Japanese in Singapore and Japan's Southward Expansionism,
1860-1945: Historical Notes for Under Another Sun
Essay by Tsu Yun Hui, National University of Singapore
In order to provide historical background to a century of Japanese ventures and adventures in the tropics, I will outline the Japanese experience in Singapore and will discuss central themes in the rhetoric of "southward expansionism" (nanshinron) as they changed over time.
The modern history of the Japanese in Singapore may be divided into three periods. The first period spans some fifty years, from 1860 to 1913. The Japanese presence during the first three decades was marginal, but it slowly grew in scale and status in the last twenty years.
The second period began with this by then thriving community's rapid move from the fringe into the mainstream of Singapore's colonial society. It was a time of entrenchment and expansion, economic as well as social. However, the last ten years in this period, which ends in 1941, saw escalating conflicts with local Chinese and European interests caused by Japan's repeated aggression against China and deteriorating relations with the West.
The third period (1942-1945) covers the years of Japanese military occupation, which were brief but traumatic for the invaders and invaded alike.
After having been absent for over two centuries, the Japanese tentatively returned to Southeast Asia in the 1860s. During the preceding era of "national seclusion" (Toby 1984), from 1630s-1860, there were but a handful of reluctant visitors to the region, all of them castaways like Yamamoto Otokichi. A few lucky ones managed to hitch a ride home with a Chinese or European ship, while the rest had to live out their lives in foreign lands as did Otokichi, the first Japanese to be buried in Singapore.
Even the belated return of the Japanese to Southeast Asia in the mid-nineteenth century was largely a by-product of Japan's response to diplomatic and military pressure from the West. Japanese diplomats, officials, and intellectuals on pilgrimages to (or returning from) Europe and the United States traveled through Singapore in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s, but few stayed for any length of time. They had vivid though superficial impressions of the thriving British colony. They were struck by the modern beauty of western buildings and the urban streetscape; intrigued by the presence of different ethnic groups, each with its own language, costume, and religion; and fascinated with the tropical environment, especially with stories of people-eating crocodiles and tigers. Awe-stricken by the glory of imperialism, they lauded the courage and wisdom of the British, heaping praise especially on Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore. Their admiration betrayed a strong desire to emulate, sentiments that foreshadowed later discourse about their country's "destiny" in Southeast Asia.
These travel reports made interesting reading in Japan, but neither the texts nor their authors left any appreciable trace in Singapore. The visitors had their sights set upon the world beyond, toward the west: they had no intention of settling or pursuing a career in this British outpost. Their writings treated the place merely as a point-of-transit, a prelude to a longer and more rewarding stay in the center of civilization--Britain, France, Germany, the United States, and the like.
Japan's nascent discourse of southward advancement also tended to pay scanty attention to Singapore. The area in "the South" (variously called nanyo, the south seas; nankoku, the southern lands; nanpo, the southern region, etc.) that fired the imagination and rhetoric of the propagandists was the South Pacific islands, not Southeast Asia. The likes of Shiga Shigetaka and Suzuki Keikun were dreaming about planting the Japanese flag on the shore of some coral island that had miraculously eluded earlier European explorers.
This apparent oversight regarding Singapore was no mistake but grounded in political realism. Japan in the 1880s had no viable blue-water navy while its heavy industry had still to develop. It was clearly not in the league of "first-rate nations" (itto koku). Therefore, the southward expansionists could not imagine Japan competing with Britain in Singapore or, indeed, with any Western colonial power in the region. They were only hoping for a small, forgotten vacuum to fill. British Singapore was an inspiring lesson, a model of overseas expansion, but it was not a prize that the Japanese could hope to contest or even to share in some small way.
Japanese of the time who wrote about the South typically adopted a crude social Darwinian perspective unquestioningly, dazzled as they were by European and American achievements. They were more envious of the Western colonialists than sympathetic with the local peoples. Although a sense of commiseration with the plight of the latter was not entirely absent, the Japanese took what they saw as a warning for them not to become slack as they worked to "enrich the nation and strengthen the army" (fukoku kyohei). Similarly, they were more amazed than alarmed by the seemingly ubiquitous presence of the overseas Chinese, who formed the core of the labor force and the non-European/American merchant class in the region. The Japanese position on colonialism and race would change in later periods as Japan's interest in the region increased.
