Dear Japanese: children of war


“Dear Japanese” is a documentary made with my personal perspective as a Japanese living in the Netherlands, portraying the offspring of Japanese soldiers and Dutch-Indonesian women, born during Pacific War in Indonesia, now living in the Netherlands.

In the portraits, the models look straight into the viewers’ eyes beyond the lens. Their gaze challenges the viewer to see who they really are. A Dutch/Indo viewer might notice the dissimilarity of appearance to him, while a Japanese viewer might find striking resemblance to himself. Similarly, the ordinary Dutch landscapes may appear unfamiliar to the eyes of the photographer and the photographed. This is a subjective documentary on compatriots abroad, sharing with the models the complexity of having pride in being Japanese, coupled with feelings of alienation and guilt.

Historical Background
The Netherlands made contact with the Indonesian archipelago in the 16th century. Over three hundred years of contact with the Dutch gave rise to a population of Indo-Europeans—Dutch citizens sharing both European and Asian ancestry. With the introduction of Dai-Toa Kyoeiken (The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere) and under the pretext of freeing Asia from European power, Japan attacked and occupied the Netherlands East Indies in 1942. For the next three-and-a-half years, Java, Sumatra, Celebes and other islands were ruled by the Japanese military administration, with nearly 300,000 Japanese stationed in the Indies throughout that period. Not only were the men in military service in Royal Netherlands Indies Army or Royal Navy interned in POW camps, most of Dutch civilian men were also interned in Japanese civilian camps.

With their fathers, brothers and husbands interned during the war, the women and children were left to fend for themselves. Forced to search for a livelihood, many Indo-European women found work in Japanese offices, cafes or restaurants. In many cases, their encounters with the Japanese occupiers led to intimate relationships and births. While some women saw their relationships as consensual and long-term commitments, others reported having entered into such relationships against their will. The number of Japanese offspring born during the war were estimated to be at least 10,000* or approximately between 30,000 and 40,000** in Indonesia, but there is no concrete number even now.

After the Japanese capitulation, Indonesia declared its independence. However, the Netherlands did not recognise the independence of its former colony. Dutch citizens and Indo-Europeans moved to so-called “Bersiap” camps to avoid attacks by Indonesian revolutionary groups, who were armed with Japanese weapons. This was the beginning of the four-year decolonisation period followed by large-scale military operations by the Netherlands, namely the Police Actions. Throughout this period, the mothers of children who had been fathered by Japanese men often felt ostracised from their communities. Consequently, many women and their families decided to keep quiet about their experiences and their children’s Japanese parentage.

As a result of the decolonisation, most Dutch and Indo-Europeans chose Dutch nationality and “repatriated” to the Netherlands, where they had never been before. Many mothers of children with Japanese fathers married during this period, in most cases men who had suffered from forced labour as POWs at military sites such as the Thai-Burma Railway, and the coal mines and shipyards in Japan. Maltreatment, undernourishment, and no medical supplies during such internments led to the death of many, with the survivors suffering life-long trauma from such sub-human ordeals. Japanese offspring had to face the trauma of their stepfathers in their childhoods, because their Japanese features would often trigger painful memories. These children were isolated in their families and the community.

Even after resettlement from Indonesia to the Netherlands, the Japanese origins of these children would often remain a family secret. Many children of Japanese descent grew up in communities which harboured hostile sentiments towards Japan, a foreign power that took away their way of living and ended the status of the Netherlands East Indies as their homeland. Today, more than 70 years after the end of WWII, many children are still searching for their biological fathers in Japan to fill an important missing element of their identities, and many are still suffering the adverse effects of traumatic childhoods. They take pride in their Japanese roots and they yearn for the land of their fathers as they struggle to solve the puzzle of their origins.

View Photobook "Dear Japanese: children of war"


Traumatized by the war, Masao's family was avoiding talking of the war and of his biological father, Yashuhara.


J and her daughter R. J was named Yoshi, after father Yoshida. J’s mother passes away before J had a chance to hear from her about Yoshida.


When Edward was 57 years old, his wife confronted his mother for the truth of his birth. Then his mother finally confessed that he is a son of Murakami.


Unlike other mothers of Japanese offspring, Hideko’s mother always told her honestly of her father, and raised her to be proud of her Japanese roots.


Just after the war, when hen Joyce was an infant, she lived in Japan with her parents for a while. Living in a rural village in Japan was not easy, and their life together did not last long. Mother and Joyce went back to Indonesia then to the Netherlands.


Right after his mother's death, his aunts told him his mother's secret: Max was a son of a Japanese. Based on the info, his biological father was identifies.


Dylan, the 2nd generation Japanese-Dutch, loves the country of his grandfather, Matsuo. He has been to Japan already 6 times.


The only photo of her Japanese father Namiko has. Namiko is a Japanese name her father gave, meaning "Child of the South."


Once their mother gave up on finding her Japanese father. These 2nd generation Japanese are now trying to find their grandfather.


Ron's mother still remembers her first love, Isamu.


When she was small, Juul felt that she was an unwanted child, because of her parents’ cold attitude towards her. When she finaly started her father-search, she found out for the first time that her real name Yuri means Lily flower in Japanese.


F and H, a twins. Their father was a Japanese in Sumatra, named Watatabe.


During her first visit to Japan in 1996, L went to a post office, where supposedly her father worked, according to her mother.


Max realized that he did not resemble his younger brothers and sisters at early age. Yet, something was preventing him from asking his mother why.


Long after his mother's death, when Fred was 67, his aunt wrote him a letter to tell him that he is a son of a Japanese, Nakano.


Claudine started her search for her Japanese father in the 1970’s. In 2015, she finally had a chance to see her half sister in Tokyo.