28 Jun 2019





1.0     INTRODUCTION                                                                   2

BRITISH IN SHORT PERIOD OF TIME                                 4

ADMINISTRATION IN MALAYA                                         9

          TOWARDS THE INDEPENDENCE OF MALAYA                14

5.0     CONCLUSIONS                                                                     17

          REFERENCES                                                                        18


Officially, Japanese occupation in Malaya began on 15th February 1942, and ended on 15 August 1945. The occupation lasted three years and six months. This is the era of Japanese colonialism in Malaya.

The occupation of Malaya was a sequence of short but intense battles, and marked a change from the British rule to the Japanese military government. Japan’s rise as an imperial power in Asia began when Emperor Meiji (Figure 1) came to power in 1868. He was knowns as Japan’s emperor that was responsible in bringing Western civilization into Japan by his open policy. He was known as the Emperor Meiji reign or the Meiji era. Emperor Meiji began Japan’s recovery by emphasizing modernization and industrialization. The arrival of Commodore Perry marked a new era in Japan and the involvement of the westerners in the development of Japan as new world power.

Figure 1: Emperor Meiji
Source: Wikipedia

The rise of Japan in power led them to Malaya, their first appearance in Kota Bharu 8 December 1941. The Japanese took about 70 days to conquer the whole of Malaya and Singapore (Kratoska & Abu Talib Ahmad , 1989). On February 15, 1942, the Japanese had defeated the British, led by General Percival, Malaysia and Singapore (Zulhilmi Paidi et al., 2011). The purpose of the Japanese presence in Malaysia was primarily to get raw materials to supply their own country. Furthermore, the presence of Japan in Malaysia was also motivated by several factors, such as economic problems facing Japan. The growing population of Japan had forced them to move to the industrial sector, but Japan has suffered from a lack of raw materials. Therefore, raw materials such as tin, iron ore, rubber and rice in Malaysia attracted the Japanese to attack and occupy (Arkib Negara Malaysia, 2005). Meanwhile, Japan also needs a new market for their industrial products. The army said that the conquest or invasion was the best way to solve the problems faced by Japan. Therefore, Japan had planned to conquer Malaya, and South Asia, to meet the needs of Japanese markets and limited secure raw materials for industry.

At the beginning, the Malays welcomed the Japanese for eliminating the western powers and they believed that the Japanese was a savior from the imperialist powers of another. This belief and trust was not strange, as in their quest to spread their influence and power, the Japanese used their propaganda slogan and motto, such as, "Asia for the Asians" and "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” to substantially affect the locals. However, in reality the Japanese occupation was described as a dark period for the Malays as they suffered during the occupation. The promise the Japanese made to grant independence to Malaya was seen as only a pretense for their invasion. Malaya was administered by the Japanese forces until 15 August 1945. The Japanese occupation of Malaya for about three years and six months was resented by the people of Malaya, and even more by those who went through the brutal Japanese military administration. Various policies were implemented by the Japanese to strengthen their position and it had some impacts on the political, economic or social aspects.

This assignment will discuss the background of Japanese occupation and its administration. And finally, this assignment will also examine the impact of Japanese colonialization towards the independence of Malaya.


Figure 2: Japanese Invasion of Malaya and Singapore
Source: My Far East

The Battle of Malaya began when the 25th Army invaded Malaya on 8 December 1941. Japanese troops launched an amphibious assault on the northern coast of Malaya at Kota Bharu and started advancing down the eastern coast of Malaya. This was made in conjunction with landings at Pattani and Songkhla in Thailand, where they then proceeded south overland across the Thailand-Malayan border to attack the western portion of Malaya.

