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File:Singapore Map - 1945.jpg

Singapore in 1945


Britain surrenders Singapore to the Japanese. Lieutenant-General Yamashita (seated, third from the left) faces Lt. Gen. Percival (sitting second from the right, back to camera)

Syonan (昭南) officially Syonan-to (昭南島) was the name for Singapore when it was occupied and ruled by the Empire of Japan, following the fall and surrender of British military forces on 15 February 1942 during World War II.

Japanese military forces occupied it after defeating the combined British, Indian, Australian, and Malayan garrison in the Battle of Singapore. The occupation was to become a major turning point in the histories of several nations, including those of Japan, Britain, and Singapore. Singapore was renamed Syonan-to, meaning "Light of the South Island" and was also included as part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (大東亜共栄圏; Dai Tōa Kyōeiken).[1][2]

Singapore was officially returned to British colonial rule on 12 September 1945, following the formal signing of the surrender instrument at the Municipal Building, now known as the City Hall. Singapore would go on to be a sovereign city-state 20 years later in 1965. The experience of Japanese rule continues to be commemorated with Total Defence Day, which is marked annually in Singapore on 15 February, the day of the surrender of the British to the Japanese in 1942.

Events leading to the occupation[]

The Japanese captured all of Malaya during the Malayan Campaign in a little more than two months. The garrison defending Singapore surrendered on 15 February 1942, only a week after the invasion of the island commenced. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the fall of Singapore "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history".[3]

Time of mass-terror[]

After the fall of Singapore, Masayuki Oishi, commander of No. 2 Field Kenpeitai, set up his headquarters in the YMCA Building at Stamford Road as the Kenpeitai East District Branch. The Kenpeitai prison was in Outram with branches in Stamford Road, Chinatown and the Central Police Station. A residence at the intersection of Smith Street and New Bridge Road formed the Kenpeitai West District Branch.

Under Oishi's command were 200 regular Kenpeitai officers and another 1000 auxiliaries, who were mostly young and rough peasant soldiers. Singapore was divided into sectors with each sector under the control of an officer. The Japanese set up designated "screening centres" all over Singapore to gather and "screen" Chinese males between the ages of 18 and 50. Those who were thought to be "anti-Japanese" would be eliminated. Sometimes, women and children were also sent for inspection as well.

The following passage is from an article from the National Heritage Board:

According to the A Country Study: Singapore published by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress:

The ones who passed the "screening" received a piece of paper bearing the word "examined" or have a square ink mark stamped on their arms or shirts. Those who failed were stamped with triangular marks instead. They were separated from the others and packed into trucks near the centres and sent to the killing sites.

Other changes[]

To discourage Western influence, which Japan sought to eliminate from the very start of their invasion, the Japanese set up schools and education institutions and pressured the local people to learn their language (Japanese). Textbooks and language guidebooks were printed in Japanese and radios and movies were broadcast and screened in Japanese. Every morning, school-children had to stand facing the direction of Japan (in the case of Singapore, looking northeast) and sing the Japanese national anthem ("Kimigayo"). Japanese propaganda banners and posters also went up all around Singapore, as did many Japanese Rising Sun flags raised and hung across many major buildings.

Scarcity of basic needs[]

File:Ten dollar note issued by the Japanese Government during the occupation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei (1942, obverse).jpg

A ten-dollar "Banana Money" note issued during the war

Basic resources, ranging from food to medication, were scarce during the occupation. The prices of basic necessities increased drastically over the three and a half years due to hyperinflation. For example, the price of rice increased from $5 per 100 catties (about Template:Convert) to $5,000 by the end of the occupation between August and September 1945. The Japanese issued ration cards, also known as "Peace Living Certificates"[4] to limit the amount of resources distributed to the civilian population. Adults could purchase Template:Convert of rice per month and children received Template:Convert accordingly. The amount of rice for adults was reduced by 25% as the war progressed, as much of the scarce rice supplies were sent to feed the Japanese military.[5]

The Japanese issued "Banana Money" (so referred to due to the image of a banana tree printed on most of such notes of the currency) as their main currency during the occupation period since British Straits currency became rarer and was subsequently phased out when the Japanese took over in 1942. They instituted elements of a command economy in which there were restrictions on the demand and supply of resources, thus creating a popular black market from which the locals could obtain key scarce resources such as rice, meat, and medicine. The "Banana" currency started to suffer from high inflation and dropped drastically in value because the occupation authorities would simply print more whenever they needed it; consequently on the black market, Straits currency was more widely used.

