December 7, 1941

The first reports about an impending war came through the radio.

Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, when the Netherlands was the first of the allies (the Netherlands, America, England, China, and Australia) to declare war on Japan, the Japanese had already fully prepared their plans for the Dutch East Indies. For example, they had already printed Japanese currency for Indonesia!

In 1943, the Japanese military currency was replaced by new currency from the so-called Nanpatsu Bank, printed at the G.Kolff & Co printing press in Batavia. This currency had a very nationalist appearance with its typical Indonesian landscapes and cultural symbols, and was not denominated in guilders and cents but in rupiah. The first currency issued under this name was the 10 rupiah note adorned with the Javanese wayang character Gatotkaca.

a collection of five different types of currency notes
a collection of five different types of currency notes
a ten dollar bill billet note note note note note note note note note note
a ten dollar bill billet note note note note note note note note note note

This banknote was put into circulation in October 1943. When on August 17, 1945, Soekarno and Hatta proclaimed the free Republic of Indonesia, the official currency was this Japanese rupiah, and silently the rupiah became the new national currency of Indonesia. It can be called at least ironic that this first national rupiah came into being as an order from the Japanese occupiers at a printing press of the former colonial rulers and entered the not yet existing Republic of Indonesia through this backdoor. On October 17, 1945, the first Indonesian Rupiah, spelled with a "u", saw the tropical sunlight in the Emerald Belt.

a very old bank note with a woman in a dress
a very old bank note with a woman in a dress

The Japanese had prepared themselves well. Dutch East Indies had been infiltrated by their fishermen, photographers, barbers, all equally as many spies. In this way, they had come to know the land and its people thoroughly over the years, and could take advantage of Indonesian weaknesses to ultimately execute their plans easily.

My father told of a Japanese man who lived in Bantam for eighteen years and gave a mosque as a gift. Also of a Japanese ice cream seller from Balikpapan, who knew every oilman and returned during the invasion as a captain of the army. And the well-known shop assistant from Tjandoer and the garage owner from Garoet, who respectively acted as a colonel and government representative on behalf of Japan after the capitulation of Dutch East Indies.

In three months, they conquered the entire East Indies Archipelago! One of the first attacks targeted the oil island of Tarakan off the coast of Borneo. Japan's rapid success was due to its superiority at sea and through aircraft carriers in the air. Dutch East Indies had hardly any army/police force, as it had never been necessary before. The Japanese also almost always chose undefended coastal areas to land. They had light tanks, trucks, and bicycles at their disposal.

80% of the KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army) consisted of Javanese, including a sergeant-major, who later became President Soeharto. These Javanese recruits, as well as the Dutch, had wooden rifles for practice. This was due to the "broken rifle" budget policy of the Chamber. There simply were no rifles available.

The way in which the imperial army entered the cities was remarkable. They arrived in trucks and on bicycles. Small men with caps that were adjusted with a lace from behind. Soon they began to give their orders. If one encountered a Japanese, one had to greet him respectfully, by bowing. A Japanese flag had to be hung at every house, and this flag, as well as the portrait of the emperor, had to be treated with respect. The Indonesians were told that the Japanese had come to liberate them from the Dutch. Initially, they welcomed the Japanese as liberators, as the Japanese promised them many things.


The nationalists had expected immediate independence or involvement in governance. However, the Japanese authorities only made vague and contradictory statements about independence. (In Tokyo, the secret decision had already been made to annex Indonesia after the war) Nationalist involvement in governance was immediately rejected. Many Indonesians were therefore disappointed in their expectations.

Due to language and cultural problems, contacts between Japanese and Indonesians were difficult. The Japanese appeared to understand Indonesian culture less than the Dutch.

What also caused resentment was the Japanization of public life. The Japanese calendar and Tokyo time were introduced: 1942 became 2602 and the sun no longer rose at 6 o'clock, but at half past seven. Japanese holidays were introduced, particularly the birthday of Tenno Heika (His Majesty) on April 29. No longer red and white but the Japanese red ball.