While the elite only made stopovers, a small number of Japanese found their way to the bustling port and settled. Two groups defined in succession the character of the fledgling Japanese community, and they could not have been more different in terms of occupation and social status. The first group was the karayuki-san, or prostitutes, and a handful of pimps and others, usually men of dubious character. They formed the core of the community up to the 1890s. The second group was the gudan-zoku or elite business people. They gained ascendancy in the 1910s and went on to occupy the center stage in the next period.
Literally, karayuki-san means "women who have gone overseas," and there were many of them. While frantically modernizing in the late nineteenth century, Japan still had a large, struggling rural population. Land was scarce and, in some parts of the country, barren. Rent was usuriously steep; big families the norm; labor dirt-cheap; natural disasters rampant; and educational opportunities limited.
All this and a patriarchal tradition made prostitution, tragically, seem palatable to some girls from destitute families (Yamazaki 1999). Many came from villages in remote parts of Kyushu and northern Honshu, where there was a history of rural poverty. They were practically sold into prostitution in the trade ports across East and Southeast Asia. Some ended up as far away as northern Australia. Since the number of Japanese men overseas was small at the time, their clients included Europeans and Chinese. Many died young from diseases. The fortunate ones managed to return home after repaying little by little the "debts" their parents had incurred. Others became the mistress of a European or married a Chinese, which usually provided a degree of stability.
Then there were the men whom Japanese sources of the time called "parasites." The target of this middle and upper class scorn was the pimps and their associates in the international sex trade. Despised by Japanese back home, they were the big bosses in the overseas community, controlling not only the lucrative trade in human flesh but also investing in legitimate businesses.
For example, one of the three founders of the Japanese Cemetery (Nihonjin Bochi), Futaki Takajiro, was a successful pimp, plantation owner, grocer, philanthropist, and community leader. Partly dependent on the "shameful business" (shugyo) were tailors, hairdressers, restaurateurs, and grocers since many of their customers were prostitutes and brothel patrons. In addition, there were characters such as peddlers, drug vendors, gamblers, and hustlers, who tried, by fair or foul means, to extract a few dimes from local Chinese and Malays. Having no fixed job or abode, these Japanese were hardly better placed than the "natives" in the colonial social hierarchy.
Several facts serve to highlight the socially marginal character of this community. While there were two Japanese brothels in Singapore as early as 1877, a census by the Japanese consul in 1889 recorded just over two hundred Japanese residents. In other words, some thirty years after the abrogation of national seclusion, the number of Japanese in Singapore remained negligible. Furthermore, the ratio of 186 women to sixteen men confirms the character of the community as one geared toward prostitution. (The overseas Chinese community, by comparison, was predominantly male.) This explains why Futaki Takajiro, the above-mentioned pimp, was one of the three founders of the Japanese Cemetery in 1891. It also explains why the earliest Japanese organization, the Mutual Help Association (Kyosaikai), was led by Futaki and drew most of its members from the prostitutes. In exchange for a subscription fee, the association guaranteed the poor and lonely women a proper burial in the event of death. It was an arrangement typically born out of hardship and family separation.
The Japanese government showed little interest in the community for decades. It appointed a local Chinese boss as its consul in 1879 but failed to name a successor when he died the next year. The first consul from Japan arrived in 1889.
Japanese writers are fond of pointing out the irony that it was the men who followed the women and legitimate businesses that followed prostitution in the history of Japanese migration to Southeast Asia. Trading firms, banks, and shipping agents started to set up business in Singapore only in the 1890s. Men working for these interests would later make up the gudan-zoku, an expression that seems to have derived from the English word "go-down." Again, a few events suffice to illustrate the emerging trend. Mitsui Bussan, a major trading firm, set up a branch in 1891. Two years later, Nippon Yusen's ocean liners began to call at Singapore on their way to Bombay, India. The first Japanese doctor, Nakano Kozo, arrived in 1894. Even the government showed some enthusiasm, establishing a Japanese Trade Exhibition Center (Nihon Shohin Chinretsukan) in 1896 (although it did not last long).
