Japanese occupation of Indonesia

Japanese occupation of Indonesia

Imperial Japan occupied Indonesia during World War II from March 1942 until after the end of War in 1945. The period was one of the most critical in Indonesian history. The occupation was the first serious challenge to the Dutch in Indonesia—it ended the Dutch colonial rule—and, by its end, changes were so numerous and extraordinary that the subsequent watershed, the Indonesia Revolution, was possible in a manner unfeasible just three years earlier. [Ricklefs, M.C. "A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1300." Second Edition. MacMillan, page 199, 1991.] Under German occupation itself, the Netherlands had little ability to defend its colony against the Japanese army, and less than three months after the first attacks on Kalimantan the Japanese navy and army overran Dutch and allied forces, ending 300 years of Dutch colonial presence in Indonesia. In 1944–45, Allied troops largely by-passed Indonesia and did not fight their way into the most populous parts such as Java and Sumatra. As such, most of Indonesia was still under Japanese occupation at the time of their surrender in August 1945.

The most lasting and profound effects of the occupation were, however, on the Indonesian people. Initially, most had optimistically and even joyfully welcomed the Japanese as liberators from their Dutch colonial masters. This sentiment quickly changed as the occupation turned out to be the most oppressive and ruinous colonial regime in Indonesian history. As a consequence, Indonesians were for the first time politicised down to the village level. But this political wakening was also partly due to Japanese design; particularly in Java and to a lesser extent Sumatra, the Japanese indoctrinated, trained and armed many young Indonesians and gave their nationalist leaders a political voice. Thus through both the destruction of the Dutch colonial regime and the facilitation of Indonesian nationalism, the Japanese occupation created the conditions for a claim of Indonesian independence. It would be Indonesians, however, who immediately following World War II would be the ones to fight a bitter five-year diplomatic, military and social struggle before securing that independence.


Until 1942, Indonesia was ruled by the Netherlands and was known as the Netherlands East Indies. In 1929, during the Indonesian National Revival, Indonesian nationalists leaders Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta (later founding President and Vice President), foresaw a Pacific War and the opportunity that a Japanese advance on Indonesia might present for the independence cause. [cite book | last =Sukarno | authorlink = Sukarno| coauthors = Adams, Cindy | title =Sukarno: An Autobiography| publisher = Bobbs-Merrill | year = 1965 | pages =p. 92|id =; cite book | last =Legge| first = John David | authorlink = | coauthors = | title =Sukarno: A Political Biography| publisher = | date = | location = | pages =pp. 101-102| url = | doi =
id =ISBN 978-9814068642

The Japanese spread the word that they were the 'Light of Asia'. It was the only Asian nation that had successfully transformed itself into a modern technological society at the end of the nineteenth century and it had remained independent when most Asian countries had been under European or American power, and had beaten a European power, Russia, in war. [Vickers (2005), page 87] Following its military campaign in China Japan turned its attention to Southeast Asia advocating to other Asians a 'Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere', a type of trade zone under Japanese leadership. The Japanese had gradually spread their influence through Asia in the first half of the twentieth century and during the 1920s and 1930s had established business links in the Indies. These ranged from small town barbers, photographic studios and salesmen, to large department stores and firms such as Suzuki and Mitsubishi becoming involved in the sugar trade. [cite book | last =Vickers| first = Adrain | authorlink = | coauthors = | title =A Modern History of Indonesia| publisher = Cambridge| year = 2005| location = | pages =pp.83-84| url = | doi =
id =ISBN 0-521-54262-2
] Japanese aggression in Manchuria and China in the late 1930s caused anxiety amongst the Chinese in Indonesia who set up funds to support the anti-Japanese effort. Dutch intelligence services also monitored Japanese in Indonesia. [Vickers (2005), page 83]

A number of Japanese had been sent by their government to establish links with Indonesian nationalists, particularly with Muslim parties, while Indonesian nationalists were sponsored to visit Japan. Such encouragement of Indonesian nationalism was part of a broader Japanese plan for an 'Asia for the Asians'. [Vickers (2005), pages 83-84]

