The Singapore LGBT encyclopaedia Wiki

Clean, safe and green, Singapore is one of the most favored destinations for modern Japanese women who want to work and play hard.

In Japan, women often find it difficult to get into key corporate positions and face pressure to quit once they get married or give birth. So the city-state’s female-friendly working environment is quite attractive to them.

“In Japan, it’s almost impossible for women aged over 30 to find a full-time position. But it’s easier to get one here,” said Mayo Omura, a 32-year-old accountant at the local unit of Hewlett-Packard Co.

She and many other Japanese women interviewed for this article seemed well-informed about present-day Singapore — who to speak to for business, where to go for leisure, and what to buy at which shops.

What an overwhelming majority of them don’t know about Singapore, however, was the countless Japanese women who worked here as prostitutes between the late 19th century and early 20th century, women who were referred to simply as “Karayuki-san.”

“I suspect the days of Karayuki-san have become distant history,” said Kazuo Sugino, secretary general of the Japanese Association in Singapore.

Karayuki-san were Japanese peasant girls — mostly from the Shimabara Peninsula in Nagasaki Prefecture and Amakusa Islands in Kumamoto Prefecture — who were sold into the flesh trade in colonial Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia.

Japan, the world’s second-largest economy, was a poor country a century ago, and women were one of its major exports, along with silk and coal.

Karayuki-san, together with other Japanese women who served as prostitutes elsewhere, including Siberia, Hawaii, Australia and some parts of India and Africa, were said to be the third-biggest foreign currency earner for Japan at the turn of the 20th century.

The existence of Karayuki-san in Singapore dates back to 1877, when there were two Japanese-owned brothels on Malay Street with 14 Japanese prostitutes, official Japanese data show.

Malay Street and the nearby streets of Malabar, Hylam and Bugis later grew into a big red-light district.

Singapore’s official records suggest 633 Japanese women were operating in 109 brothels in 1905. The number is believed to have been well over 1,000, if unlicensed prostitutes are included.

Combined with the far larger Chinese-dominated red-light district and other similar districts catering to different ethnic groups, Singapore was known as one of the centers of the sex industry in Asia in those days.

As Singapore started to develop around the 1870s, immigrants — mostly men — rushed in from China and India to toil at rubber plantations and tin mines in Malaysia or as rickshaw pullers. To maintain social order, British colonial rulers tolerated prostitution at designated brothels, bringing in Chinese and Japanese women in droves.

As Japan’s international profile rose with victories in the Sino-Japanese War in 1894, the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 and its having sided with the victors of World War I, Japan began to view Japanese prostitutes working overseas as a national shame.

In addition, successful Japanese business operations in British-ruled Malaya, now Malaysia, lessened the need for foreign currency earned by Karayuki-san. So the then Japanese Consulate General in Singapore banned Japanese brothels in 1920.

Consequently, many Karayuki-san were forcefully repatriated to Japan. But many others managed to stay in Singapore or move to other parts of Malaya, illegally selling themselves.

Four decades later, a young Japanese woman who settled here after marrying a Singaporean one day encountered a former Karayuki-san by chance and was shocked to learn about the tales of Japanese women working abroad.

“I was saddened to realize that I had known nothing about Karayuki-san,” said Yuko Gan, who later became a charismatic tour guide well-versed in Singapore’s history.

She has since found more former Karayuki-san, listened to them and told the stories of their lives to Japanese tourists.

“I believe I grew as a human, thanks to the encounter with former Karayuki-san. Thinking about their plight fills me with courage,” she said. “Up until 15 to 20 years back, four or five former Karayuki-san survived in Singapore. But not any more.”

Gone with the Karayuki-san is the Japanese red-light district. Ironically, the entire district is now a giant commercial complex that houses a department store run by Seiyu Ltd. and a shopping center operated by Parco Co., both Japanese companies.

Malay, Malabar and Hylam streets remain, but they are now merely passages under the roof of a structure called Bugis Junction, a popular spot with young Singaporeans that also houses movie theaters and the Hotel Inter-Continental.

Traces of Karayuki-san are more evident at Japanese Cemetery Park, where countless — and largely nameless — Karayuki-san are buried along with other Japanese.

Rumiko Motoyama, a 37-year-old bridal consultant who spent her early teens in Singapore, came back in the late 1990s to what she calls her “second hometown.” She visits the cemetery every summer during Bon, the Buddhist festival for the dead, to pay tribute to the deceased Japanese in Singapore, including Karayuki-san.

“I respect the Karayuki-san. They lived hard in unfamiliar places where they couldn’t understand local languages. They must have been so strong,” she said.

“As a Japanese living in Singapore, I’m grateful to the Karayuki-san, because I feel their hardships form a cornerstone in my mind on which I can live happily now,” Motoyama said.

This year, which marks the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, is a good opportunity for Japanese to hark back to the past and look to the future.

One can draw a lot of lessons by taking a glance at the history between Japan and Singapore, especially Japan’s 1942 invasion and occupation up to 1945.

