How was the life under the Japanese occupation of Malaysia

I often read or heard stories about the era of the Japanese occupation in Malaysia. I have been wondering about the truth of the stories I heard.

Some say it was a terrible time, however I have never heard it from person who experienced it themselves, it makes me curious to know the real story.

When my friend Amir, told me about his father, Mr.Jaafar Hassan (82 years old) and his mother, Mrs. Saripah Kasim(73 years old) , I went to Malacca and interviewed them to know their stories. Mr.Jaafar was born in Ujong Pasir, Melaka in 1934.



How old were you when the Japanese occupied Malacca?

“I was only 8 when the Japanese army arrived in Malacca. During British ruling, the children would attend Malay school and then attend an English school. At my age that time, I went to the newly opened Japanese elementary school.”

Please describe what some of your school life was like.

“There were no Japanese teachers even though it was a Japanese school. We had Malay teachers, specially trained by the Japanese to teach in their schools. The books were in Japanese, and the lessons were to be held in the Japanese language too. However, since the teachers were Malay, we spoke Malay as well.

The school opened from morning until noon. Every morning we marched while singing Japanese songs, which I can still remember until today.

They taught Judo and Sumo in the school. I don’t have a Japanese name and everyone called me “Jaafar san” in the school, and I enjoyed my time there.”

Food shortages begun when the Japanese arrived.


What were the changes your family noticed after the Japanese army arrived in Malacca?

Once the Japanese army arrived, food supplies from overseas were ceased. We had less of these problems in life while in the British ruling.

All this changed when the Japanese ruled, as foods and other supplies could only be redeemed using vouchers obtained from the military. Almost all the rice we harvested was taken away from us.

In those days, the bread which the military gave us was so hard, that if you threw them at a wall, the wall would break!

We were always starved, that we even ate small crabs. The Japanese did teach us to plant other crops such as yams and tapiocas.

One day, four military men came to my house and asked if we had bicycles, but we knew if we admitted having one, they would have taken it from us, so we hid it on a Durian tree tying it up in its branches.
We didn’t have freedom.They prohibited us from listening to the radio, even though, we only had one in our village. We couldn’t go anywhere as they took our bicycles.

The Japanese removed many Indonesian people from Malacca, who were forced to work as laborers to build a railway between Thailand and Malaysia.
They said the Japanese would take beautiful girls away, so we purposely make girls looked strange or ugly.
For the same reason, a lot of young women were married at a very young age for example, my wife was born when her mom was only 14 years old.”

Didn’t you resist the Japanese?

“We couldn’t resist them, as we were powerless. We feared the Japanese soldiers as we were told we would be decapitated if we resisted them, although I never witnessed a death this way.

I think the Japanese army mostly killed resistance fighters and communists.
Chinese people were treated extremely harsh, and they resisted the Japanese army the most.
Consequently, there were some Chinese guerrilla fighters. There were some Malay guerrilla fighters, but the number was fewer, I guess.

My father also resisted the Japanese military. He was struck by one of them as he didn’t bow in front of the Japanese office. He said the higher-ranking officials in the military were okay, but the lower-ranking officials behaved badly.

Some of the Malay readers, such as the village headsmen, spied on people as they wanted benefits from the Japanese military.”

–What did you think when you heard of Japan’s surrender?

Of course, I was glad to hear that Japan lost as it was difficult time for us.
The Malaysian people welcomed the British coming back since we had the mindset of the British while under their occupation for a long time.

In my personal opinion, British more diplomatically governed the people of Malaysia, compared with Japan. They gave money even to Sultan.

In governing the people, was there any differences between the British and Japanese style of government?

“Though the British controlled people by giving different jobs for each race, the Japanese treated all the races in the same way.
During the UK occupation, they pampered Malay people and the Malay people didn’t have to work.
On the other hand, the Japanese urged Malay to work and study. I think it was good thing that Malay people started working. Even some lazy people, who were drinking coffee all day long, also started to work because the Japanese military hit them.
The Japanese ordered people to make house farms, which we are still standing today, and plant tapioca etc.

People collected ash for making soaps, and meanwhile made yarn from pineapples. One of my acquaintances was working at the airport and he learned how to pilot a plane. Personally, I thought this a worthwhile action.”

When one of your sons told you that he was going to study in Japan after the war, didn’t you have any concerns?

I was glad to hear that he would go to Japan for study. Japan rapidly developed post war, and the Prime Minister of Malaysia at that time endorsed a “Look East Policy”, which recommended us to look to the example Japan was setting.
I thought Japanese were clever, because they learned the Western culture and took advantage of it.
I went to Japan two times and I was impressed with Japan with its clean roads and also polite, friendly people; even the children were well mannered.

Why you don’t have any grudge against Japan?

I do not hold a grudge because of Islam taught . Islam does not support the taking of revenge; even if you are badly treated, you are meant to turn a blind eye, and treat enemies with kindness. It is hoped that by being kind to our enemies, they will not remain our enemies for long, and will change in their attitude towards us. Our belief in God tells us that doing good will beget good things in our life in return.
Ah.. I can recall a Japanese man who converted to Islam, who I could tell you about next time.

I thanked him for sharing his memories of this time with me.

So, this explained why he had let his son go to Japan to study, even though he had been through the difficult Japanese occupation of his country. His religious beliefs had sustained his and helped him to live his life without vengeful thoughts, and to live to a ripe old age with a peaceful and accepting spirit. I thanked him for his time and wisdom shared with me in this interview. (Aunty Koko)

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