Japan successfully invaded the whole of Malaya on 31 January 1942 and conquered Singapore on 15 February 1942. Penang was captured on 17 December 1941, while Kuala Lumpur was captured on 11 January 1942. General Tomoyuki Yamashita led the Japanese forces to attack and capture Malaya. Lieutenant General Percival surrendered in a short time, which was a surprise to many, including the United States of America and Britain. The Japanese success was due to several factors namely:

1)      Element of Surprise and Lack of Defense
The defenses in Malaya were equally unprepared for war. Coordination between the ground troops and the small Royal Air Force contingent in the region was poor, while the ground troops, particularly conscripts from India, lacked training and were not properly equipped. High ranking British officers, too, lacked training in jungle warfare. In fact, some of them were not even considering that they needed to know how to conduct a war in the Malayan jungles, as indicated by some of their frustrated complaints that there was no room for them to conduct training maneuvers because the jungle was in the way. While Malaya was boasted to be a fortress that could resist an amphibious invasion, defense against a convention invasion down the Malayan peninsula was inadequate. Finally, another hint of Malaya’s unpreparedness was the lack of food rationing despite its mother country had been in war since 1939 and the Japanese invasion seemed inescapable by late 1941. The only major attempt that the British had committed in building the defense of Malaya seemed to be a request for the United States to station capital ships of the US Pacific Fleet in Singapore, but that request was denied.

2)      Japanese Strategies and High Fighting Spirit
The Japanese army had obeyed the Thai non-aggression pact and also set up special unit named Doro Nawa which acted as Intelligence and sourcing for relevant information before launching its attack. Besides that, all of the troops were well condition with the tropical weather and picked Hainan Island as training ground, they also well trained and wide experience in war. They had landed during night time or while heavy monsoon rain by surprise. While on the land, they were moving follow through road or rail line to south. As addition, the troops were tough and able to lived off the lands, no reliance on re-supply lines.

The Japanese also used bicycle infantry (See Figure 3), allowed swift movement of their forces overland through terrain covered with thick tropical rainforest, albeit crisscrossed by native paths. Although the Japanese had not brought bicycles with them (in order to speed the disembarkation process), they knew from their intelligence that suitable machines were plentiful in Malaya and quickly confiscated what they needed from civilians and retailers.

Figure 3: A replica of Japanese soldier with the bicycle.
Source: Wikipedia

Figure 4: Japanese on bicycles advancing in Malaya
Source: factsanddetails.com

3)      Japanese Strengths and Modern Equipment
The strength of this troops were consisted of 36,000 militaries, 28 Infantry Battalions, 80 Tanks, Aircraft for Army were 459 and then 158 for Naval usage, its ships contain 6 Cruisers and 7 Destroyers and also 4 submarines.

However, British troops were only used the outdated equipment with limited supplies of ammunition and fuel for its operation. Meanwhile, the strength of its army consisted of 125,000 militaries with 38 Infantry Battalions, aircraft with 158 air forces, ships facility were 2 Cruisers and 4 Destroyers and without tank at all.

This situation makes a lot of different. British army always told their soldier that Japanese is very poor weapon and machinery, but when the invasion started most of the soldier especially British Indians Army, are run away because shocked looking for the tanks and aircraft.

Figure 5: Japanese Tanks
Source: www.kevsnowdon.webspace.virginmedia.com

            external image bfort_infl.jpg
Figure 6: Japanese Bomber
Source: ihaceproject.wikispaces.com

At the conclusion of the Japanese campaign at Malaya, all Allied troops at the peninsula, numbered at over 138,000, were killed or captured. Many of the captured would endure a four-year long brutal captivity as forced labor in Indo-China. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill considered the British defeat at Singapore one of the most humiliating British defeats of all time. Many historians suggested similarly.

Figure 7: Britain surrenders to the Japanese.
Lieutenant-General Yamashita (seated, third from the left) faces
Lt. Gen. Percival (sitting second from the right, back to camera)
Source: Wikipedia


Japan had abandoned the hope of the Malayan people for freedom during the occupation. The Japanese ruled this country as if it was their colony. They took over the rule from the British, but they ruled much worse than their predecessor. The Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore were ruled directly by the Japanese. The Japanese did away with the legislative and municipal councils in the Straits Settlements colony and the Malay states. Meanwhile, the Malay states Sultans were allowed to be heads of state, but at the same time, each state was governed by a Governor appointed by the Japanese Military administration in Malaya. The Sultan's role was to only oversee religion and culture. This policy was known as “doko-shori yaryo” (Mohd Isa Othman, 1992).

