Japan's occupation of Singapore during World War Two is well known, but few know of the broader history of Japan's links with the city-state. A great way to understand these linkages is by visiting the Japanese Cemetery Park, located in Singapore's Yio Chu Kang area.
The cemetery, said to be the largest Japanese graveyard in Southeast Asia, contains 910 tombstones, including several of well known personalities. It cemetery was created in 1891 after three Japanese brothel owners obtained government permission to build a graveyard for destitute Japanese prostitutes or karayuki-san that were present in Singapore in large numbers between the years 1870 and 1920. Karayuki-san, which means 'going to China' or 'going overseas,' comprised the bulk of the Japanese population in Singapore between 1870 and 1920. One large section of the Cemetery houses the graves of many of these Japanese women.
Prior to the karayuki-san's arrival in Singapore came a Japanese gentleman sailor called Yamamoto Otokichi, also known as John Matthew Ottoson. In 1832, Otokichi was shipwrecked and finally landed on the shores of present day Oregon, United States. Following a circuitous and painful journey, which included becoming prisoner of a Native American tribe, Otokichi found himself working for British colonial authorities in Southeast Asia and China.
In the late 1840s, Otokichi took up residence in Singapore and stayed in the city until his death in 1867. Otokichi is regarded as the first Japanese resident of Singapore; an honor which led a delegation from his hometown in Mihama (Aichi Prefecture) to visit Singapore in 2005. The delegation collected a portion of his remains to his hometown for burial – arguably a homecoming late by 138 years.
|The tomb housing a part of Otokichi's remains.|
The World War Two Syonan-to years are well represented in the Cemetery.
The Hinomoto guardian deity stands tall at the main entrance, reminding visitors of the 41 Japanese civilians who perished in Allied internment camps at Jurong while awaiting repatriation after Japan's surrender.
Also inside the Cemetery is a War Memorial dedicated to dead Japanese soldiers, including those who died as Allied prisoners of war in Singapore and Johor after the war as well as the 135 Japanese soldiers executed as War Criminals in Changi prison. However, pride of place within the Cemetery is given to Field Marshall Count Hisaichi Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of Japanese Forces in Southeast Asia. General Terauchi died in June 1946 at a prisoner of war camp in Johor, Malaysia.
In the years since the end of World War Two, Singapore's relations with Japan have improved progressively. From the opening of the first post-war Japanese business establishment in 1954, today's Singapore is a hub for many Japanese multinational corporations operating in Southeast Asia. Japan is one of Singapore's top ten trading partners, with total trade aggregating USD 48 billion in 2013 (compared to say Singapore's former colonial master, the United Kingdom, with which total trade totaled USD 14 billion in 2013).
|A structure with deities located near the park's entrance.|
History helps shape nations and peoples. Yet there is also no reason to be held hostage by unpleasant historical events. A visit to the Japanese Cemetery Park in Singapore underscores the power of realistic progress, i.e. building the future without forgetting the past.
Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide. If you wish to arrange customized tours in Singapore, including tours of World War Two sites such as Changi Museum and the Japanese Cemetery Park, please contact Imran at firstname.lastname@example.org.