In November 1941, "Madjlis Rakjat Indonesia", an Indonesian organization of religious, political and trade union groups, submitted a memorandum to the Dutch East Indies Government requesting the mobilization of the Indonesian people in the face of the war threat.cite journal|author=Charles Bidien|title=Independence the Issue|journal=Far Eastern Survey|url=http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0362-8949%2819451205%2914%3A24%3C345%3AITI%3E2.0.CO%3B2-S|volume=14|issue=24|pages=345–348|date=5 December 1945|doi=10.1525/as.1945.14.24.01p17062] The memorandum was refused because the Government did not consider the "Madjlis Rakyat Indonesia" to be representative of the people. Within only four months, the Japanese had occupied the archipelago. On the night of January 10-11, 1942, the Japanese attacked Menado in Celebes. At about the same moment they attacked Tarakan, a major oil extraction centre and port in the north east of Borneo.

The Invasion

In January the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM) was formed to co-ordinate Allied forces in South East Asia. On February 27, the Allied fleet was defeated in the Battle of the Java Sea. From February 28 to March 1, 1942, Japanese troops landed on four places along the northern coast of Java almost undisturbed. On March 8, the Allied forces in Indonesia surrendered. The colonial army was consigned to detention camps and Indonesian soldiers were released. European civilians were interned once Japanese or Indonesian replacements could be found for senior and technical positions. [Cribb (1995), p. 13.]

Over three hundred years of Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia had been swept away in a few weeks. Liberation from the Dutch was initially greeted with optimistic enthusiasm by Indonesians who came to meet the Japanese army waving flags and shouting support such as “Japan is our older brother” and “"banzai Dai Nippon"”. In Aceh the local population rebelled against the Dutch colonial authorities, even before the arrival of the Japanese. As renowned Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer noted:

With the arrival of the Japanese just about everyone was full of hope, except for those who had worked in the service of the Dutch. [Pramoedya Ananta Toer, "The Mute’s Soliloquy", trans. Willem Samuels (New York: Penguin, 1998), pp. 74-106 (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1975). Cited in Vickers (2005), p85)]

The occupation

Initially Japanese occupation was welcomed by the Indonesians as liberators. [cite web
url = http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-22819/Indonesia
title = Indonesia :: Japanese occupation| accessdate = 2007-01-21| accessmonthday = | accessyear = | author = Encyclopædia Britannica Online| authorlink = Encyclopædia Britannica| year = 2007| quote = Though initially welcomed as liberators, the Japanese gradually established themselves as harsh overlords. Their policies fluctuated according to the exigencies of the war, but in general their primary object was to make the Indies serve Japanese war needs.
] During the occupation, the Indonesian nationalist movement increased in popularity. In July 1942, leading nationalists like Sukarno accepted Japan's offer to rally the public in support of the Japanese war effort. Both Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta were decorated by the Emperor of Japan in 1943.

Japanese rulers divided Indonesia into three regions; Sumatra was placed under the 25th Army, Java and Madura were under the 16th Army, while Borneo and eastern Indonesia were controlled by the Navy 2nd South Fleet. The 25th Army was headquartered in Singapore and also controlled Malaya until April 1943, when its command was narrowed to just Sumatra and the headquarters moved to Bukittinggi. The 16th Army was headquartered in Jakarta, while the 2nd South Fleet was headquartered in Makassar.Experience of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia varied considerably, depending upon where one lived and one's social position. Many who lived in areas considered important to the war effort experienced torture, sex slavery, arbitrary arrest and execution, and other war crimes. Many thousands of people were taken away from Indonesia as unfree labour ("romusha") for Japanese military projects, including the Burma-Siam Railway, and suffered or died as a result of ill-treatment and starvation. People of Dutch and mixed Dutch-Indonesian descent were particular targets of the Japanese occupation.

During the World War II occupation, tens of thousands of Indonesians were to starve, work as slave labourers, or be forced from their homes. In the National Revolution that followed, tens, even hundreds, of thousands (including civilians), would die in fighting against the Japanese, Allied forces, and other Indonesians, before Independence was achieved. A later United Nations report stated that four million people died in Indonesia as a result of famine and forced labor during the Japanese occupation, including 30,000 European civilian internee deaths. [Cited in: Dower, John W. "War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War" (1986; Pantheon; ISBN 0-394-75172-8)]

Materially, whole railway lines, railway rolling stock, and industrial plants in Java were appropriated and shipped back to Japan and Manchuria. British intelligence reports during the occupation noted significant removals of any materials that could be used in the war effort.