Ordinary Japanese know little about the killings of ethnic Chinese in Singapore by the Imperial Japanese Army during the war years.

Sugino of the Japanese Association wants Japanese to face up to history involving their own country and other parts of Asia in order to strengthen friendly ties.

“It is important that those planning to live in Singapore from now study the present and past of Singapore and develop a clear understanding of Singapore, including Karayuki-san and the war,” he said.

As early as the 1870s Japan had economic activities in Nanyang, and the Karayuki-san (prostitutes) was the first Japanese immigrants to Singapore. Nanyang's economic activities have thrived and are closely linked to the Suez Canal in Africa. In that era of no Internet, the world has been linked by the sea.

The passage of the Suez Canal in 1870 became the bridge of trade linking Europe and Asia, driving the steamship industry. 1876 ​​invented the wired telephone, submarine cable engineering and communications industry to improve the work efficiency of ocean. Western countries have industrialized one after another, increasing the demand for tin and gums. As people in the pursuit of quality of life, coffee, tea, spices, sugar, cotton and other "luxury" soared. Singapore as a free trade port, just take the trains of the times, a share. From 1871 to 1873, Singapore's output to the United Kingdom reached 2.56 million U.S. dollars (6%), and from 1925-1927 it increased to 180 million U.S. dollars (18.4%).

The flourishing economy requires labor. The colonial government considered the Malays to make a living from agriculture and was unfit for mining, tapping and coolies. Using the unequal treaties signed after the Opium War, they introduced a large number of workers from southern China and South India. Yang Sheng Yin caused the situation.

In northeast Asia on the other side of the earth, Japan was in the midst of the 19th century, the last shogunate - the Tokugawa shogunate era. The Tokugawa shogunate, which exercises full power, has imposed a "lock-in policy" on foreign countries that prohibits foreign missionaries, businessmen and civilians from entering Japan. Only merchants in the Netherlands and China are allowed to conduct commercial activities in the only port (Nagasaki, Nagasaki) that was originally opened to the public.

In 1853, U.S. naval brigadier Matthew Calbraith Perry led the fleet into Edo Bay (Tokyo Bay), demanding that Japan establish a business relationship with Japan. In January 1854, Japan and the United States signed the Japan-US Treaty of Kanagawa in Kanagawa and agreed to open the two ports of Shimoda and Hakodate (Hakodate and Hakodate) and grant the most-favored-nation U.S. status. Unequal treaties make the Tokugawa shogunate once again the target of Japanese society's crusade.

(Black ship incident)

On January 3, 1868, the Emperor Meiji announced the abolition of the shogunate and ordered Tokugawa Hingji to "resign and return to the prefecture" to return power to the emperor. The rebel faction and Takcheon celebrated a three-day war near Kyoto. The new government, armed with new militaries and sophisticated weapons, still achieved major victories with oligarchs and decided to pursue the victory and dispatch the eastern army to attack the center of the Tokugawa shogunate Stronghold - Edo.

The new government forces and the old shogunate army decisive battle on the eve of Edo, finally reached an agreement, the country as the most important, unanimously. May 3, 1868, Edo did not bloody peace and open the city, the formal collapse of the shogunate, Japan entered the Meiji Reform era, through the introduction of Western modern industrial technology and management methods to speed up Japan's modernization.

In the Book of Changes (Meiji Daiji King), Meiji took "the south of the Sage and listened to the world in the Book of Changes" and the "rule of the peace".

After the Meiji Restoration, the increasingly prosperous Japan gradually abolished the unequal treaties it signed with the Western powers and regained its national sovereignty and freed itself from the crisis of becoming a colony. With the rapid increase of economic strength and rapid strengthening of military forces, the ancient powerful Qing Empire and tsarist Russia were defeated in the Sino-Japanese Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War in 1895 and 1904-1905, respectively, and the Ascension War in 1910 also hit Victory, promoted to power in Asia.

Back in Time Back In March 1868, Japan was still in a state of impoverishment during the period in which the Tokugawa shogunate alternated with the Meiji Restoration. In the Netherlands, van Reid, a U.S. businessman living in Japan, sent 153 Japanese guest workers to Hawaii and 42 to Guam, setting off the first wave of Japanese immigrants. Between 1880 and 1900, about 10,000 Japanese were sent to North America, South America, Singapore, Borneo, Sumatra and Australia.

Prostitutes are mainly from the impoverished Kyushu (southern island of Japan) in Nagasaki and Shimabara Peninsula in Nagasaki Prefecture, Amakusa Islands in Kumamoto Prefecture. Japan faced another round of economic depression in the early 1900s, where about 500 to 600 poor girls were trafficked to Hong Kong and Singapore each year for about US $ 250 in Hong Kong and US $ 350 in Singapore.

