Indonesians to get book on Japanese freedom fighter

Contribution of WWII veterans overlooked in land they helped free

by Christine T. Tjandraningsih

Kyodo

The Indonesian-language version of a Japanese book depicting the little-known story of a Japanese man who fought for Indonesia’s freedom will be published next month.

The book is “Zanryu Nihon-hei no Shinjitsu” (“The True Story of a Japanese Soldier Who Stayed Behind”), written by Eiichi Hayashi and published in 2007.

The book tells the true story of Sakari Ono, who fought alongside Indonesian independence troops against the Dutch colonial forces.

Ono, whose Indonesian name is Rahmat, was one of an estimated 1,000 Japanese soldiers who deserted and stayed behind in Indonesia, mostly on the islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali, after the Japanese surrendered to the Allies on Aug. 15, 1945.

After the war, some never returned to Japan. Ono, 92, now lives in a modest house in the village of Sidomulyo, near the hilly resort town of Batu in East Java Province.

The Indonesian version of the book is expected to go on sale in early September and will be officially launched on Sept. 14 at the Japan Foundation, according to an employee at publisher Penerbit Ombak.

Historians welcome the publication of the book, saying it will increase awareness among Indonesian readers of an overlooked chapter in the country’s history.

“It will give another description on the presence of Japan in Indonesia in Indonesian history,” said Bambang Purwanto, a historian at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.

Masashi Nishihara, president of the Research Institute for Peace and Security, agrees, saying most of the former Japanese soldiers who fought for Indonesia’s independence were either discriminated against or live in obscurity.

“There are very few reports telling the life of former Japanese soldiers fighting for Indonesia’s independence and both Indonesian and Japanese people don’t care much about them now,” Nishihara said.

Historian Asvi Warman Adam of the Indonesian Science Institute, however, said that if Indonesian historians or writers don’t write about this aspect of history, it isn’t out of ill feelings toward Japan for occupying the Dutch East Indies for approximately three years during World War II.

“It is only because of access to data,” Adam said. “Indonesian researchers and historians do not have complete, deep data about this issue as the Japanese ones do.”

For those reasons, he said, the book will serve to raise interest in the history of Indonesia.

Based on several interviews with Ono, Hayashi said some Japanese soldiers stayed by choice, either because they already had local girlfriends or wives, or they just were looking to survive or had other reasons. Many also feared court-martial or being tried as a war criminal.

According to Hayashi, among those fighting for Indonesia’s independence, only a few, including Ono, were really inspired by the country’s burgeoning nationalist movement.

The Japanese soldiers are nowadays known in Japanese as “zanryu Nihon-hei” or Japanese soldiers who stayed behind. But at one time, they were also labeled “dasso Nihon-hei” or Japanese deserters.

“That is why the publication will be very meaningful. Hayashi will give Indonesians good stuff that provides another look into their own modern history,” Nishihara said.

Born Sept. 26, 1918, in Hokkaido, Ono, who lost his left arm in the war, was in his early 20s when he was sent to Indonesia in the Imperial Japanese Army. During his assignment, he interacted with Indonesian soldiers.

From them, he heard many stories of how badly Japanese soldiers had treated local people and how they felt that Japan might break its promise of granting independence to Indonesia.

That became a turning point in his life, motivating him to join the rapidly forming Indonesian nationalist military forces.

Ono joined the Special Guerrilla Forces, led by another former Japanese soldier, Tatsuo “Abdul Rachman” Ichiki, fighting for Indonesian independence in East Java’s South Semeru Province.

They also provided tactical leadership, weapons and training to the ramshackle Indonesian forces. But, according to Hayashi, the contribution of the Japanese soldiers doesn’t appear in either Japanese or Indonesian history textbooks.

At the Proclamation Museum in Central Jakarta, the historic site of the country’s declaration of independence, there is a permanent display detailing the role of the Japanese colonialists in the events leading up to Aug. 17, 1945, the date independence was declared and armed resistance officially began.

Among the details is how Adm. Tadashi Maeda, chief of the Imperial Japanese Army’s liaison office in Indonesia, provided the late President Sukarno, late Vice President Mohammad Hatta and other key figures of the independence movement the use of his house to make their proclamation.

The museum also covers the 1945-1950 guerilla war, but the display doesn’t mention the Japanese soldiers who provided them with arms, weapons training and military strategy.

The war against the returning Dutch ended on Dec. 27, 1949, when The Hague withdrew all forces from Indonesia and recognized its sovereignty.

In 1958, Ono was awarded the Bintang Veteran (Veteran Medal) by Sukarno and the Bintang Gerilya (Guerrilla Medal), which accords him a plot at Kalibata Heroes’ Cemetery in Jakarta.

Since 1982, the Indonesian government has also extended an invitation to the former Japanese soldiers to attend the commemoration of Independence Day at the State Palace, showing how their contributions and sacrifices have come to be more widely recognized.

Hayashi, who earlier went to Indonesia only to take an Indonesian-language course, was interested in Ono’s story when he met him in 2004 and decided to write the book.