The only prominent opposition politician was leftist Amir Sjarifuddin who was given 25,000 guilders by the Dutch in early 1942 to organise an underground resistance through his Marxist and nationalist connections. The Japanese arrested Amir in 1943, and he only escaped execution following intervention from Sukarno, whose popularity in Indonesia and hence importance to the war effort was recognised by the Japanese. Apart from Amir's Surabaya-based group, the most active pro-Allied activities were among the Chinese, Ambonese, and Menadonese. cite book| last =Reid| first =Anthony| authorlink =| coauthors =| title =The Indonesian National Revolution 1945-1950| publisher =Longman Pty Ltd| year =1973| location =Melbourne| pages =p.12| id =ISBN 0-582-71046-4]

Indonesian nationalism

During the occupation, the Japanese encouraged and backed Indonesian nationalistic feeling, created new Indonesian institutions and promoted nationalist leaders such as Sukarno. In the decades before the war, the Dutch had been overwhelmingly successful in suppressing the small nationalist movement in Indonesia such that the Japanese proved fundamental for coming Indonesian independence.Vickers (2005), page 85]

The Japanese regime perceived Java as the most politically sophisticated but economically the least important area; its people were Japan’s main resource. As such—and in contrast to Dutch suppression—the Japanese encouraged Indonesian nationalism in Java and thus increased its political sophistication (similar encouragement of nationalism in strategic resource-rich Sumatra came later, but only after it was clear the Japanese would lose the war). The outer islands under naval control, however, were regarded as politically backward but economically vital for the Japanese war effort, and these regions were governed the most oppressively of all. These experiences and subsequent differences in nationalistic politicisation would have profound impacts on the course of the Indonesian Revolution in the years immediately following independence (1945 – 1950).

In addition to new-found Indonesian nationalism, equally important for the coming independence struggle and internal revolution was the Japanese orchestrated economic, political and social dismantling and destruction of the Dutch colonial state.

End of the occupation

General MacArthur had wanted to fight his way with Allied troops to liberate Java in 1944-45 but was ordered not to by the joint chiefs and President Roosevelt. The Japanese occupation thus officially ended with Japanese surrender in the Pacific and two days later Sukarno declared Indonesian Independence. However Indonesian forces would have to spend the next four years fighting the Dutch for its independence. American restraint from fighting their way into Java certainly saved many Japanese, Javanese and American lives. On the other hand, Indonesian independence would have likely been achieved more swiftly and smoothly had MacArthur had his way and American troops occupied Java. [cite book| last =Friend| first =Theodore| authorlink =| coauthors =| title =Indonesian Destinies| publisher =The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press| year =2003| location =| pages =p.33| url =| doi = | id =ISBN0-674-01834-6]

Until 1949 the returning Dutch authorities held 448 war crimes trials against 1038 suspects. 969 of those were condemned (93,4%) with 236 (24,4%) receiving a death sentence. [] [Piccigallo, Philip; The Japanese on Trial; Austin 1979; ISBN 0-292-78033-8 (Kap. "The Netherlands")]

ee also

*Netherlands Indian roepiah


last = Cribb | first = Robert | last2 = Brown | first2 = Colin | title = Modern Indonesia: A History Since 1945 | place = Harlow, Essex, England | publisher = Longman Group, Ltd | year = 1995 | isbn = ISBN 0-582-05713-2

;Further reading
*cite book|author=Anderson, Ben|title=Java in a Time of Revolution: Occupation and Resistance, 1944-1946|year=1972|publisher=Cornell University Press|location=Ithaca, N.Y.|id=ISBN 0-8014-0687-0
*cite book|author=Hillen, Ernest|title=The Way of a Boy: A Memoir of Java|year=1993|publisher=Viking|location=Toronto|id=ISBN 0-670-85049-7


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