Food availability and quality decreased greatly. Sweet potatoes, tapiocas and yams became the staple food of most diets of many Singaporeans because they were considerably cheaper than rice and could also be grown fast and easily in backyard gardens. They were then turned into a variety of dishes, as both desserts and all three meals of the day. Such foods helped to fend starvation off, with limited success in terms of nutrients gained, and new ways of consuming sweet potatoes, tapiocas and yams with other products were regularly invented and created to help stave off the monotony. Both the British colonial and Japanese occupation authorities encouraged their local population to grow their own food even if they had the smallest amount of land. The encouragement and production were similar to what occurred with "Victory Gardens" in Western nations (predominantly in Europe) during World War II[6] as food supplies grew ever more scarce. Ipomoea aquatica, which grew relatively easily and flourished relatively well near water sources, became a popular food-crop just as it did the other vegetables,


After taking Singapore, the Japanese established the Template:Nihongo, to educate Malays, Chinese, Indians, and Eurasians in the Japanese language. Faye Yuan Kleeman, the author of Under an Imperial Sun: Japanese Colonial Literature of Taiwan and the South wrote that it was the most successful of such schools in Southeast Asia.[7] During the occupation, the Japanese had also opened the Shonan First People's School.[8]

Allied attacks[]

Main article: Operation Jaywick

Ivan Lyon (centre) celebrating with two other members of Z Force following the success of Operation Jaywick

Singapore was the target of various operations masterminded by Allied forces to disrupt Japanese military activities. On 26 September 1943, an Allied commando unit known as Z Force led by Major Ivan Lyon infiltrated Singapore Harbour and sank or damaged seven Japanese ships comprising over Template:Convert. Lyon led another operation, codenamed "Rimau", with the same objective almost a year later and sank three ships. Lyon and 13 of his men were killed fighting the Japanese. The other 10 men who participated in the operation were captured, charged with espionage in a kangaroo court and subsequently executed.

Lim Bo Seng of Force 136 led another operation, code-named Gustavus, he recruited and trained hundreds of secret agents through intensive military intelligence missions from China and India. He set up the Sino-British guerrilla task force Force 136 in 1942 with Captain John Davis of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Operation Gustavus was aimed at establishing an espionage network in Malaya and Singapore to gather intelligence about Japanese activities, and thereby aid the British in Operation Zipper – the code name for their plan to take back Singapore from the Japanese. Force 136 was eventually disbanded after the war.

In August 1945, two XE class midget submarines of the Royal Navy took part in Operation Struggle, a plan to infiltrate Singapore Harbour and sabotage the Japanese cruisers Template:Ship and Template:Ship using limpet mines. They inflicted heavy damage on Takao, earning Lieutenant Ian Edward Fraser the Victoria Cross. From November 1944 to May 1945, Singapore was subjected to air raids by British and American long-range bomber units.

Naval facilities and docks in Singapore were also bombed on eleven occasions by American air units between November 1944 and May 1945. These attacks caused some damage to their targets but also killed a number of civilians. Most Singaporeans, however, welcomed the raids as they were seen as heralding Singapore's liberation from Japanese rule.

End of the occupation[]

File:Japanese surrender at Singapore, 1945.jpg

The Japanese delegation leaves the Municipal Building after the surrender ceremony on 12 September 1945

File:SE 004648.jpg

A cheering crowd welcomes the return of British forces on 5 September 1945

File:British Reoccupation of Singapore, 1945 SE4649.jpg

The 5th Indian Division pass through the streets shortly after landing as part of the reoccupation force.

Main article: Operation Tiderace

On 6 August 1945, the United States detonated an atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Sixteen hours later, American President Harry S. Truman called again for Japan's surrender, warning them to "expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth." 8 August 1945, the Soviet Union declared war and on 9 August 1945, the Soviet Union invaded the Imperial Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. Later in the day, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb, this time on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Following these events, Emperor Hirohito intervened and ordered the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War to accept the terms the Allies had set down in the Potsdam Declaration for ending the war. After several more days of behind-the-scenes negotiations and a failed coup d'état, Emperor Hirohito gave a recorded radio address across the Empire on 15 August. In the radio address, called the Jewel Voice Broadcast (玉音放送 Gyokuon-hōsō), he announced the surrender of Japan to the Allies.

The surrender ceremony was held on 2 September, aboard the United States Navy battleship USS Missouri, at which officials from the Japanese government signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, thereby ending the hostilities.