This trend accelerated as Japan gained more confidence as a regional power after emerging victorious from the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). The wars also transformed the Japanese economy. The war boom, new markets, war reparations from China, an overseas colony (Taiwan), and new spheres of influence (North China and Korea) boosted industrial production and commerce. Now Japan could afford to pay serious attention to Southeast Asia. It had asserted its supremacy on the Asian continent.
The first large-scale Japanese-owned rubber plantation appeared in 1902. Four years later, Sango Koshi, a member of the Mitsubishi group, became the first "blue-chip" Japanese company to enter the plantation business. These were unmistakable signs that Japanese were ready to make sizable investments to compete in the core areas of the colonial economy.
The social landscape was changing too. Business representatives, import-exporters, and professionals made up an emerging elite poised to replace the pimps and karayuki-san as "respectable" representatives of the Japanese Empire overseas. Dr. Nakano Kozo established the Singapore Youth Association (Shingaporu Seinen Kai) in 1908, which later became the Japanese Club (Nihonjin Kurabu). A comparison of this organization, which was a social club, with the Mutual Help Association, reveals the kind of social change that was taking place in the community. Nevertheless, the transition was far from complete at this time. In 1903, there were 99 Japanese brothels with 88 female brothel owners and 585 registered prostitutes. These numbers continued to go up for another decade. The other popular occupations were: grocer (62 people), coffee shop (40 people), laundry (23 people), hostel (18 people), and medical doctor (18 people). Forty-four were listed as unemployed (Japanese Association 1998:69).
The beginning of the end of the karayuki-san era dates to the colonial authorities' deportation of 74 Japanese pimps in 1913. Urged on by the Japanese consulate, the campaign continued until 1920 when a total ban on Japanese prostitution came into effect. Brothel owners and prostitutes had to either leave the colony or enter another trade, at least nominally. With the "dishonorable" elements in full retreat, the community, which had grown to about 1,500 men and women by 1915, made remarkable progress in the social and economic spheres over the next twenty years. As a result, the community's standing in the local social landscape quickly improved, superseding the Chinese although never attaining equality with the Westerners. Below are some milestones.
The arrival of the Bank of Taiwan (Taiwan Ginko) in 1912, Bank of South China (Kanan Ginko) in 1916, and Yokohama Specie Bank (Yokohama Shogin Ginko) in the same year signified the Japanese government's determination to encourage trade with the region. The mission of these government-funded "national policy banks" (kokusaku ginko) was to promote trade and industries of strategic importance for the country. Their presence in Singapore (and elsewhere in Southeast Asia) made available to Japanese businesses in the region the necessary capital and financial services to expand and compete aggressively. It was also in 1916 that the main institutional advocate for the South, the South Seas Association (Nanyo Kyokai), set up an office in town. Another major trading firm, Mitsubishi Shoji, came in 1917. The following year, a new Japanese Trade Exhibition Center opened under the management of the South Seas Association.
The flurry of Japanese activities in the 1910s was due in no small measure to a windfall in the form of the First World War (1914-1918). Bogged down by a costly and protracted conflict, Western colonial powers had to divert resources away from their possessions in the East. Japan gained political ground playing the role of Britain's ally in the regional power vacuum. As British warships left Singapore in 1914 to reinforce the European front, the colony's defense was entrusted to the Japanese navy. When a group of Indian soldiers mutinied the following year, the local Japanese quickly organized a 200-man militia and rallied to the governor's help. Although they never fired a shot in the entire episode, they were nonetheless proud to have stood together with the British.
