Japanese Revolutionaries in Indonesia, 1945-46

From the Introduction by Saya Shiraishi to A Japanese Memoir of Sumatra, 1945-46: Love and Hatred in the Liberation War, by Takao Fusayama (Equinox, 2010), pp. 9-11, 13-14:

I have three namelists in front of me which I acquired during the course of my research on the Japanese occupation of North Sumatra. They were composed by a former Japanese military officer in Medan, East Sumatra, and dated May 11, 1952. The title of the first list reads, in Japanese, “Namelist of the Japanese who died in battle or of illness in/around Medan.” It contains 102 names, each with information concerning the person’s “former military affiliation,” “hometown” in Japan (one, however, is from Korea, one from Taiwan), and a brief record of how and where he died. A certain “Shimada,” for example, “died during the fight against the Dutch in front of Siantar Railroad Station, July 27, 1947. An art college graduate, an excellent painter.”

Three notes at the end of the list inform the reader that there are 88 additional Japanese who reportedly died in the region, among them the 83 who were massacred in Tebing Tinggi in December 1945 (see below, Chapter 8), but their names are unknown. There may have been further deaths which have not been confirmed. With the few exceptions of those who died of malaria or other illnesses, “most are martyrs to Indonesian independence who fell in battle against the Dutch.”

All the deaths took place after August 15, 1945, the date marking the “end” of World War II for Japan. This record provides a basis for the claim that there were more Japanese casualties during Indonesia’s revolutionary war than during Japan’s three-and-a-half year occupation of the tropical land.

The second list contains 97 names of the “members of the Japanese Association in Medan.” It provides such data as birth date, age, former military affiliation, family address in Japan, current address, marriage and children, current occupation. These men were living in Medan with their families (presumably Indonesian-born) as “mechanics,” “automobile repairmen,” “plantation clerks,” “pharmacists,” “blacksmiths,” “judo instructors” etc. Their birth dates range from 1907 to 1923. When the list was prepared in 1952, they were 29 to 45 years old. Some had already lived in Sumatra for ten years since the Japanese landing in the island in 1942.

I was also told in interviews I conducted during my research that, in addition to the names listed here, there must be other Japanese who when they married entered the wives’ families, becoming Muslims, acquiring Indonesian names, and being lost to their fellow Japanese. A few more names would then be mentioned of those who had come to the Dutch East Indies before World War II, had subsequently been recruited to serve in the Japanese occupation government, and then remained on in Indonesia which had apparently become their home.

The third list contains 20 names, with their family addresses in Japan, of people who in 1952 had just been sent back by ship to Japan from Medan. I met some of these returnees in Tokyo in 1974. One said that he was happy that he had been able to come back to Japan, had started life anew, and was planning to write a memoir after his retirement. Indeed, his book was published some years later. Another made it clear that he had been “forced” by the Indonesian government to leave the village in Aceh where he was farming. According to his old friends, he had close trusting relationships with the religious and political leaders in Aceh, among them the charismatic Tgk. Daud Beureueh who was to lead a revolt against the government in 1953. Two others did not want to talk about their experiences. They were working for the Japan-Indonesia petroleum trade and their “past” was currently both an asset and liability It was not an “unforgettable, exotic” experience, but their life was still tied to it.

During the 1970s, large numbers of war-time memoirs were written* and published in Japan. Among them, the “Indonesian experience” of sharing with young revolutionaries their historical moment (the period of the revolutionary war rather than Japan’s occupation of the land) was remembered with unfading enthusiasm. The experience was something too significant for the veterans to let it vanish from their life.

    *The combined figure is significant enough considering the fact that by the end of World War II, (1) in the whole of Sumatra, there was only one division (Konoe-Daini Division) in the north and one brigade in the south; (2) due to the drastic reduction in the numbers of Japanese soldiers, the “division” barely managed to maintain its structure through incorporating the hastily organized Giyu-gun forces of local youths (at least 15 companies and 4 platoons in Aceh, 4 companies and 3 platoons in Medan) into its rank and file. See Saya Shiraishi, “Nihon Gunsei Ka no Aceh [Aceh under the Japanese Military Administration]” Southeast Asia: History and Culture [Tokyo] 5 (1975): 141.


The readers of this “documentary novel” written by Takao Fusayama will perceive the zeal with which his story is narrated. It is also his dedication that has brought his recollections across the Pacific. He not only published his memoir in Japanese, but also took the pains to translate it into English himself and search for an English-speaking audience. This unceasing commitment to the memory of the brief period of their youth, during which the lives of some hundreds of Japanese young men actually did change, is the notable feature shared by other memoirs as well. Behind their narratives we find this zeal for life. It is there, because it was their own life. Their own youth. We hear in this book, the voice of hundreds of youths whose “personal” life-stories in a “foreign” land have been edited away.

It is through this voice, however, that we may come closer to understanding the nature of the revolutionary war and the “stateless youth” who fought it. One of the former Japanese “deserters” [!] once answered my question as to why he had not returned home, “Oh, it was just natural for me to stay there.” He did not choose to be sent to Sumatra as he did not choose to be born a Japanese. He found, nevertheless, that his life should belong to Sumatra whose natural beauty he loved dearly. He had had enough of the military, enough of the state’s arbitrary control over his life. He had never forgiven the state, Japan, that had intruded into his life and, upon his graduating from college, sent him out to the warfront. He was a revolutionary youth “himself.”

His story is yet to be written. Takao Fusayama’s account of his own experiences, however, will open up and invite more attention to this unexplored field.

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1 Comment

Filed under Indonesia, Japan, migration, military, nationalism, war

One response to “Japanese Revolutionaries in Indonesia, 1945-46

  1. kenji tanaka

    I have had an uncle who was in Sumatra before the second world war. His name was Kajuro Tanaka and his wife was Kondo Risu. I would appreciate very much if you could check and let me know if he was on a name list. We have lost touch with him as he was interned in Australia during the war. Thank you

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