The policy leads to very dark days in Malaya history. Japanese administration brings more problem to the Malayan people. The characteristics of Japanese administration can be seen as:

1)      Military Type of Administration.
Generally, Malaya was ruled by the Japanese military government and the government's headquarters was in Singapore. The head of Japan's military government was called Gunsaikan (Mohammad Redzuan Othman, 2006). During the occupation, Malaya was placed under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, while the government troops were under Major General Manaki Keishin. In addition, its name was changed to Malaya new Malai (New Malay) while Singapore was known as the Light Syonan South, and administration of Singapore was separated from Malaya. Japanese administration in Malaya was divided into two administrative regions with a central administration. The Japanese united the administration of Malaya with the Sumatera region under an administrative unit based in Singapore. From the year 1943 until 1944, there was a change in this administration. Japan found that the united administration of Malaya and Sumatra did not give satisfactory results. Thus, they separated the administration of each area, to be on their own. Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Terengganu were restored to Thailand in August 1943 as a token or gift for its role in helping and supporting the occupation of Malaya.
2)      Ruthless Police System
Another important aspect of the Japanese administration was its police system. It was composed of two important parts:

a)      The Tekikan – the spies; and
b)      The Kempeitai – the military police.

Figure 8: Kempetai - Japanese military police
Source: Wikipedia

Generally, the Department of Military Intelligence or Teikkan were spies of the Japanese military administration. Their task was to find the enemy among the public, especially people who supported British and hated Japanese rule. The Tekikan intelligence would be everywhere. Local people have also been taken and trained as Tekikan. These people were then posed as rickshaw drivers, waiters, salespeople, cooks, etc. Local spies would be in the audience and they listen to conversations and expressions of faith. The Tekikan retained confidence even among these spies and intelligence. Anyone could be arrested if they mixed with people who were anti-Japanese, complains about the Japanese administration, or had pictures of kings and queens of England.

Meanwhile, the officers responsible to investigate and interrogate the offenders were the Kempeitai. Originally the Kempeitai came from the military police unit. The Kempeitai was an organisation that was greatly feared by the public.

It assumed anyone who was arrested was guilty, and treated suspects as guilty until proven otherwise. Various cruel tortures were used to make an innocent person confess that he was guilty. These tortures included pulling out fingernails of the victims. The Japanese occupation was a time of darkness and fear among the people of Malaya.

Figure 9: Torture tools used by the Japanese
Source: www.thelongestwayhome.com

3)      Special Courts
It appears that there were two courts functioning during Japanese Colonialism; the Military or Special Courts and the Civil Courts (Akashi, 1968).
The Special Court was set up to try civilians charged with offences under the Japanese Maintenance of Public Peace, Law and Order. It was presided by a Japanese judge. With respect to the Civil Courts, their jurisdiction was confined to civil and criminal cases only. In this respect, it appears that the pre-existing laws of the Straits Settlement, the Federated Malay States and the Unfederated Malay States continued in force until changed or repealed by the Japanese Military Administration. The Civil Courts were presided by local judicial officers.

In 1943, pursuant to the Judicial Organisation Ordinance, a Supreme Court, High Court, District and Magistrates' Courts, Penghulu's Court and Kathi's Court were established during the Japanese Occupation.

4)      Scarce basic necessities
Resources were scarce during the occupation. The prices of basic necessities increased drastically due to hyperinflation. For example, the price of rice increased from $5 per 100 catties (about 60 kg or 130 lb) to $5,000. The Japanese issued ration cards to limit the amount of resources received by the civilian population. Adults could purchase 4.8 kg (11 lb) of rice per month and 2.4 kg (5.3 lb) for children. The amount of rice for adults was reduced by 25% as the war progressed.

The Japanese issued banana money (figure 10) as their main currency since Straits currency became rare. They instituted elements of a command economy in which there were restrictions on the demand and supply of resources, thus creating a popular black market. The "banana currency" started to suffer from high inflation and dropped drastically in value because the authorities would simply print more whenever they needed it; consequently, the black market often used Straits currency.

