Under the Japanese Occupation

I have been watching the six of these episodes about the wartime food when Singapore was under the Japanese occupation. As fellow citizens of southeast Asian countries, I can definitely relate myself to the movie. My grandparents, most of whom have already passed away, as well as my parents, used to tell me how suffering it was under the Japanese occupation. Indonesian school textbooks say, despite occupying Indonesia only for 3.5 years, the Japanese brought us much much greater misery than what the Dutch gave in three hundred something years. Food was very scarce, and rice was a luxury. Clothing was rare, and a lot of people wore “bagor” or gunny sack. Another thing is, of course, the romusha, or the forced labourers, who are also featured in a later episode of the series. Some hundreds of thousands people from Java were sent to different parts of Indonesia as well as neighbouring countries, and received terrible treatment. I don’t remember my parents or grandparents telling me about any family member who became romusha, so I guess we were quite lucky with that. Instead, if I remember correctly, my paternal grandparent and his siblings and cousins participated in the war against the…I forget, whether against the Japanese or against the Dutch after we proclaimed our independence.

This situation did not end after Japan surrendered. I remember my father telling me about how common it was for toddlers to die because of some plague early in our independence. My mother also told me how when she was a kid, her family used to share a bowl of meatballs for their big family (she has 5 siblings), and this was well in the 1960s. There are other stories as well, but anyway nowadays it becomes so much more peaceful for the people in my generation that we often fail to appreciate the things we commonly have but were luxuries during their times.

During my period here in Singapore, I meet people of different nations. Among them are, of course, Singaporeans. They have their own share of the story, about how the Japanese would look for suspicious people, accuse them of being communists or treason, and execute them in front of the firing squads, in Changi, in Punggol, in Sentosa. I read somewhere (sorry I forget the link), that even until now people sometimes still find the skulls and bones of the people who were executed, especially in beaches at those places. I also meet Chinese nationals, and they told me also the Japanese atrocities during the wartime, and about the comfort women.

In spite of writing this here, I have one theoretical question. Are you able to tell these stories to Japanese people? I, of course, also meet some Japanese, and the only time I told a Japanese about this is about the then Japanese soldier who deserted from the army and took side with the locals in my hometown. After the war ended, he decided to become Indonesian and integrate to our culture. Again, if my memory doesn’t fail me, he lived in the highland in my province, was about 100 years old a few years ago, and one of his descendants is my father’s friend. There are a couple of other Japanese soldiers who did this. [Ando-kun] told me that during the war, Japanese civilians also suffered from lack of food and other basic necessities. It is my understanding as well that apart from that, a lot of boys and men in their families were also sent to war and never came back. So I guess it must be grievous moment as well for them.

I would love to see similar documentaries about Indonesia under the Japanese occupation.

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3 Responses to “Under the Japanese Occupation”


  1. 1 Pak Guru 06/05/2013 at 1:41 PM

    Only war story I can remember would be one related to my maternal grandfather, who died before I was born. It had something to do with his tobacco stall and something with bayonets.

    Is there a way to download the captions/subtitles for the YouTube series?

    Also, the Malay-speaking lady from ep. 6, her accent is very familiar at least 60% of the time. I don’t know if this is a Riau thing or the same can be said of the average Indonesian.

  2. 2 lambrtz 06/05/2013 at 6:27 PM

    It had something to do with his tobacco stall and something with bayonets.

    Tobacco stall? Bayonets? Was he forced to give cigarettes by the occupiers? :-S

    the Malay-speaking lady from ep. 6, her accent is very familiar at least 60% of the time. I don’t know if this is a Riau thing or the same can be said of the average Indonesian.

    Well I do thing that the Malay they speak here sounds more like the one Indonesians speak, rather than the West Malaysian counterpart, i.e. I will not be surprised if I find a Malay Indonesian speaks like that. Maybe because historically the root of the Indonesian language is the Malay language spoken in Riau and Johor. I don’t know. I think you know better about this. 😛

    Is there a way to download the captions/subtitles for the YouTube series?

    Walaue that one I don’t know leh…ask them can?

  3. 3 Pak Guru 08/05/2013 at 11:28 AM

    Oh, they weren’t Malay-speaking. Minangkabau. Whenever that lady isn’t speaking obviously Malay words she sounds a bit like when a few Minangkabau-speaking people I know sound when they speak Indonesian.


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