That soldier was the father of Ken Nakazawa who was only a year-old toddler when the former left for Sarawak in 1942.
Ken never saw his father before and all his life, he only heard about him but had no chance to talk to him.
After the Japanese occupation, the four dark years of misery were quickly forgotten. Things changed with passing time as a new world order emerged from the ashes of war to reconcile victor and vanquished.
In later years, the memory of his father brought Ken to Sarawak to live among the community that took his father’s life during the war. He came with good intention and genuine friendship.
Today at 69, Ken Nakazawa is happy he has found a family at a longhouse in Kanowit District. He wants to die and be buried there.
Ken was born in Tokyo in 1941. A year later, his father moved to Sarawak and became a general manager of a Selalang sawmill in what is now the central region. Little was known about the elder Nakazawa but Ken said his father fell in love with an Iban girl and they got married.
In 1944, when the Japanese invaded Sarawak, his father was forced into the military to serve the emperor despite having no training. A year after joining, he was caught near a Roban longhouse in Betong. Both he and his wife were later killed by the natives and buried near there.
It is said his wife was killed in defence of her husband. She had pleaded with their captors that he was not really a soldier.
When the Japanese surrendered on Aug 15, 1945, Ken’s family in Japan received a letter about his father from the Japanese military, stating that he had died in Sarawak in service of the emperor.
While in Japan, Ken had constantly thought about his father. He said if he could not see his face again, the least he could do was to pay his respects at his grave.
“I don’t know my father. My relatives tell me about him but I have never seen him before, so I decided to come to Sarawak to see his grave. Sixty-five years ago, my father died in this land. His spirit has brought me.”
Ken was a university professor in Tokyo and on his retirement in the 1950s, went to live in Penang for 10 years. He was very active in community work, serving and helping the disabled there.
Later, he moved to Kuching and fate led him to Dr Joseph Jawa Kendawang of Sungei Bawan, Kanowit. Ken was looking to rent a house and Dr Joseph had one for him and his wife, Kazuyo Nakazawa, 65.
On Dec 31, 2003, Dr Joseph invited Ken and Kazuyo to his longhouse for a wedding reception. They stayed for three nights and Ken was touched by hospitality of the longhouse folk.
According to Tuai Rumah Michael Jalak, after having a few glasses of tuak, Ken made a surprise request whether he could stay at the longhouse.
“I thought he was not serious but after leaving Kuching, he wrote to say he wants to make Sarawak his second home.”
Seeing his sincerity, Michael held an emergency meeting with the longhouse folk to decide whether to accept Ken as a member of their community.
“If one longhouse member disapproved, we would not accept him but none objected — all were willing to take him into the family.”
Michael conveyed the good news to Ken that if he decided to stay at longhouse, he could come anytime.
Ken returned to the longhouse to meet the people again not long after that. At the same time, he was thinking of building his own home and started working out the costs.
Ken’s house — Rumah Ken Nakazawa — was put up by the longhouse community. It took about eight months to complete through gotong-royong.
In 2007, the Japanese couple celebrated their first Gawai Dayak at the longhouse as part of the family. They observed Iban customs during the festivities.
The longhouse folks not only opened their door and prepared an extra room for the couple but also adopted Ken as a family member.
Taking the name Ken Nakazawa anak Jawa, he is “unofficially” Michael’s adopted brother. And as brothers, they help each other to speak Iban and Japanese.
However, both joked that age had caught up with them and picking up a new language was tough.
Ken quipped the only Iban word he knew was mabuk.
Kazuyo has picked up a little of the language from her newfound longhouse kin.
“Mimik ja, not so much,” she smiled.
Asked what made him decide to stay with the longhouse folk, Ken said he liked the community atmosphere and the people are very friendly.
“In Japan, everything is so convenient. We have convenient stores 24 hours a day. Whereas here is not convenient at all — no electricity, no shops, no telephone, no police station or post office and no hospital. But the atmosphere is very good; the people are very kind; everybody is so harmonious. This is a peaceful community,” he enthused.
Today, Ken and his wife make Rumah Michael Jalak one of their favourite longhouses in Sarawak.
Despite past conflicts and different cultural backgrounds, two different people can still stay together and become family.
Ken told reporters when he decided to become part of the longhouse family, he asked Kazuyo whether she wanted to join him, and to his surprise, she agreed.
Kazuyo said she was very surprised how the three-night stay at the longhouse had convinced her husband to move in with the community.
Kazuyo has since learnt many traditional and local cuisines and is now an expert in brewing tuak.
She said the longhouse folk were very helpful and willing to teach anything she wanted to know.
However, the couple miss Japanese food but Ken said it was not his main concern because Kazuyo is a great cook.
“I’m very lucky to have Kazuyo by my side because she is a very good cook. She makes sushi and other Japanese food almost everyday at home.”
Unlike West Malaysia and Kuching, Ken said, it was hard to find Japanese food in Kanowit.
Asked whether he would return to Japan one day, he said the moment he stepped on Sarawak soil, he knew he wanted to settle in this land.
“My father was buried here and my mother ashes were brought here too. So when I die, I want to be buried in this land too,” he said, adding that he would return to Japan twice a year for meetings.
Ken is now on a “Malaysia My Second Home Programme” and has to renew his social pass every five years.
“I’m applying for citizenship right now but it’s very difficult to get,” he lamented.
Ken has set up a centre for the disabled near the longhouse. He calls it the Rejang Community Service (RCS).
He always knew he wanted to be with the people here when he first arrived a few years ago. His heart and soul is with Sarawakians and he cherishes this land ever more because of his father and acceptance by the people.
Whatever happened in the past should remain in the past and all conflicts and agony have long been forgotten.
The younger generation may view the Japanese occupation as a remnant from an irrelevant past but those who had been there would appreciate the moment of triumph when both sides embraced one another with open arms in peace.
Sixty-nine years ago, the Japanese presence in Sarawak caused fear but today, the Nakazawas meet the Ibans again and have become family, cementing ties between the two lands forever.