In autumn 1991 Emperor Akihito made the first visit by a Japanese emperor to three countries in South-east Asia: Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Although the visit occurred in an atmosphere of tight security precautions, all three countries officially welcomed this epochmaking event as a reflection of their friendly relations with Japan. However, the major Indonesian newspaper Suara Pembaruan marked the occasion with an editorial entitled ‘Wound healed, but scar remains’ – an apt reminder of the three and a half years of the ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’, whose memory lingers in the hearts of the peoples of South-east Asia.
This chapter aims to elucidate the modern history of Japan in the Asia-Pacific region by analysing Japanese wartime relations with Southeast Asia, and particularly with Indonesia. As an introduction, it may be helpful to survey the process of Japanese identity formation in the context of modern Asian history, and the characteristics of bilateral relations between Japan and Indonesia before the war.
Japan in Asia: the Formation of Japan's Self-image
The world view of the Japanese before the Meiji era may be represented by the phrase ka-iteki chitsujokan (a world view based on the Chinese model of civilisation and barbarism). In Ka-i tsūshōkō, Nikshikawa Joken, a leading intellectual in the early eighteenth century, divided Asia into two categories; ‘foreign countries’ and ‘outer barbarians’. The former included Korea, the Ryūkyū Islands, Taiwan, Tonkin, Cochin China, which were under the influence of Chinese culture, while the latter included most of South-east Asia except Vietnam.