Celluloid memories: a spy in our midst

It is a well known fact that in the years prior to the Japanese invasion of Malaya in 1941, Japanese citizens were already present in Malaya, some of them collecting intelligence for the military whilst going on with their daily lives amongst the local inhabitants. The Japanese were known for their trade in selling dinnerware and if you read Lat, travelling barbers!

One such person was a James K. Suzuki, a photographer who ran a studio in Kuala Kangsar called Nature Art Studio. The author has this portrait of Almarhum Raja Sir Chulan hung on the wall in his home and, since childhood, had always been intrigued by the Japanese name embossed at the bottom right of the picture, as seen below:

James Suzuki's portrait of Raja Sir Chulan. The bottom right reads 'JAMES K SUZUKI, NATURE ART STUDIO, KUALA KANGSAR F.M.S.' (Source: Private collection of Raja Muzaffar Kamaralzaman)

As Almarhum was the RDH Perak from 1920 to 1933, it shows that Suzuki had already been in Kuala as early as the 1930s, a decade before the invasion. Interestingly, when the author was preparing the post on Almarhum Raja Ahmad Hisham’s incarceration by Japanese Military Intelligence (the Fujiwara Kikan as it was known locally), he found that Major Fujiwara was assisted by volunteers – one of whom was Suzuki, a photographer from Kuala Kangsar, who was one of the many interpreters for the Military Intelligence. According to Mustapha Hussain, the group of Japanese interpreters could collectively speak Malay, English and Mandarin.

This photo of Almarhum Sultan Iskandar and Raja Abdul Rashid (then Raja Kechil Tengah) in their FMS police uniform was also taken by Suzuki:

Suzuki's portrait of Almarhum Sultan Iskandar and Raja Abdul Rashid.

We at SembangKuala would be interested to know if other pre-WW2 photos taken by James Suzuki of any Perak Royal Family members are in your collection (comments below please!).

Reference: Mustapha Hussain. Ibrahim Yaakub’s secret deal. In: Malay Nationalism Before UMNO: The Memoirs of Mustapha Hussain, ed. Jomo KS. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications; 2005. p168.

3 thoughts on “Celluloid memories: a spy in our midst

  1. Salam,

    Photo studios were the popular choice to plant spies it seems. During a Heritage Walk covering Ipoh Old Town that I took part recently, I learnt that there was a Mikasa Photo Shop set up in 1911 along Belfield Street (now Jalan Sultan Yussuf). A Japanese spy named Masaji Fukabori alias Masaji Hosaka had worked there.

  2. Pingback: How Kuala Kangsar was saved « SembangKuala BLOG

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