Japanese Cemetery, Melaka

Japanese Cemetery in Melaka

One of the lesser known sights in Melaka is a tiny Japanese cemetery located in the Bukit Baru district of the city.

It is seldom visited except by members of the small Japanese community in Melaka and travellers from further afield, mostly Japanese.  In fact nobody remembered it was there until 1969 when a Malay villager rediscovered it while clearing an overgrown patch of land in front of his house. Since then, a Japanese company in Melaka has been appointed to look after it and it has been cleared of vegetation and tidily maintained.

I became aware of its existence thanks to an excellent book called Lost Chapters of Malacca by Ou Young San.

Japanese Cemetery

There are only 36 graves in the cemetery. It is not a war cemetery – only one of the graves dates from the Japanese occupation in WWII – an officer who committed seppuku in 1944. All the other graves are older, dating from 1911 up to 1941. Of the 36 graves, 22 were female (including 4 infant girls), 11 were male (including 1 two year old boy), 2 graves have no headstone and there is one dog.

Malacca Japanese Cemetery

Who were these people? Malacca has always been an important trading port so it is not surprising that there should have been a few Japanese there. Perhaps, as in many other Malayan cities at the time, Japanese were running small businesses such as barber shops and photo studio (and doing a bit of spying in the lead up to the War). As for the women, eight of them died young aged between 24 and 35. Five of them originated from Amakusa-gun in Kyushu. In the book (also a film) Sandakan Brothel #8, the author Tomoko Yamazaki tells the true story of a ten year old girl from Amakusa who, in the early 20th Century, was sold by her impoverished parents and later became a  karayuki –san, a prostitute, in Sandakan, North Borneo. The export of Japan’s low class girls to brothels all over east Asia was very common in the 1910’s and 1920’s and although I have so far found no accounts of any Japanese brothels in Melaka, it seems possible that these poor women buried here might have been sex workers and died young from various diseases.

As for the dog, the words carved in English appear to read ‘Emden No Haka’ meaning Emden’s grave (though it could be Emoen). Emden is not, as far as I know, a Japanese name. Perhaps this pet’s owner named him after the German light cruiser Emden!

Dog's Grave - Japanese Cemetery 

Although this burial ground is being well looked after, its appearance is rather austere and lonely and it’s a long way from home. The cemetery is in a strange location, on the edge of an ordinary residential neighbourhood. Perhaps the Japanese Government should arrange to have the remains shipped home to Japan but, if those women were really in the ‘water trade’, their relatives would probably not want them back. So I suppose they will stay where they are and continue to be one of Melaka’s more unusual tourist attractions.

Japanese Cemetery

This entry was posted in Japanese Cemetery, Melaka, Malaysia and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Japanese Cemetery, Melaka

  1. Weary Traveller says:

    Poignant

  2. Sheila says:

    This is the first time I have ever read that there was an export of Japan’s low class girls to brothels all over east Asia was very common in the 1910’s and 1920’s … Not sure why I never thought of the Japanese to be doing the very same things like the Thais, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian and of course including the Chinese and Indians (India) tend to do to their poor-impoverished young girls…. This is so sad, these young girls were sold (by their parents!), it was not their choice, and here their bodies lie. No one visiting their graves, so sad. May they rest in peace.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s