In the economic field, the Japanese-to borrow their expression-"entered an empty house." Cheap Japanese goods flooded a market that was starved of European merchandise; retailers and wholesalers expanded operations; entrepreneurs came to look for opportunities; and speculators threw money at any venture that seemed vaguely promising. The sharp rise of the price of rubber in 1916 further fueled this bullish, speculative mood. Eventually, as many as 78 companies set up shop during the four years of the war, bringing the total of Japanese companies to 110. Recognizing the growing importance of Singapore, the Japanese government upgraded its consul to consul-general in 1919. In 1922, Eifuku Tora brought modern fishing methods to the colony and became hugely successful. He and others from Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures ushered in an era of Japanese domination over the local fisheries. Then the aggressively expanding Ishihara Sangyo, which had major mining concerns on the Malay Peninsula, opened a Singapore office in 1925.
The founder of Ishihara Sangyo, Ishihara Hiroichiro, was the quintessential hero of southward expansion (Shiraishi and Shiraishi 1993). Arriving in Singapore as a young man, he had neither capital nor technical skills. After dabbling in plantations and trading, he struck gold, so to speak, when he accidentally discovered rich iron deposits on the Malay Peninsula. Receiving liquidity from the Bank of Taiwan while supplying iron ore to the government-backed Yawata Iron Works in Japan, Ishihara's company developed into the only Japanese "business combine" (zaibatsu) born in Southeast Asia. Owning a variety of profitable operations across the region while supplying the strategic iron and steel industry back home, Ishihara's enterprise epitomized the ideal of southward expansionism, which insisted on pursuing the twin goals of profit and patriotism. Ishihara's success was a unique phenomenon. His dream, however, was shared by many.
There were notable social and cultural developments as well. The community got its own daily newspaper, the Nanyo Nichinichi Shinbun, in 1914. The two pillars of overseas Japanese communities, namely, the Japanese Primary School (Nihonjin Shogakko) and the Japanese Association (Nihonjinkai), were founded in 1912 and 1915 respectively. In sharp contrast to the Mutual Help Association, which was led by a pimp, the Japanese Association had a military doctor--an expert in western science and agent of the Emperor--as its first president. It soon became the official umbrella organization for important local Japanese groups. It took over management of the primary school in 1915 and the Japanese Club in 1922. The Singapore Japanese Children's Brigade (Shingaporu Nihon Shonendan, formed in 1925) came under it in 1926. Both the Japanese Association and Japanese Primary School were recognized by the Japanese government and received support from/via the consul-general.
Meanwhile, a range of religious establishments emerged to serve the community. The Buddhist temple Saiyuji, built in 1911 on the grounds of the cemetery, was the earliest one. The cemetery also had a Shinto Inari shrine on its premises, although its provenance is unknown. The Nishi-Honganji set of True Pure Land Buddhism started a proselytizing station (fukyosho) in 1915. The following year, the Tenrikyo missionary Itakura Taka began her activity. The next year, Rev. Umemori Hideo came. He would later establish the Japanese Christian Church of Singapore (Nihon Kirisuto Shingaporu Kyokai). The same year saw the founding of a Buddhist Nichiren sect temple as well.
In 1922, a Japanese plantation owner called Ohira Genshi built a shrine on his property for the worship of a talisman of the Ise Shrine, which is dedicated to the mythical imperial ancestress Amaterasu, the most exalted of all Shinto deities. It became the unofficial community shrine, receiving visits from local Japanese on important holidays, until the Shonan Jinja was constructed by the military in 1942.
Reflecting the expanse of the Japanese Empire, there was a small number of Taiwanese and Koreans (Korea became a Japanese colony in 1910) living and working in Singapore as Japanese nationals. In 1937, there were 236 Taiwanese and 13 Koreans.
The growth of the Japanese import-export business in Singapore between 1910 and 1937 was remarkable, despite periodic and severe downturns. Trade between Singapore and Japan reached its first peak in 1918, thanks to the war in Europe, and a second peak in 1925. The third peak was recorded in 1937. This was followed by a sharp drop, from which the community never really recovered. In fact, through the 1930s, as Japan marched inexorably into all-out war first with China and then with the Allied Powers, Singapore became less and less a hospitable place for Japanese.
