Monday, September 25, 2006

Yes-ka, No-ka @ the bukit timah ford factory

The Sunday afternoon was spent doing some amateurish translation of the article, ‘Trial of Yamashita and Homma - A revenge drama’

‘All eyes of the world over were on the Manila Military Court on 7th Dec, 1945 (Showa 20 year). It was judgment day, and the first verdict on the trial of the Second World War criminal will be delivered. The person to be judged was General Yamashita Tomoyuki (picture). Yamashita was the general who demanded a ‘Yes or No’ answer from General Percival the British commander of the Allied forces in the fall of Singapore during the beginning of hostilities of the Greater East Asia War (or the Pacific War). He was also the general whom the Allied Forces notoriously named as the ‘Tiger of Malaya’.

The Yamashita trial was hastily convened on Oct 8th, immediately after the surrender of Japan. The five judges nominated by MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, by the way were all professional military personnel under him and they were utter green horns with regards to court trial. And it was not only that. All the legal proceedings of the court were decided by MacArthur himself.

Yamashita was prosecuted on the reason that he was the commander of the Japanese military that was engaged in the Manila Massacre, but to Yamashita it was something which he himself totally did not recall. In reality, no matter how many witnesses were filed, the evidence to link Yamashita to the massacre did not surfaced.

On the contrary, many of the people were impressed by the sincere attitude of Yamashita in court. When a questionnaire was conducted before the necessary delivery of judgment, with the twelve reporters from the different countries who were in attendance at the trial all twelve against none considered it not guilty. However the judge delivered a guilty verdict, and further it was death by hanging.

Next, on Dec 18th the same year, it was the commencement of the trial of Homma Masaharu. Homma was indicted as the person responsible for the ‘Bataan death march’.
In this incident after the fall of Bataan Philippines on April 1942 (Showa 17 year), about 7,000 of the captives in transportation died of hunger and malaria. This trial all in all was a copy of the Yamashita trial. In the case of Homma, the prosecuting attorney was not able to present a single evidence on – the massacre which single one of it was that he decreed or that he had knowledge of it.

On the contrary, in the transportation of the captives, Homma observed the international law and strictly decreed that his subordinates treat them with amity.

In actual fact, MacArthur harbored an intense vengefulness against Homma. Three years before, he was chased away from the Philippines by Homma, and that has inflicted the only scar in his brilliant military career. On Feb 11th of the following year, Homma was sentenced to death by shooting.

It is not overdone to say that in using the name of a court trial, the trials of Yamashita and Homma were MacArthur’s revenge dramas to make good his personal grudge.

‘No patriotic American is able to read the record of this trial without a sense of agony & be filled with shame that is hard to be erased.’ (Yamashita Trial)

These two very trials were the prelude to the Tokyo Tribunal.’

Post script -

It was a last minute shopping to grab something to read before boarding the plane at Narita Airport. This book titled ‘History that is not taught in the school textbook ‘at 500yen (SS6.50) inclusive 5% consumption tax, it’s relatively a bargain. But anyway, it states on the cover that this is a mass circulation edition – an edition meant to be circulated widely, and thus it is attractively priced, and should be easy to read too, I thought.

My attempt at the translation is to share with a wider audience, especially those who do not read Japanese what this book writes about the history that is not taught in the Japanese school textbook. Attempts have been made to re-write the history textbook in Japan and time and again it would result in escalation of protest from her neighboring countries. The articles in this book give an insight to what the Japanese, especially the conservative thinks.

The desire to translate this article was also prompted by an incident in a recent travel to Japan. While taking a cab in Tokyo, and when the cab driver came to know that I was from Singapore, he expressed his regret of the bad things that the Japanese military did here during the War and he apologized for what they did. It was quite an anomaly I thought, when their Prime Minister was making yearly visits to Yasukuni, where class A war criminals (according to the judgment of the International Military Tribunal of the Far East or the Tokyo Tribunal referred above) are enshrined, and you have this gentlemen apologizing the deeds of his elders to a stranger from ex-Shonan.

Any misinterpretation in the translation is purely of my shallow depth in the language . It is a language that I am fond of, and which I started learning many years ago.

This article prompted me to do a search in the web on Yamashita. After reading the article by George F Guy ‘The Defense of General Yamashita’, which was first published in the Wyoming Journal of Law in spring of 1950, my view on the notoriety of the ‘Tiger of Malaya’ could not be the same again. Guy was one of the defense counsel assigned to the defense of Yamashita. Yamashita was not a member of the mainstream military clique during the war, and he seemed an odd-man-out. Towards the end Guy wrote:

“I had talked with other Japanese officers of high rank who were arrogant, mean, bitter and resentful, but Yamashita, the man who must hang as the first proven example of
this new theory of international criminal law, was quiet, dignified and philosophical.”

The former Ford Factory in Bukit Timah Road where Yamashita demanded of Percival to surrender or not with the famous question ‘Yes-ka, No-ka?’ is now a museum dedicated to the history of the fall of Singapore and the war years.


Monday, September 18, 2006

once upon a railway town

This map was taken from an exhibition of old postcards, maps and magazines organized by the Society of Japanese Culture. It is currently held at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Hill Street. What drew my interest to this map was that it showed the name of my hometown in Japanese! Though it was a small town, it was clearly marked and written as – MENGUREMUBU – in katakana.