(Map of southern Japan)

Open the fortune of history in Singapore, the first home inseparable from the labor force, coolies can not do without prostitutes. Freeport makes Singapore the largest market for the Nanyang Sister, and Japanese brothels are mostly concentrated in the small slopes of Malay Street, Hylam Street and Bugis Street and are home to today's Bugis Junction. Japanese brothels at Dapo are concentrated on Terengganu Street.

(Distributed in the slope and slope of a brothel)

Japanese woman living in the flower street Willow Lane, with beauty and gentle, to satisfy the man's desire. Ambitious entrepreneurs, hard-working rubber workers can find their own Japanese prostitutes. Clients of all ethnic groups in all countries entered and exited the Japanese brothels, and the brothels business thrived. In the Meiji decade (1877), there were two Japanese brothels in Malay Street; by the Mech 20 years (1887), there were about 100 Nanyang sisters, brothels at the time of the Russo-Japanese War (Meiji 37, 1904) 109. So Malay Street also has a common name, called the Japanese prostitutes Street.

(Malay Street, sitting in the corner Nanyang sister, c.1910)

(Hainan Street Japanese shop, c.1920)

(Malay Street Japanese Store, c.1920)

Nanyang sister is a beautiful and valuable commodity, the relationship between the new originated in the Nanyang Sister, and through the Nanyang sister led other related industries such as food, photography, medical, fashion, remittance centers. The Nanyang Sang showcased at the National Museum of Singapore at the then well-known G.R. Lambert & Co's Yu Takenao, the city has taken down their face in the unforgettable crescent sweeping.

(Photo taken by G.R. Lembert from Malay Street to Fort Road on Fort Road)

Nanyang sister like to take pictures, in addition to publicity for the brothels, they also sent a photo back home safely. The figure on the right of the second woman to bring a Western-style necklace, belt and belt around the waist, subversion of tradition. The second left woman wearing gloves, the mind seems to be the same strain, reflecting the confrontation of international culture in Japan, the dusty woman in his hometown mentality of integration.

(Kingland sisters)

As the Japanese economy recovers, the Japanese government no longer needs to rely on selling Nanyang Sister to earn foreign exchange. In 1920, the Japanese government banned Japanese women from selling abroad on the pretext of humiliation, but many Nanyang sisters did not want to go back to their country. Japanese add to the name of Nanyang sister is very humiliating, such as prostitution, ugly prostitutes, prostitutes, cheap woman, the ladies army, selling laughter and so on. Nanyang sister afraid of being rejected by his hometown and ethnic groups, preferring to stay in the local. There were 2,086 Singaporean prostitutes at the time: 2,086 in Singapore, 970 in the United States (Batavia city, Illinois), 1,087 in Vladivostok (Russia), 747 in Shanghai, 485 in Hong Kong, 392 in Manila and 192 in Sai Kung.

During the Great Depression in the 1930s in the Great Depression, Japan's economy suffered another blow. Fall in the spring to the roar of the countryside, rural women repeat the fate of the past, with the most primitive capital, looking for a way out.

Near the Serangoon Center in Singapore, there is a Japanese cemetery park (825B Chuan Hoe Avenue). The cemetery park is actually a cemetery. In 1888, the brothel owner Himeji Toshiro set aside a seven-hectare rubber plantation to build a Japanese cemetery, where he buried Nanyang sister, who was young and died in a foreign land.

Nanyang sister have had youth, but soon became a trivial skeleton, buried in the wasteland of his hometown. Inscribed on thousands of tombstones, they are all inscribed names, such as "Ci Yin Xin Nu", "End Nian Xin Nv", "Yan Fang Xin Nv", "Miao Fang Xin Nv" and so on, but obviously also the deceased sisters Carpenter carved up. They did not even leave a real name.

Malay Street, marched to Bugis Junction, is a new life rebuilt. It is hard to imagine the time behind the modern buildings. Malay Street in childhood is another typical Singapore 60's style, How many Japanese girls were buried in the youthful years before. The paths of life are different, but with the help of the old park names kept in cemetery parks and modern buildings, the intersection of life is formed. Let's walk in the trail between tracers and trace a past generation.

See also[]


  • Alan Teh Leam Seng, "Ladies of the night", New Straits Times, 17 December 2017[1].
  • Lee Kuo Liang (李国樑), "死不望乡的南洋姐 (Part 1): 到墓地去", 从夜暮到黎明 From dusk to dawn, Navalants, Blogspot, 12 October 2008[2].
  • Lee Kuo Liang (李国樑), "死不望乡的南洋姐 (Part 2): 南洋姐的梦", 从夜暮到黎明 From dusk to dawn, Navalants, Blogspot, 15 October 2008[3].
  • Lee Kuo Liang (李国樑), "死不望乡的南洋姐 (Part 3 of 3): 归乡不归乡?", 从夜暮到黎明 From dusk to dawn, Navalants, Blogspot, 19 October 2008[4].
  • Takehiko Kajita, "Singapore’s Japanese prostitute era paved over", Kyodo, The Japan Times, 18 June 2005[5].


This article was written by Roy Tan.