military style government over Singapore. Secret military police (the kempeitai) began a...

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Singapore was occupied by the Japanese from the years of 1942-1945 and renamed "Shonan-to" during the period of occupation, which meant "Island of the Light of the South" in Japanese. The Japanese army enforced their rule through the Kempeitai, the military police force, who played a major role in oppressing anti-Japanese elements in Singapore. The Japanese were especially suspicious of local Chinese, who had supported the Nationalist forces in China, through the provision of financial assistance, in their struggle against the invading imperial army. The outpouring of support from the local Chinese community made them a prime target of the Kempeitai - they were largely assumed to be anti-Japanese in nature and viewed as supporters of China. From February 18 to March 4, 1942, large numbers of Singaporean Chinese were subsequently detained by the Kempeitai and summarily executed. This large-scale murder of Chinese citizens by the Japanese was known as the Sook Ching Massacre.

The Japanese regime also enforced absolute control over the island through the use of fear. Neighbours were encouraged to spy on each other and to report any suspicious behaviour they had observed to the Kempeitai. Families also had to be registered with the authorities. This allowed the Japanese military police to easily whet out any anti-Japanese elements. Many locals also suffered economically. Food and material shortages were common occurrences during the occupation, as the Japanese took all the resources they could attain to sustain their war machine and to feed the imperial army. As a result, prices of basic necessities rose and inflation rates spiralled out of control. In response to such economic problems, the authorities began to ration out necessities. A black market soon developed to meet the demand for goods amongst Singaporeans. However, prices were so high that few could afford to buy large quantities - many resorted to growing crops, such as sweet potatoes, in their own backyards or gardens to stave off hunger. 

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  • Many people experienced hunger during the Occupation because there was a shortage of food. Essential foodstuffs like rice, salt and sugar were controlled. Ration cards which limited the amount of food for each person were given out. If a person wanted milk powder from a shop, the shopkeeper would say that he had none. But if one was prepared to pay a very high price, the shopkeeper would know where to get it. This was known as the "blackmarket". If a person was not able to pay the price, he or she had to go without it. The people were also encouraged to grow more food. Even in schools, pupils had to look after vegetable plots.
  • Many suffered the war in many ways. Most were killed because they did not obey the laws, listened to foreign broadcast radio stations, anti-Japanese and not only that, the food supply in Singapore where controlled in Singapore and many suffered and died.
The Japanese Military Police, known as the Kempeitai, were probably the most feared of all the Japanese. They had spies all over the island and encouraged people to supply them with information by giving rewards and privileges. As a result, nobody knew who to trust. A cloud of suspicion and fear hung over Singapore.  
  • Anti-Japanese suspects would be arrested and taken to a Kempeitai building, such as the YMCA building at Orchard Road, or the Central Police Station at South Bridge Road. There, the suspects were beaten and tortured until they revealed the information that the Japanese wanted.
  •  The Japanese soldiers wanted everyone to obey them and to show them respect. Whenever anyone passed a Japanese soldier on guard duty, he had to bow to him. If he did not do so, he would be slapped, kicked or punished in some other way.
  • The Japanese  Kempeitai would do anything to get what they wanted, like wanted people and mostly the anti- Japanese people.
•Barbed wire was put across the roads to form roadblocks. Japanese guards then bullied the people passing by, sometimes making them kneel on the roadside for hours.