Reminiscences of the Japanese Occupation
In his seventies, Mr Rajoo is my uncle. He showed great enthusiasm and related his experience in Tamil during the 3 hours interview. His accounts shed light on the ways how individuals inject meanings to a particular subject.
Background Mr Rajoo was born in 1930. He was the second son in a family of 10 children. His family lived in a village in Sembawang which was near to one of the Naval Base which was owned by the British. When the Japanese invaded Singapore, Rajoo’s family staying in North of Singapore then they moved as far as Tampinese. His family used a bullock cart to transport some of their properties.
They stayed away from their home for a year. Then they returned to their village. So he had a chance to witness the Japanese rule in other parts of Singapore as well as his own hometown. The Dark Years of Japanese Occupation The impending presence of the Japanese on Mr Rajoo’s daily life was felt as early as 1941. As a 11 years old boy, his family and he faced severe shortage of food and other necessities like medical. ( Q1 ) When the British surrendered, they did not want Japanese to enjoy the fruit of their labour. All the rice in the warehouse was sprayed with limestone.
As limestone is white, the Japanese did not suspect any foul play by the British . So those who ate the rice had diarrhea . Japanese took over much of the foodstuffs and other goods for the use of their army. Due to the food shortage, essential food stuffs like rice, salt and sugar were controlled. Ration cards which limited the amount of food for each person was given out. ( Q4 ) His family lived on a simple diet and found other food substitutes for those food items which were scarce. Tapioca and sweet potatoes were used as substitutes for rice ( Q3 ) and palm oil or coconut oil was used as cooking oil.
Even in schools pupils grew and took care of the vegetable plots. This was the widespread situation in Singapore during the Syonan-To years. Many historians have written about the food scarcity during the Syonan rule. There are a lot of evidence to state that during the Japanese rule, many people suffered from malnutrition and diseases as they did not have well balanced meal. Those taken as prisoners of war also suffered under the iron grip of the Japanese and many died out of malnutrition. Transport during the Japanese reign
Mr Rajoo recalls bicycles being widely used as mode of transport during the Japanese reign. (Q6) So much so that even after the Japanese surrender, Rajoo and the other villagers working in the Sembawang Shipyard used bicycles as mearns of transport to travel to work. Tri-shaw which consisted of a bicycle with a side-car attached for a fare-paying passenger replaced the former richshaw. He stated that the Japanese bicycles had only thin solid rubber tyres. He also recalls in the interview to have seen a lot of motorcars before the Japanese rule and not during the Syonan-To period.
Some historians state that there must have been tens of thousands of vehicles, many new and the majority of the rest in good condition were used by the Japanese. These great fleet of transport fell to the Japanese as booty, when they captured Singapore. However, the lack of spare parts, or technical skill, or both, made the fleet diminish rapidly to a deplorable state so much so that it almost faded by the time the Japanese surrendered. Transport was a big problem for the local people tthroughout the Occupation. (1) The Japanese were in control of the world’s rubber and many oil fields. 2) They forced many motor vehicles to run on coal gases or inferior petrol made from vegetable sources. Public vehicles dwindled and cars ceased to be available for almost all other than Japanese. School Experiences Mr Rajoo recalled how he had to learn Japanese language in his school. He could still recall some Japanese sentences. ( Q5 ) It is remarkable to know that even after 60 years he is able to remember some Japanese sentences. (Q5) All this had been instilled in the young minds at a very tender impressionable age to gain people’s allegiance .
School children were taught to face the direction of Tokyo where the Japan Emperor resided and sing the Japanese Anthem. (Q5 ) So the Japanese tried to influence the school children to become patriotic towards Japan. This is another aspect of their rule where they tried out propagandas. Several historians have concurred the same evidence regarding the Japanese intention to remove the western influence and premote the Japanese culture and values. Japanese lessons were published in the newspapers and broadcast over the radio. In order to encourage people to learn the Japanese language, job privileges and extra allowances were given.
Different methods were used to influence the minds of the people in Singapore. Radio stations were controlled by the Japanese and radio sets were sealed so that people could only listen to local broadcasts. Those caught tuning in to foreign broadcasting stations were severely punished or killed. Through the interview, I realized that Rajoo’s family and the villagers also did not own any radios. They were afraid of being punished. Japanese – The Disciplinarians Tthroughout the Syonan-To rule, the people were constantly living in fear because the Japanese took harsh action to establish control over the people.
Those caught looting were shot or beheaded and their heads were displayed at public places. Those who were passing by must witness such a scene if not they will be called back to look directly at the decapitated head. ( Q8 ) Barbed wire was also put up across roads to form roadblocks. The Japanese guards would make the people passing by to bow to them as a sign of respect. Anyone who did not do so would be slapped, killed or punished in some ways. When the children forget to show respect to the Japanese soldiers, these soldiers will use their knuckles to hit on the children’s forehead .
Those sthrong men found at home not working will be immediately sent to work. ( Q8 ) Those who were sick should still report to work. They despised men idling. The Japanese Treatment of the 3 main races in Singapore According Mr Rajoo the Chinese suffered the most during the Japanese Occupation. Many Chinese in Singapore had sent money to help China fight Japan. So the Japanese wanted to weed out the anti-Japanese sentiment among the population. They carried out the Sook Ching Operation. They ordered all Chinese men between 18 to 50 years of age to report at the mass screening centers. Then the men will be questioned.
The Japanese, however, had no proper way of finding out who were against them. Those who the Japanese thought were against them were taken away in lorries. Thousands of Chinese were taken in this way to Changi Beach or other beaches where they were shot. ( Q7 ) Some Chinese who very desperate to save their lives disguised themselves as Indians or Malays to avoid the scrutiny of the Japanese soldiers. Mr Rajoo recalled that Japanese were not overly suspicious of Indians nor the Malays. However, anybody who were thought to have acted against the Japanese interest were severely dealt with.
They will be either punished or killed. (Q7) Japanese role in instigating nationalistic feeling According to Mr Rajoo, the Japanese associated Indians in Singapore with Gandhi and his movement in India. Gandhi was fighting for India’s freedom from the British Colonial power. Japanese told the Indians in Singapore that Japan would help India to get rid of the British rulers. They also wanted all Indians to join the Indian National Army to fight the British in India. Subhas Chandra Bose, the founder of INA was allowed to come to Singapore to collect funds for his establishment.
Historical facts also seemed to prove the relevance of his statement. From the interview, Mr Rajoo didn’t portray as someone anti-Japanese. Probably his family and he did not really undergo much torture by the Japanese. He definitely seemed to have welcomed the Japanese for one reason. The Light of the South From the interview one would deduce that Mr Rajoo sthrongly feels that the Japanese brought on the nationalistic fervor among the citizens. ( Q9 ) Nationalistic feeling caught onto some people like the forest fire and the thirst for independence was ignited due to Syonan-To.