Indonesia has 'Japanese heroes'

In Indonesian history, Japan is known as the "Asian elder brother" which colonized the country after the Dutch. Like its predecessor it was known for its iron-fist rule of the local population, and elders still describe vividly the hardships and cruelty under Japan's brief rule from their childhood memories.

Japanese soldiers also forced the native youth to join paramilitary training, claiming the mobilization was needed to resist a possible return of the Dutch.

The youths were grouped into PETA, an acronym for Pembela Tanah Air (defenders of the motherland), which became the embryo of the Indonesian Military (TNI).

As Indonesia won independence on Aug. 17, 1945, a number of young Japanese soldiers decided to stay and join the country's newly born armed forces. Just like other local soldiers, they also served in various military units nationwide.

Some of them married Indonesian women, converted to Islam or other faiths and applied for Indonesian citizenship.

Their dedication led to the decision of the Indonesian government to bury them at Kalibata national heroes cemetery in South Jakarta. Some of them have also been awarded medals.

There are 26 Japanese soldiers in Kalibata.

According to the head of Kalibata security, Sutarmidjan, representatives of the Japanese Embassy routinely visit the cemetery, where they hold a modest ceremony to pay their respects to the heroes. The graves are separated according to religion -- Muslim, Christian and Buddhist.

In 2003, three Japanese warships carrying hundreds of former Japanese fighters visited Indonesia. The retired servicemen under the command of Adm. Masahiko Sugimoto made a visit to Kalibata.

Among those buried here are First. Lt. Toshio Koizuki Baharuddin who served at Siliwangi Military Command in West Java. He was born in 1919 and died in 1985. Another is First Pvt. Muhammad Hiroshi Shimizu who served at Iskandar Muda Military Command in Aceh. Shimizu was born in 1916 and died in 1987.

In the Buddhist section, a grave is marked Capt. Moch. Toha Nishimora, who died in 1975. His Indonesian name reminds people of an Indonesian hero from West Java.

According to Sutarmidjan, the family of First Lt. Goro Yamano alias Madjid routinely visits the cemetery to pray. Yamano was born in 1925 and died in 1999. "Perhaps Yamano's family live here in Jakarta, so they can easily come here," Sutarmidjan said.

Also buried in the same section is Sgt. Major Eto Shichio alias Jacob, who was born in 1919 and died in 2003. A former Japanese soldier who served in the Diponegoro Division in East Java, Ishi Yoshinami, widely known as Satria, also rests there. Yoshinami was born in 1922 and died in 1999.

In the Christian sector are the remains of First Lt. Suzuki Goshiro who was born in 1920 and died in 1980; and Capt. M. Mitsunaga alias Abdul Rachim from the Tirtayasa brigade. He died in 1974.

* Published by The Jakarta Post on May 13, 2005