Empire in Asia

A New Global History

Japan's Colonialism and Indonesia

Book Cover

Book Title

Japan's Colonialism and Indonesia. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1955


Aziz, M.A.


Japan's rise to power challenged Europe's hegemony over Asia in the pursuit of a Japanese empire. Yet paradoxically, it was Japan's fall that had caused irreparable ruin of the colonial system over Eastern lands. The author describes how Japanese plans and policies toward Indonesia had grown out of the general Japanese colonial concept and how these policies were put into practice.

Japan had had plans for Indonesia for the purpose of gaining control of her rich resources long before she launched an aggressive war in the Pacific in December 1941. After February 1942, with Japanese conquest of the East Indies, Japan was able to wrest the Archipelago away from the Dutch. Compared with the machinery of the Dutch East Indies Government, the Japanese administration had a larger number of officials. Hence the Indonesians were virtually eclipsed by the new Japanese administrators. It is vital that the Japanese came to the Archipelago with the definite aim to eliminate all Dutch influence as quickly as possible from life in Indonesia.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

Part One covers largely the start of the Japanese expansion in East Asia, including Formosa, Korea and Manchuria. It also details the internal preparations for further expansion (1931-1936). Part Two details the Japanese plans and execution of the Occupation in Indonesia, covering different aspects of the Japanese rule in Indonesia during WWII, including the impact of the military policies in Indonesia, its administrative structure and the elimination of Western influence. The study terminates itself at the declaration of independence of Indonesia on 17 August 1945.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

The author argues that with the Meiji Restoration in 1868 there commenced a new chapter in the history of Japan. Japan felt that she was capable of subjugating her adjacent territories. The rapid industrialization by means of state subsidies, improvement in agriculture, the abolition of feudalism and the adoption of a parliamentary but autocratic constitution on the Prussian model brought about an unprecedented revolution in the economic, social and political structure of the country.

Once the foundations of the state had been successfully laid on the Western technical prerequisites of power, Japan proceeded on an expansionist policy. The combination of emperor worship, revival of Shintoism as a national state religion and the spirit of Bushido, inevitably entrenched the ideology of expansion.

In addition, the author asserts that with the 1934 "Monroe Doctrine for Eastern Asia", which emphasized Japan's special responsibility and mission for the preservation of peace in Eastern Asia, Japan took steps to establish her predominance in the region.  The "South Seas Areas" had been described as a pivotal point for  world commerce, a sphere necessary and indispensable in the industries and national defense of the Japanese people. The "South Seas Areas" had not been mentioned in the 1940 plan since they formed part of the outer ring of the Co-Prosperity Sphere. However, the ties linking them to Japan would be looser than those of the more closely associated territories and their role still more subordinate. The writer therefore argues that the method, period of implementation and in what form and the scale of the Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere was to come about was largely dependent on the circumstances.

During the Japanese Occupation, the occupiers recognized that the Indonesians were not a static group of people without any principles or convictions. They perceived that there were deep-rooted ideas and traditions which were often contradictory to each other and made the conduct of administration more complex. However, the author asserts that the main issue was that the Japanese military were leading in the decision-making process, and they were ill-equipped for the knowledge of administration skills needed. What the Japanese aimed in Indonesia was the setting up of a political economic structure which would have the appearance of freedom, combined with complete economic dependence and spiritual unity with Nippon. However, the superficial nature of this form of freedom failed to impress the nationalists of the middle of the twentieth century, who had always considered the combination of political and economic relations between their native country and overseas as fatal, and who therefore on principle regarded nationalism and socialism as the two inseparable forms of expression of their anti-colonial activity.

Annotated by Michelle Djong