Figure 10: "Banana money" was issued during the occupation.
Source: Wikipedia

Food quality and availability decreased greatly. Sweet potatoes and yams became the staple food of most diets of Malayans because they were considerably cheaper than rice and could also be grown in gardens. They were then turned into a variety of dishes, as both dessert and all were used in all three meals of the day. The nutrients helped to fend starvation off; new ways of consuming tapioca with other produce were regularly invented to stave off the monotony. Both the British and Japanese authorities encouraged the population to grow their own food if they had even the smallest amount of land. The encouragement and produce were similar to what occurred with victory gardens in the Western nations during World War II. Ipomoea aquatica, which grew relatively easy and flourished relatively well near the water, became a popular crop, as did other vegetables.

The Japanese occupation in Malaya was one of the darkest moments of Malaysian history. The life during the occupation was very difficult from the social, politics and economics perspectives for the Malayan population, be it Malay, Chinese or Indian.


The effect on the economy during the Japanese Occupation has created political awareness among the people especially the Malays to heighten the patriotism spirit amongst the Malays in achieving independence from the Japanese and British. Malays were aspired to rule the country based on the experience in the administrative work during Japanese rule in Malaya. Furthermore, tendency of anti-colonial was growing among the Malays as well as the conflict between Malay and Chinese at that time. The conflict was propagandized by the Japanese when they instilled Nationalism spirit amongst the Malays and as a result, the Chinese and Indians did the same as well amongst them. Thus, this has widened the gap between Malays, Chinese and Indians and created racial tension which further complicated the process of national unity.

During the Battle of Malaya, Kesatuan Melayu Muda members assisted the Japanese as they believed that the Japanese would give Malaya independence. When the Japanese captured Singapore the arrested members released by the Japanese. Mustapha Hussain, the organisations Vice-President, and the others requested the Japanese grant Malaya independence but request was turned down. The Japanese instead disbanded Kesatuan Melayu Musa and established the Pembela Tanah Ayer (also known as the Malai Giyu Gun or by its Malay acronym PETA) militia instead. Yaacob was given the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the 2,000-man militia. But the action never stops the movement towards independence in Malaya.

As mentioned above, Malayan nationalism was heavily hindered by disunity among races. Nationalist groups were distinctly differentiated by races because of their conflicts, and were hence unable to appeal to a large group of people. Thus, in spite of enthusiastic leaders eager to attain independence for the country, the lack of mass support hindered the development of Malayan nationalism as they were no force large enough to make an impact.

Resistance Movements
Before Malaya fell to Japan in 1942, animosity had already existed between the two parties because of the Second Sino-Japanese War. During the war, Japan strategized to seize embargoed goods in Malaya and gain control of the resources. On December 18 1941, shortly before the fall of Singapore, the British and the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), formerly not on good terms, agreed to cooperate against the Japanese in Malaya.

The MCP established a strong politico-military resistance movement, the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA). The units of the army were trained and given weapons and ammunition by the British. They also had capable leaders.

At the end of the war, the MPAJA disbanded and weapons were supposed to be returned to the British. However, in reality, the weapons were hidden in the jungle and left unreturned. The presence of the arms prepared the nationalists for future communist revolts and eventually allowed the MCP to be a legal party. Arms and weapons gave the nationalist groups the ability to stand up to fight for nationalism and eventually achieve their aim of achieving independence.

Thus, the Japanese Occupation of Malaya reminded the locals of the indignation they suffered during the Second Sino-Japanese War and incited negative feelings among them. The nationalists, determined to never be manipulated by the Japanese again, increased their political influence in Malaya. They attained arms which aided their nationalist movements greatly, because they signified a form of supremacy and were able to command mass fear/respect. Nationalist movements were hence able to proceed smoothly.