Friction between Japanese and the local Chinese went back at least to 1908 when the Tatsumaru Incident sparked an anti-Japanese boycott in China and in overseas Chinese communities throughout Southeast Asia. (The incident originated in the arrest by Qing China of the Japanese vessel Daini Tatsumaru off Macao, which sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries.) Over the next half century, flare-ups in Sino-Japanese relations inevitably led to clashes between Japanese and Chinese in Singapore. In 1919, Chinese attacks on Japanese homes forced Japanese to take refuge in the Japanese Trade Exhibition Center. In 1931, Chinese harassment caused the Japanese Primary School to close temporarily.
What alarmed the community most, however, was the suicide of the president of the Japanese Association, Nishimura Yoshio, after he was taken into police custody under suspicion of espionage. This shocking development made it amply clear that the British colonial authorities, although not the least sympathetic to the Chinese nationalist cause, had their reasons to be wary of the Japanese presence. Japanese began to repatriate in 1936, the year before the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out.
In 1937, the total Japanese population stood at 3,973. The top six occupations then were fishing (1,128 persons, 279 dependents), business (473 persons, 347 dependents), hotel/catering (76 persons, 7 dependents), barbers (60 persons, 98 dependents), tailors (59 persons, 62 dependents), and doctors/health workers (49 persons, 69 dependents).
The composition of a fourth-grade girl named Miyake Fumiko provides a glimpse into the circumstances of Singapore's Japanese. Published in the children's edition of Osaka Mainichi Shinbun on March 17, 1940, her "Letter to Soldiers" (Heitai-san e) notes, "It has been four years since the China Incident [...] The behavior of the Chinese in Singapore has improved recently thanks to you, soldiers [...] Lately, many friends of mine are moving back to Japan. When they depart, I always feel wanting to return at an early date." (Japanese Association 1998:115). Repatriation continued right up to the end of 1941 when Japanese forces moved against American, British, and Dutch positions.
During this turbulent period, southward expansion polemics back in Japan shifted their focus from the South Pacific to Southeast Asia. This was in spite of the fact that Japan had taken over German-ruled islands in the South Pacific after the First World War. With this new emphasis the call to go south was more appealing since employment and business opportunities in Southeast Asia were real possibilities compared to the odds of chancing upon an unclaimed rock in the ocean or establishing a viable business among resource-poor and widely scattered islets. Hence, instead of territorial dreams and airy talk about maritime trade, the advocates for the South purveyed practical information--from immigration regulations to temperature and humidity readings to ship schedules--and urged enterprising young men to emigrate.
These people claimed that, compared to Japan, where farming had a bleak future and unemployment was rampant in the cities, tropical Southeast Asia offered a hospitable clime, unlimited space, and unfathomable wealth. Just as in the earlier period, many of these enthusiasts of the South--journalists and politicians--were only travelers through the tropical "paradise" that they so eagerly recommended to others. Nevertheless, a growing number did speak with authority derived from practical experience in the South. They spoke at commercial high schools and chambers of commerce across Japan, and lobbied politicians and officials.
There were others like the unflappable Buddhist leader Otani Kozui, who made a point of personally establishing an experimental plantation in Java to demonstrate the feasibility of Japanese migration and to train future colonists. His idea, shared by many, was that Japanese must enter the region not just as traders but also as farmers, as people who would work the land and sink roots into it. They were to "bury their bones there," to use the Japanese expression. It was imperative, according to this line of thinking, for the Japanese race to emigrate and colonize farther and farther afield. Consequently, while expansionist thought in this period recognized Singapore's insuperable importance as a business hub, it showed equally strong interest in British Borneo and the Dutch East Indies as hopeful receivers of Japanese agricultural immigrants (Hara 1987).
It was also in this period that interests in the South became "institutionalized" thanks to the efforts of governmental and semi-governmental organizations (Yano 1979:93-94). In the 1910s, several Japanese government bureaus responsible for trade and primary production commissioned reports on various aspects of the Southeast Asian economy. At about the same time, colonial institutions in Taiwan, the Empire's stepping stone to the South, took it upon themselves to conduct political, social, and economic surveys of Southeast Asia to lay the foundation for Japanese economic penetration. The Bank of Taiwan was a major sponsor of such studies. The Government-General of Taiwan, in addition to helping to establish the South Seas Association in Tokyo in 1914, also built its own research capability on the southern region.
