Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book tells story of Japanese who fought for Indonesia's freedom

Rahmat Shigeru Ono enjoyed his dinner of fried noodles, mixed sauteed vegetables and a spicy boiled egg.

For decades, in fact, for most of his life, he has eaten Indonesian dishes and gotten used to it, except that it must be accompanied by an ume-boshi, or pickled Japanese apricot.

‘‘I miss Japanese food sometimes,’’ he told Kyodo News at his modest house in the village of Sidomulyo, near the hilly resort town of Batu in East Java Province. Ume-boshi, at least, can cure his longing of Japanese food.

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

They fought alongside Indonesian independence troops against the returning Dutch. After the war, some of them never returned to Japan.

‘‘Some stayed by choice, either because they had already had local girlfriends or wives, and just tried to survive and other reasons,’’ said Eiichi Hayashi, who wrote ‘‘Zanryuu Nihon-hei no Shinjitsu’’ (The True Story of a Japanese Soldier Who Stayed Behind), a book telling Ono’s story.

Many of them also feared being court-martialed or tried as war criminals if they let their whereabouts be known.

‘‘They heard rumors that soon after boarding the ship returning to Japan, they would be thrown into the sea,’’ said Hayashi, who visited Ono more than 80 times for his book.

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 soldiers who deserted.

Hayashi said, however, that among those fighting for Indonesia’s independence, only a few were really inspired by the country’s burgeoning nationalist movement. And Ono was among that few.

Born on Sept 26, 1918, in Hokkaido, Ono, who lost his left arm in the war, is almost blind and hard of hearing. But he is still eager to tell his story for hours, from morning to evening, to anyone who asks.

Ono was only in his early 20s when he was sent to Indonesia in the Imperial Japanese Army. During his assignment, he personally interacted with Indonesian soldiers.

From them, he heard many stories of how badly Japanese soldiers had treated Indonesians and how the Indonesian soldiers felt that Japan might break its promise to grant independence to Indonesia.

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

‘‘I was motivated to be a fighter alongside with Indonesian soldiers because, in my view, Indonesia deserved to be defended. And I’ve proven my commitment,’’ Ono said in his living room, the walls of which are covered with photographs of his family and his military days.

Ono married an Indonesian woman, whom he said ‘‘didn’t see my physical defect, but my quality as a human being.’’ His wife died in 1982.

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

They also provided tactical leadership, weapons and training to the ramshackle Indonesian forces.

‘‘This guerilla force was really special. The Dutch troops were very much afraid of us,’’ Ono recalled proudly.

Still, the vital role of Ono and other Japanese veterans in the post-war independence struggle is a largely overlooked chapter of Indonesia’s history.

The permanent display at the Proclamation Museum in Central Jakarta, the historic site of the country’s proclamation of independence, details the role of the Japanese colonialists in the events leading up to Aug 17, 1945.

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

The museum also covers the 1945-1950 war fought by guerrilla troops, but the display does not mention the Japanese soldiers who provided Indonesian troops with arms, weapons training and military strategy.

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

View the complete story from the original source:
Japan Today, 20 August 2009