On 12 September 1945, a surrender instrument was signed at the Singapore Municipal Building. This was followed by a celebration at the Padang, which included a victory parade. Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia Command, came to Singapore to receive the formal surrender of the Japanese forces in the region from General Seishirō Itagaki on behalf of General Hisaichi Terauchi. A British military administration, using surrendered Japanese troops as security forces, was formed to govern the island until March 1946.

After the Japanese surrendered, there was a state of instability anomie in Singapore, as the British had not yet arrived to take control. The Japanese occupiers had a considerably weakened hold over the populace. There were widespread incidents of looting and revenge-killing. Much of the infrastructure had been wrecked, including the harbour facilities and electricity, water supply and telephone services. It took four or five years for the economy to return to pre-war levels. When British troops finally arrived, they were met with cheering and fanfare.

Banana money became worthless after the occupation ended.


File:War Memorial Park 5, Singapore, Aug 06.JPG

The Civilian War Memorial in the War Memorial Park at Beach Road. The four columns are a symbolic representation of the four major races of Singapore, namely the Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Eurasians.

To keep alive the memory of the Japanese occupation and its lessons learned for future generations, the Singapore government erected several memorials with some at the former massacre sites:

Civilian War Memorial[]

Main article: Civilian War Memorial

Spearheaded and managed by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Civilian War Memorial is located in the War Memorial Park at Beach Road. Comprising four white concrete columns, this 61 meters tall memorial commemorates the civilian dead of all races. It was built after thousands of remains were discovered all over Singapore during the urban redevelopment boom in the early 1960s. The memorial was officially unveiled by Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew on the 25th anniversary of the start of the Japanese occupation in 1967.[9] It was constructed with part of the S$50 million 'blood debt' compensation paid by the Japanese government in October 1966.[9] Speaking at the unveiling ceremony, Lee said:


On 15 February every year, memorial services (opened to the public) are held at the memorial.

Sook Ching Centre Monument[]

The site of this monument lies within the Hong Lim Complex in Chinatown. The inscription on the monument reads:


Changi Beach Massacre Monument[]

The site of this monument is located in Changi Beach Park (near Camp Site 2) in the eastern part of Singapore. The inscription on the monument reads:


File:Sook Ching Centre site.JPG

The Sook Ching Centre Monument at Hong Lim Complex in Chinatown

Punggol Beach Massacre Monument[]

The site of this monument is located off Punggol Road in northeastern Singapore. The inscription on the monument reads:


Popular culture[]

The Japanese occupation of Singapore has been depicted in media and popular culture, including films, television series and books


Television series[]

  • Early episodes of Tenko, a BBC/ABC production.
  • The Heroes (1988), an Australian-British co-production.
  • Heroes II: The Return (1991), an Australian miniseries.
  • The Last Rhythm (1996), a Chinese language series produced by the Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS).
  • The Price of Peace (1997), produced by the TCS.
  • A War Diary (2001), produced by MediaCorp.
  • In Pursuit of Peace (2001), produced by MediaCorp.
  • Changi (2001), produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  • The Journey: Tumultuous Times (2014), produced by MediaCorp.
  • The Forgotten Army - Azaadi Ke Liye (2020), produced by Kabir Khan Films Pvt. Ltd.

List of monuments and historical sites[]

  • Civilian War Memorial
  • Kranji War Memorial and Cemetery
  • Changi Chapel and Museum
  • YMCA on Orchard Road
  • Alexandra Hospital grounds
  • Old Ford Motor Factory

See also[]


  • History of Singapore
  • Japan–Singapore relations
  • Bombing of Singapore (1944–45)
  • List of years in Singapore


  1. Template:Cite book
  2. Template:Cite book
  3. Churchill, Winston S. Second World War IV. 6 vols, London, 1948–54 p. 81.
  4. Template:Cite web
  5. Template:Cite web
  6. Template:Cite web
  7. Kleeman, Faye Yuan. Under an ImSun: Japanese Colonial Literature of Taiwan and the South. University of Hawaii Press, 2003. p. 43. Template:ISBN, Template:Isbnt. "The most successful was the Japanese school in Singapore. A month after the British surrendered (February 15, 1942), Japan renamed the island Syonan-to (literally "illuminating the south") and founded the famous Shonan Japanese School (Shōnan Nihon Gakuen 昭南日本学園)"
  8. "A BRIEF HISTORY." The Japanese School Singapore. Retrieved on 2 January 2014.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Lee, "Remembering The Hapless Victims of The Fires of History", pp. 327—9.



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External links[]

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