This map was part of a large map published around 1943, that showed the occupied territory of MARAYA & SHONAN (照南) - Malaya and Singapore . When Singapore fell to the Japanese, the name was officially changed to SHONAN, meaning - Beacon of the South. The name SHONAN were in kanji (汉字)or Chinese character but rendered a kun-yomi (训读), that is reading the Chinese characters in Japanese style. All other town names were in katakana, one of the two types of Japanese alphabets, the kana’s – that is the katakata and hiragana.

Katakana is used chiefly for foreign words adopted into Japanese. Thus Menglembu was translated as MENGUREMUBU in katakana, and IPOH as IPOO (pronounced as I-POH, the OO denotes long sound). The character for ‘state’ was written in kanji, and Perak state was written PERAKU SHYU. The SHYU being a kun-yomi of 州。

I was also drawn to the railway lines on the map. Beside the main North-South line that ran thro Ipoh, there was another line that started from IPOO and ran in the south-west direction to TORONOO. In between these two terminals, the towns marked on this line were MENGUREMUBU and SHIPUTEN. It dawn on me that this was the railway line that mum used to talk about during dinner time. The line ran from Ipoh to Tronoh, and it had stations in Menglembu and Siputeh.

The older folks that lived during during the pre-WW II days had fond memories of this line. The station in Menglembu was located somewhere to where our old house was. The railway line crossed the trunk road on the northern part of the town. The town folks would refer to this part of the town as the Railway Gate – 火车闸. Being a town with a railway station would naturally have caught the Japanese map makers attention, and what more a town located in a stratetic tin mining region.

The British colonial masters had build a railway to link the booming tin mining town of Tronoh to Ipoh in the begining of the 20th century. This region was the centre of the tin mining industry industry.

The railway line was dismantled by the Japanese army during the Japanese occupation, and the older folks mentioned that the tracks were transported north to build the Thailand-Burma railway line. The Death Railway as it was popularly known was build with Japanese POW/s and countless forced labors from Malaya and Singapore.

What was then the railway track is now still visible in the town. It is now part of a straight trunk road that runs thro what is considered the rear side of the town. The road is named Jalan Lee Min Hin, after a towkay tin miner whose old masion is still standing beside the trunk road.

The tracks from this line contributed to the building of the infamous railway which was later made into box office Hollywood movie - The Bridge over River Kwai - in 1957, starring William Holden, and Jack Hawkins among its cast. The theme song from the movie - with the soldiers who build the bridge proudly whistling the tune as the marched across the newly completed bridge - was a hit during the 1960/s.


A search in the web on Tronoh, yielded the following:

Teronoh or Tronoh is a small tin-mining town located some 30 km south of the Perak state capital Ipoh in Malaysia.

The tin-mining industry boom during the early 20th century saw Teronoh grow from a small village into a major town. The centre of the mining field containing the mine of the Tronoh Mines Company, Ltd. was the village of Tronoh. The Tronoh Mines Company Ltd. belonged to Chung Thye Phin, a rich businessman (towkay) and last Chinese Kapitan of Perak and Malaya. It was here in Tronoh that Thye Phin's famous deep-shaft mine could be found.

A railway line linking the town and Ipoh was completed in 1909 and used to transport tin ore. The tracks were dismantled by the Japanese during World War II and were never rebuilt. Shortly after the war ended the tin industry deteriorated, and with it, the importance of the town.

Today Teronoh is a sleepy little town, though it is hoped that would change with the location of two universities within its vicinity - Universiti Teknologi Petronas and Universiti Teknologi MARA is located here. The main road that used to cut through town linking Ipoh with the seaside town of Lumut has been replaced by a new highway bypassing the town.

(Source: from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Friday, September 08, 2006

lat on fort canning & singapura golden era

The visit to Melaka St Paul’s hill, prompted me to make my way up Fort Canning last Saturday and went on the 14th Century walk.

A cartoon script on the hill by Lat tells the story of the first Golden Age of Singapore and the legendary sultanate of bygone years. The period lasted from the 1300/s to around 1400. The Singapura sultanate was the precursor to the Malacca sultanate.

(Note: Singapura or Lion City in Sanskrit; Malacca as a city name was official change to Melaka, but will continue to use Malacca as reference to the historic sultanate).

Colorfully depicted and vividly drawn with a touch of Lat’s humor, the carton brings alive legends from the Sejarah Melayu or the Malay Annals, - stories of how Singapura got its name; of Badang the strongman who hurled a big rock from the hill to the mouth of the Singapore river; of palace maiden bathing in the forbidden spring, supposedly located on the north-western side of the slope facing the River Valley swimming pool (closed since 2003) ; of attack of the sword fish on Tanjong Pagar; and of Tanah Merah or red earth, where an attack from the Majapahit army to right a wrong on a palace maiden, stained the land red with blood.

There too lies on the hill a keramat – a holy shrine – which was supposedly to be the grave of the last sultan of Singapura – Sultan Iskandar Shah

While volunteering as the docent of the Singapore History Museum & standing at Riverside Point overlooking Clarke Quay with the hill behind it, I would never fail to relate the legends of Bukit Larangan to the visitors, and bring them back 600 years before Raffles landed on the island in 1819. The sultan’s palace on the hill would over look a thriving port with ships from Arabia, India, China and around the archipelago.
Fast forward to the present, - a replica of the Raffles house now stands on the hill overlooking a soon to soar Integrated Resort on the bay. In the air is Mickey might be coming to town to join Lat’s cartoon characters.