A quiet residential neighbourhood in Hougang holds an important legacy of the Japanese in Singapore.

The sprawling 30,000 m2 Japanese Cemetery Park contains nearly 1,000 graves of Japanese civilians in Singapore and soldiers mostly from the early 20th century.

Early Japanese
Row of tombstones at the Japanese Cemetery Park

Founded by three Japanese brothel-keepers, the cemetery was built in 1891 as a burial ground for karayuki-san, or Japanese women brought here for prostitution, many of whom died poor and destitute.

Over the years, other Japanese civilians were buried here, mostly during the pre-war years.

The well-kept park also holds the ashes of thousands of Japanese soldiers, marines and airmen killed during World War II, as well as the remains of 135 Japanese war criminals who were executed at Changi Prison.

Tiger of Malaya
Statues of deities at Japanese Cemetery Park

Among the cemetery’s dead is Hisaichi Terauchi, Supreme Commander of Japanese Expeditionary Forces in the Southern Region, who failed to surrender personally to Lord Mountbatten on 12 September 1945 due to ill health.

Also look out for the memorial stone of Terengganu-born Tani Yutaka. Known as Harimau or the Tiger of Malaya, he was a secret agent for the Japanese military and has been depicted in Japanese novels and films.

The cemetery was a burial ground until 1947, and became a memorial park in 1987. The Japanese Association of Singapore oversees its upkeep.