HISTORY: DO YOU KNOW WHO MAMORU SHINOZAKI IS?

Mamoru Shinozaki (b. 19 February 1908, Japan – d. 1991) was a Japanese government official stationed in Singapore before and during the Japanese Occupation. Sometimes referred to as the “Japanese Schindler”, Shinozaki is known for issuing government passes that saved the lives of many Chinese and Eurasians as well as other humanitarian acts during the Occupation. Shinozaki was instrumental in the formation of the Overseas Chinese Association, and the establishment of the Endau and Bahau resettlement villages. After the war, he was a witness in the war-crimes trial of Japanese officers involved in the Sook Ching massacre. His book Syonan, My Story gives a first-hand account of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore.

Early years
Mamoru Shinozaki was born in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. His father owned a coalmine, and his childhood was spent under the care of his grandmother. As a teen, Shinozaki was interested in socialism, reading the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and was expelled from his high school in Kyoto for joining a banned socialist group.

Shinozaki studied at Meiji University, graduating in journalism in 1931 and joining the Domei Tsushinsha, the official news agency of the Japanese government. He was posted to Shanghai in 1934, and later worked in Nanking and Hankow. In Hankow, he joined the Japanese Foreign Office as a press attaché, and was eventually posted to Berlin in 1936. Two years later, he was transferred to the staff of the Japanese Consulate General in Singapore as a press attaché.

Career in Singapore
In Singapore, Shinozaki’s initial role was to provide updates for Japanese newspapers, later reporting on conditions on the island to the Japanese army. He had contact with British army personnel, which caused the Special Branch to place him under surveillance.

In 1940, Japanese army officer Colonel T. Tanikawa visited Singapore to survey important installations. Assigned to escort Tanikawa and his officers, Shinozaki brought them to locations in Singapore, Johor, Mersing, Malacca and Kota Tinggi despite knowing that he was being followed by the Special Branch. Tanikawa’s observations during these tours included one that proved to be crucial in the war – that Singapore was heavily defended against an attack by sea, and any invasion would have to come from the north.

Upon returning to Singapore, Shinozaki was put on trial for espionage. The Special Branch alleged that Shinozaki was a Japanese Navy officer who had been observed measuring the water around the island’s main naval bases, among other espionage activities. Despite Shinozaki’s denials and protestations that he was unaware of Tanikawa’s agenda, he was found guilty and sentenced to three and a half years in Changi prison.

In Changi prison, he was housed with European and Eurasian prisoners, being the only Asian among them. In his memoirs, Shinozaki wrote that his time in Changi taught him a lot about human relations, and that class and social distinctions did not matter. These experiences influenced his activities during the Japanese Occupation.

During Occupation
When war was declared in December 1941, Shinozaki was put in solitary confinement. After Japanese troops took Singapore in February 1942, he was released and given the title of Advisor of Defence Headquarters, a rank equivalent to Lieutenant-Colonel. The Japanese Foreign Office ordered Shinozaki to reassemble the documents of the Japanese consulate and issue protection and identity cards to diplomats and other foreigners from neutral countries.

Immediately after the invasion, Shinozaki began printing cards providing protection and safe passage to their bearers when travelling through Japanese-occupied territory. He printed a total of about 30,000 cards, issuing them to Japanese, British, Chinese and other locals alike, giving people caught up in the war some freedom of movement. Word soon spread, leading to a huge demand for the cards.

Shinozaki learned of Operation Clean-Up, which led to the Sook Ching massacre, when a Chinese nurse sought his help during a round-up of civilians. In all, Shinozaki estimated that he extracted about 2,000 people, including the nurse’s father and brother, from Japanese concentration camps. His other humanitarian acts included ensuring a steady food supply for the Little Sisters of the Poor welfare home, and ensuring that Lady Lucy Thomas, wife of former British governor Sir Shenton Thomas, received medical treatment when she was ill.

Overseas Chinese Association (OCA)
In February 1942, Shinozaki was at the Toyo Hotel when he discovered that Lim Boon Keng, a prominent Chinese, had been arrested and brought to the hotel pending transfer to a concentration camp. Shinozaki met with Lim and mooted the idea of a Chinese welfare association. Dr Lim was initially reluctant to head the proposed association, but eventually agreed.

Shinozaki justified the formation of the OCA to Japanese military leaders, convincing them that the association would be representative of the Chinese community only with the participation of key leaders. In this way, he was able to secure the release from detention of prominent community figures like Lim, S. Q. Wong, Robert Tan Hoon Siang, Lee Wee Nam, Yeo Chan Boon, Tan Lark Sye and Hu Tsai Kuen.

Oversight of the OCA was quickly removed from Shinozaki, however, and the association was directed to raise the infamous $50 million “donation” from the Chinese community to the Japanese. Shinozaki denied that the “donation” had been in his plans from the outset, and claimed that Colonel Wataru Watanabe had placed the OCA under military administrative control.

Shinozaki’s issuance of protection cards, extraction of detainees from concentration camps and petitions on behalf of the Chinese community for exemptions from the forced donation led members of the Japanese army to view him with suspicion. To avoid a court martial, Shinozaki was advised to return to Japan, where he spent two months before returning to Singapore. By then, the OCA had been returned to civilian control and Shinozaki became an adviser to the association.

Welfare activities
After returning to Singapore, Shinozaki became chief officer of education. His tasks were to reopen schools and reorganise teaching staff, but most of his time was still taken up with petitions from the Chinese community seeking the release of detained family members, missing people and taking care of welfare homes. Shinozaki was later appointed the government’s chief welfare officer. Among his duties were to look into locals’ complaints, find jobs for the unemployed and establish a labour office.

Later, due to food shortages in Singapore, Shinozaki was instrumental in setting up the Endau and Bahau resettlement villages, for Chinese and Eurasians respectively, in Malaya. He was the main organiser of these projects, and the liaison between the Japanese government and the villages.

After Occupation
When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Shinozaki joined some 6,800 other Japanese in a camp in Jurong. However, the Chinese and Catholic communities petitioned the British on his behalf and he was released. Shinozaki later worked with the British field security service as a translator and interpreter, assisting in the repatriation of Japanese citizens. He also translated kempeitai reports on Malayan communists. He left Singapore in 1947.

Shinozaki was a witness in a number of post-war trials, including that of Eurasian community leader C. J. Paglar, who was accused of collaborating with the Japanese. Shinozaki’s testimony helped to prevent Paglar’s prosecution. Shinozaki also provided evidence in the war-crimes trial of Japanese army officers responsible for the Sook Ching massacre.

In 1951, Shinozaki attempted to re-enter Singapore via the ship Shino Maru. However, colonial immigration authorities denied him a visa and he received visitors, including Lim Boon Keng, on the ship. He remained keen to return to Singapore, attempting to organise trade fairs and foster more Japanese-Malayan business ties.

Memoir
In 1975, Shinozaki was allowed to enter Singapore to promote his book, Syonan, My Story: The Japanese Occupation of Singapore. The book detailed his humanitarian activities during the Occupation. However, scholars have criticised Shinozaki for downplaying casualty figures of the Sook Ching massacre in Japanese editions of the book, and pointed out inconsistencies between the book’s English and Japanese editions, with the latter containing text that appears to defend the invasion and occupation.

Author
Alvin Chua

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