Meanwhile, the South Seas Association, with headquarters in Tokyo and branches in Taiwan, Singapore, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, became perhaps the most visible institutional promoter of the South through its lectures, seminars, research, publications, and lobbying. The Ministry of Colonization (Takumusho) also played a role in researching and promoting the South. These official and semi-official custodians of the South were to become responsible for producing hundreds of manuals and monographs on every aspect of the region thought to be important for Japanese trade and migration.
Over time, Japanese views on Western colonialism and the Chinese presence in Southeast Asia in the 1930s adopted an increasingly confrontational tone. While criticism of current colonial policy was prudently avoided most of the time, a clear association was made between Western domination and the degrading social and economic conditions of the native peoples. Palpable moral indignation notwithstanding, few Japanese actually called for solidarity with the peoples of Southeast Asia. Instead, in their writings, the Japanese took for granted that the "backward" natives would provide labor for Japanese businesses and plantations, and markets for lower-end Japanese products--exactly the same as they were expected to do under Western colonial rule.
Meanwhile, Japanese antagonism toward the overseas Chinese became strong and at times vicious. Open resentment of the Chinese monopoly over local markets became a central theme in Japanese discourse on the South. In addition to the common perception that the main rival of Japanese interests in the economic field was the Chinese, a virulent view that the Chinese were morally despicable gained ground. The fiery southward expansionist Takei Juro (1930), who had interests in Java, was a typical purveyor of anti-overseas Chinese ideas--that they were selfish, deceptive, usurious, materialistic, etc. Such accusations were to be repeated ad nauseam in the war years.
One hour before they attacked Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces had landed in Kota Bahru on the northeastern shore of the Malay Peninsula. The Japanese army went on to take Singapore on 15 February 1942, crowning a series of swift and successful military campaigns.
The Occupation caused unprecedented upheavals. In addition to the usual consequences of war--destruction, death, refugees, material shortage, and general confusion--the Japanese demolished the century-old colonial regime (Kratoska 1998). The conquerors took delight in the sudden and total reversal of the colonial order of things, which many Europeans and Asians had taken for granted. After the Japanese installed themselves as Singapore's new rulers, they declared the liberation of the other Asian races as a justification for their military action. They also made sure everyone knew who were the losers by parading dejected British and Australian soldiers on the streets.
It was a moment of sweet revenge on the economic front as well. Having been forced to play underdog for years by the subtle and not-so-subtle discriminatory measures of the British colonial authorities, Japanese domination of the market and ownership of economic resources were now complete and uncontestable. Gone too was the stranglehold Chinese middlemen had on retailing and foreign trade, something that the Japanese had resented as much as the Western presence. Moreover, the drawn-out conflict with Chinese nationalists, who boycotted Japanese products and harassed Japanese residents, came to a close in the form of a bloody purge and an enormous sum of money demanded as a "voluntary contribution" from Singapore's Chinese to the imperial army.
Under the Japanese, Singapore was nominally administered by a civilian municipal authority, although no one ever doubted that the military was in charge. All Japanese civilians were recruited into the Association for Serving the Nation (Hokokai) and assigned various duties. With their experience and knowledge, former Japanese residents of Singapore also returned with the military, sometimes as civilian affiliates, to help build a new Singapore, now renamed Shonan or The Brilliant South, and turn it into the southern forward base of a seemingly ever-expanding Japanese Empire.
Meanwhile, major companies moved in under military coordination to facilitate the flow of materiel and to jump-start local production. Intent on total transformation, the Japanese replaced English place names with Japanese, changed the local time to Tokyo time, built the official Shinto shrine Shonan Jinja, demanded that people become fluent in the Japanese language, and, as required by the rhetoric of liberation, cultivated Malays as Singapore's future leaders. The Occupation authority strove to create a semblance of normalcy by quickly reopening theaters, dance halls, restaurants, and amusement parks as well as by sponsoring such cultural activities as exhibitions, sports, and concerts. There was a newspaper published in five languages (Japanese, English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil) and various radio programs. As far as the Japanese were concerned, they were there to stay.
