Dear Japanese: children of war


Dear Japanese is a documentary made from my personal point of view as a Japanese individual living in the Netherlands, portraying the children of Japanese soldiers and Dutch-Indonesian women, born during the Pacific War in Indonesia, now living in the Netherlands.

In the portraits, the models look straight into our eyes, as if beyond the lens. Their gaze challenges us to see them as they really are. A Dutch/Indo viewer might notice the dissimilarity of appearance to him or herself, while a Japanese viewer might find a striking resemblance. Similarly, the ordinary Dutch landscapes might be very strange in the eyes of the photographer and those photographed. This is a subjective archive of compatriots abroad, sharing with them the complexity of having pride in being Japanese, coupled with feelings of alienation and guilt.

Historical Background
The Netherlands made first contact with the Indonesian archipelago in the 16th century, giving rise to a population of Indo-Europeans — Dutch citizens sharing both European and Asian ancestry — over the next three hundred years . With the introduction of Dai-Toa Kyoeiken (The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere) and on the pretext of freeing Asia from European power, Japan attacked and occupied the Dutch 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 there throughout that period. Not only were the men in military service in the 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. Often their encounters with the Japanese occupiers became intimate and many children were born. 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 has been estimated to be at least 10,000, then somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 in Indonesia, but as yet there is no definitive number.

After the Japanese capitulation, Indonesia declared its independence. However, the Netherlands did not recognise the autonomy 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 by 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 were “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 a complete lack of medical supplies during internments led to the death of many, with survivors suffering chronic post-traumatic illness. The physical features of the Japanese children  often triggered distressing memories for their stepfathers, and thus they became isolated within their own families.

Even after resettlement from Indonesia to the Netherlands, the Japanese origins of these children would often remain a family secret. Many of them grew up in communities which harboured a strong resentment of Japan, a foreign power that had banished them from their homelands in the Dutch East Indies. Today, almost 80 years after WWII, many of the children are still longing for information about their biological fathers that would help them piece together the puzzle of their origins. Despite the complexity and difficulties of their upbringing, they take pride in their roots and yearn for Japan.

View Photobook "Dear Japanese: children of war"


Traumatized by the war, Masao's family avoided talking about it and about his biological father, Yashuhara


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


When Edward was 57 years old, his wife insisted his mother told the truth about 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 about her father, and raised her to be proud of her Japanese roots.


Just after the war, when Joyce was a small child, she lived in Japan with her parents for a while. Life in a rural village in Japan was not easy, and soon the family broke up. Joyce went back to Indonesia with her mother, and then to the Netherlands.


Right after his mother's death, his aunts told him his mother's secret: Max’s father was Japanese. Based on what they told him, later he was able to find his biological father.


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


This is the only photo Namiko has of her Japanese father. Namiko is the Japanese name her father gave her, 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’ coldness towards her. When she finally started her father-search, she found out for the first time that her real name Yuri means Lily flower in Japanese.


F and H are twins. The name of their Japanese father, living in Sumatra, was Watatabe.


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


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


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


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