Malaya Invasion by the Japanese

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On 8 December 1941, Kota Bharu on the border of Malaya and Thailand was invaded by the Japanese forces – led by Lieutenant General Yamashita. The invasion on Malaya was made simultaneously with the attack on Pearl Harbor to prevent America from interfering in South-East Asia. As the Japanese troops advanced down the east and west coasts of Malaya, British strongholds were seized and they captured prisoners with ease. Both sides had to trek through harsh conditions of heavy rain and flooding in thick jungles and dirt tracks.

However, the Japanese were intelligent, inventive and their quick maneuver of invading Malaya on bicycles took the British by surprise. Despite having a smaller force in terms of numbers, the Japanese Army overpowered the Allied forces further and further until they retreated to Singapore.

On 31 January 1942, as a last attempt to stop the Japanese’s progressing further, Singapore’s link with Malaya was dissolved by blowing up the causeway joining Singapore to Malaya. Economic factors, colonialism, trade protection, and to obtain the nation’s rich natural resources of oil and rubber, were among the reasons that drove the Japanese to take this course. The fall of the British in Malaya were caused by their failure to understand where the threat came from and underestimating their enemy, leading to their defeat and within 70 days, the Japanese had full control over Malaya.

Chaos and uncertainty among the local residents caused by the Japanese rule lead to a more distant relationship between local races, bringing sorrow and misery to the people of Malaya.

Economic Impact

The Japanese ruled tyrannically and used terror to control the people of Malaya. Japanese military gave a different treatment according to race where the Malays and Indians were treated well by the Japanese, and Chinese treated unfairly. The Japanese established the Malays as the Japanese “Kempeitai” assigned to catch the Chinese. This lead to an increase in hatred among the Chinese against the Malays, resulting in more inter-ethnic hostility between the Chinese and Malays. As a result, the Chinese were forced to scarper in to the woods to avoid the Japanese and its military threat to them.

After the invasion, The common language of Malaya was considered a dialect and the Japanese wanted to change the local language to Japanese. They started by changing shop signs and street names. Malaya was transmuted to Malai, and Penang was renamed Tojo To. The time zone of Malaya was also changed so that it matched with Japan’s time.The Japanese also introduced their custom of bowing in the nation ,with the people expected to bow to Japanese soldiers on guard duty.

During the Japanese occupation the Malayan economy has had serious impacts. Destruction of rubber plantations, tin mines and other economic resources lead to the downfall of the Malaya economy. All mining equipment, such as ship matches were destroyed by the Japanese as part of their ‘Scorched Earth’ policy. The workers were leaving the mines and plantations to save themselves. Malaya, which was entirely dependent on exports at that time have been adversely affected. In addition, communication and transport systems were destroyed. Japanese military did not restore any of the destroyed infrastructure in Malaya and this lead to the worsening of the Malayan economy.

Furthermore, the main reason for the on set off inflation was the scarcity of basic goods in the market leading to starvation in the country which has paved way for black marketers to take the advantage and sell goods at exorbitant prices.However under this unavoidable circumstances , Japanese bored the burnt, letting the situation to prevail for sometime.Nevertheless, malnutrition and insufficient medical facilities lead to the high mortality rates.

Death Railway at Thai-Burma Border

The construction of the Burma Railway was among one of the worst for the people of Malaya had to suffer from the many war crimes committed by the Japanese during their occupation. The captured prisoners by the Japanese were put to the the bottom of a social system that was harsh, fanatical, and resulted in the death of many Malayans. The working and living conditions on the construction site of the Burma Railway were described as horrific, with sickness, maltreatment and starvation caused by the inhumane way the Japanese treated the prisoners. More than 73,000 Malayans were thought to have been forced into working on the Thai-Burma Railway constructions, with more than 25,000 believed to have died.

Lessons Learnt

Strong defense forces – vital for a country

The invasion of Japanese showed how unprepared the armed forces were to face the onslaught of the Japanese troops. A strong military is important for a country’s defense as it is a is a strong deterrent for a country. With a strong military that has modern forces of air, land and sea as its’ army assets, a country can defend itself against threats successfully.

Aggressive policies, insecurities and fear could develop among the people but such adversaries would be deterred by our strong and modern military that can not only protect, but also reach out to targets in potential enemy territories.

Some people thin that the years spent in national service should be further reduced, but we cannot improve the defence of a country by reducing the number of servicemen of a country. To ensure an active and robust deterrent force, we need to train our military with the most advanced military technology, as the population dwindles in numbers with each da. If a strong defense policy is continued to be enforced, encompassing a strong, high-tech military deterrent force is possible and it can ensure the safety of the citizens of the country.

Survival during hard times- need to bold, strong and self-confident

As it rightly said, survival of the fittest but when the nation stands together it can face the adverse conditions unitedly. The strong Japanese tried their best to squash the people, however the national feelings which rose like a huge united force even the powerful Japanese has to accept the defeat. The core of their success story lies not in fighting against each other to show who’s best, each race used their skills to help one another. This is the essence of process of national unity which brought the country together.

Benefits and wisdom obtained by the people of Malaya during the Japanese rule.

Political Awareness – The Spirit of Nationalism

The Japanese occupation has created several new prominent industries in Malaya to cater the shortage of goods. For instance, being able to make a tire without a tube of solid rubber, making thread and paper from pineapple leaves of bamboo and weed, and also fuel consumption of latex has created opportunities for a lot of people and markets. In addition, traditional enterprises such as oil from coconut, palm sugar and tobacco leaves have also have also expanded rapidly in the country after the war.

The effects on the economy in achieving independence from the Japanese and British, played a major role in creating political awareness among the people, especially the Malays, to heighten the patriotism spirit amongst the Malays. The Malays were attracted to the slogan “Asia for Asians” which stirred them to build their own government. Based on the experience in the administrative work during Japanese rule in Malaya, they were aspired to rule the country independently.

Introduction of Vocational and Technical Education in Malaysia:

The spirit of labour which was very crucial and vital to enhance the vocational and technical education viewed as the primary aim of the the Japanese government. Hence they adopted an educational policy which complimented this idea into it.This was very useful technic to bring the diverse cultures of indigenous people of the southern region to blend with Japanese culture. Consequently , this has catered the requirements of contemporary rising social and political policies to lay a strong foundation of educational system in Malaya.


In conclusion, during the three and half years of Japanese rule, the country has faced harsh economic crisis and humiliation causing uncertainty and chaos for the local residents. During the occupation of the Japanese, the people had to suffer a lot because of the weak socio, political conditions. But even with defense system which was handicapped with no modern training has rose unitedly to fight back the powerful Japanese.

It was a dark era in Malaysian history but it also brought wisdom in politics and benefits in education and also taught the people of many great lessons. The greatest lesson which could be taken as a lesson for others is that united, they defeated a strong nation and got their independence. Putting the political and race differences aside, a nation came together in national unity which brought the country together.


Cite this paper

Malaya Invasion by the Japanese. (2021, Feb 24). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/malaya-invasion-by-the-japanese/

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