British prestige lowered
The victory of Japan against the British at the start of the war in Malaya caused the loss in British prestige. Japan was an Asian country and was perceived to be weaker than advanced western countries, especially a big colonial ruler like Britain. Britain also had a powerful military record and many thought they were undefeatable. However, as the British army was struggling to face the war in Europe, manpower resources were limited. This led to the whole of Malaya being taken by the Japanese in less than 2 months under British rule and this showed that the British were weak and unable to protect Malaya from harm. Hence, Malayans started to feel that the British were not capable of leading them anymore and questioned their rule.

Prewar, the Malayans were satisfied with the government. The government was stable and the Sultan had sovereignty. There was development and the elites were given chances to high positions. However, due to the failure of the British to protect them from the Japanese, the Malayans had increasing doubts about the abilities of the British which led to their want for independence and self-rule. They wanted to govern and protect themselves and not rely on the British who were deemed incapable of protecting Malaya. This increased nationalist sentiment as the Malayans were then disappointed and displeased with the British, unlike before World War II where they were satisfied with British colonial rule under the Residential system. Hence, this meant that there was increased support for nationalism and thus a rise in nationalism.


The military historian Arthur Swinson called the defeat in Malaya “one of the most disastrous campaigns in British military history.” Including the surrender of Singapore, British and Commonwealth losses were 9,000 killed and wounded with 130,000 captured. Why did this happen? Swinson believed that it was very much the case that senior British officers totally undervalued the ability of the Japanese military.

At the conclusion of the Japanese campaign at Malaya, all Allied troops at the peninsula, numbered at over 138,000, were killed or captured. Many of the captured would endure a four-year long brutal captivity as forced labor in Indo-China. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill considered the British defeat at Singapore one of the most humiliating British defeats of all time. Many historians suggested similarly.

The Japanese occupation in Malaya was one of the darkest moments of Malaysian history. The life during the occupation was very difficult from the social, politics and economics perspectives for the Malayan population, be it Malay, Chinese or Indian. After succeeding in the complete invasion of Malaya, the Japanese changed the British administration to the Japanese Military government. The Japanese administration was rough and cruel, which affected many aspects of lives in Malaya. The iron fist administration gave the people misery and disaster.

During the Japanese Occupation, the Malays were encouraged by the Japanese to act in government, mostly through holding administrative positions in the government. That was the first time the Malays were given power in their country. Naturally, they felt a sense of belonging to their country and realized that they were the rightful citizens and owners of Malaya. They became eager to protect their rights and govern their country themselves.

Thus, the Japanese Occupation fueled nationalistic sentiments among the Malays and gave them experience and self-confidence, which eventually prepared them to stand up against British rule after the end of the war.

Akashi, Y. (1968). Japanese military administration in Malaya: its formation and evolution in reference to Sultans, the Islamic religion, and the Moslem-Malays, 1941-1945. University of Malaya.

Arkib Negara Malaysia. (2005). Sebab-sebab dan Kesan-kesan Pendudukan Jepun di Tanah Melayu oleh Shahlin Ali dalam Meniti Catatan Sejarah Koleksi Artikel (2002-2003), Kuala Lumpur: Arkib Negara Malaysia.

Kratoska, P. H. & Abu Talib Ahmad. (1989). Pendudukan Jepun di Tanah Melayu. Pulau Pinang: Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Kratoska, P. H. (1997). The Japanese occupation of Malaya: A social and economic history. University of Hawaii Press.

Kratoska, P. H. (1995). Malaya and Singapore during the Japanese occupation (No. 3). Singapore Univ Pr.

Horner, L. (1973). Japanese military administration in Malaya and the Philippines.

Kheng, C. B. (2012). Red Star Over Malaya: Resistance and social conflict during and after the Japanese occupation, 1941-1946. NUS Press.

Mohamad Isa Othman. (1992). Pendudukan Jepun di Tanah Melayu 1942-1945, Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur.

Mohammad Redzuan Othman. (2006). Sejarah pembinaan negara bangsa. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Universiti Malaya.

Zulhilmi Paidi et. al. (2011). Malaysia: Pembinaan Negara dan Bangsa. Petaling Jaya: Pearson-Prentice Hall.

Wikipedia (2015) Japanese Occupation - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved November 2, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_occupation

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