By February 1942 the Japanese occupation of Singapore was an accomplished fact, and for the subsequent three years the island was under the rigorous control of the Japanese imperial authorities. Although in historical terms this was a brief period of time, many local commentators have suggested that it nevertheless moulded the contemporary "distinctive Singaporean character" (Murray and Perera 1996: 16). As one survivor of the occupation N.I. Low, orphaned at the age of nine when both his parents died of cholera, puts it
To British law we in Malaya had owed the inestimable blessing of having some firm ground in the quagmire of life. If we did this or this, we rendered ourselves liable to the pains and penalties of the law; if we did not we were safe. Within the confines of the law therefore, the incalculable did not play so devastatingly with our peace of mind. The Japanese did away with all that. As one shopkeeper put it, one's head might be on one's shoulders in the morning and by the evening the two might have parted company (Low 1995: 119).