The discourse on the South took on a measure of urgency, inevitability, arrogance, and self-righteousness that befitted the intensity and unprecedented nature of the war. Japanese advancement into the region was now explained in terms of future world domination (by controlling the resource-rich tropics), of anti-colonialism (by returning Asia to Asians), of international justice (by ending the exploitation of the "Yellow race" by the "White race"), and--if you will excuse the anachronism--of "the end of history" (by defeating Western civilization).
It was said to be a just war waged for the sake of a total economic, political, and cultural transformation. Under Japanese tutelage, Asians were to gradually learn to discard the yoke imposed by the West and start to live like Asians, recovering their own (i.e., Japanese) civilization that was spiritual (i.e., not materialistic), selfless (i.e., non-capitalist), and communitarian (i.e., classless).
The idealism of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere turned out to be only so much smoke screening. It disguised unabashed opportunism and self-interest. In early 1940, even as Japanese leaders were drawing up a "new order" for Asia, their definition of the Co-prosperity Sphere conveniently left out the American-ruled Philippines (Yano 1979:189-190). The ideal of Pan-Asianism and Japan's self-declared right to lead the Asian block had no trouble accommodating a strong American presence. That Japan would attack the US in less than two years only goes to show the opportunistic nature of the Co-prosperity Sphere concept.
Then in 1943, after most of Asia had been "liberated," the Japanese government made the decision to: (1) grant independence to Burma and the Philippines, (2) assist Thailand to recover lost land, and (3) treat the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and Celebes as Japanese territory so as to exploit essential resources (Ibid 1979:189-190). Clearly, Japan rewarded itself handsomely for recognizing the "independence" of as many as three already nearly independent countries.
It was the overseas Chinese more than the Westerners who bore the brunt of Japanese self-righteous wrath. They were condemned for displaying such "Jewish" (yudaya-teki) qualities as selfishness, greed, and treachery; for having no sense of nation but being only interested in enriching their own families; and for willingly acting as the running dogs of Westerners, lining their pockets in the process while compounding the harm colonialism did to the local people. Moreover, deceived by the lies of the Chinese government, the dim-witted (=patriotic?) overseas Chinese had engaged in sabotaging Japanese interests.
Nonetheless, most Japanese commentators recognized that these people, although heartless and obscurant, could be made to work for Japan's "holy war" (seisen). They argued that the Chinese should be allowed to apply their business talents to facilitate trade within the region, at least until the Japanese could put in place their own network of procurement and distribution. Naturally, the Chinese would have to work under tight Japanese control to prevent profiteering. Should they prove beyond reform, a few thoughtful Japanese writers added ominously, they were to be subjected to "heaven's vengeance" (tenbatsu). Hence, while Westerners had no place in the new Asian order, the overseas Chinese were magnanimously given a subordinate role on the condition that they reform their feckless ways.
The tide of war began to turn against Japan in just over a year. When defeat came, it was a crushing blow. Before surrendering, fearing desecration by the enemy, the military demolished the Shonan Jinja, the most venerated symbol of the Empire in the South. In another reversal in as many years, Japanese now found themselves in interment camps and doing hard labor. War criminals (including Taiwanese and Koreans working for the Japanese military) were put on trial and punishment was meted out. The shock of defeat, the heat, physical exhaustion, and disease took their toll. By 1947, Singapore was back to a pre-Otokichi human landscape: the Japanese were gone and their wealth and property confiscated. A century of endeavor had come to naught. Meanwhile, occupied Japan entered another period of seclusion, this time enforced by blue-eyed shogun and samurai.
Passion for the South, however, could not be easily extinguished. In 1954, a mere two years after Japan regained independence, Fukuda Kurahachi, a draper with some forty years of experience in Singapore, returned. There were only seven Japanese on the island then. His shop got off to a good start the following year: its opening was favorably reported in the local Chinese newspaper Xingzhoubao. It was an auspicious portent for the post-war return of the Japanese (Shimizu and Hirakawa 1999).
But that's another story...