Out of Japan: Bare exploits embarrass old rivals
Monday 15 November 1993
Mrs Sukarno has been a reliable source of colourful controversy in Asia ever since the Japanese-born bar girl was married to Sukarno, Indonesia's first president, in 1962. But her latest adventure into photographic colour, revealing parts of her body undraped by a variety of Japanese kimonos and Indonesi an saris, has caused even more of a stir than when she broke a champagne glass into a female rival's face at a ski lodge in Aspen, Colorado, in the United States, last year. Her real-life exploits are beginning to make the creative imagination of authors like Jackie Collins seem almost redundant.
Behind the glamour and the scandal, however, is a small part of one of Asia's most important, if rarely remarked-upon, bilateral relationships: Japan and Indonesia. Both countries have it in their power to shut down the other's industry almost overnight, if they chose to do so. Japan gets most of its oil supplies from Indonesia (13 per cent) or from the Middle East through Indonesian sea lanes (70 per cent). It also gets 96 per cent of its plywood, more than half its natural gas and a variety of other raw materials from the tropical archipelago.
Indonesia for its part relies heavily on Japanese investment and technology. It has received more Japanese direct investment than any other Asian country. According to the Export-Import Bank of Japan, from 1951 to 1990, about 1,600 Japanese companies invested dollars 11.5bn ( pounds 7.5bn) in Indonesia, compared with dollars 9.8bn in Hong Kong and dollars 6.5bn in Singapore.
As intertwined as they are economically, they are at the same time worlds apart. Japan's per capita GNP, at dollars 36,000, is 60 times larger than that of Indonesia, at dollars 600. A meal for two in a Tokyo restaurant would keep a family in Jakarta in food for a month. It is across this gulf that Mrs Sukarno has been sparking like the two ter minals of an electricity generator. And while her book of nude photos, Shuga - Superior in Elegance, has become a best-seller in Japan's sen sation-hungry consumer market, it has become a source of national embarrassment in Indonesia and its circulation has been banned by the government.
'As she is not a born Indonesian it is understandable that she has an un-Indonesian way of thinking and different perceptions,' said the Jakarta Post in an editorial last week. Meanwhile Murdiono, State Secretary in the Indonesian government, said: 'It is a personal matter of the person concerned and there is no need to link it to her position as a former wife of the first Indonesian president.'
Mrs Sukarno was born Naoko Nemoto in Japan and was working as a hostess in the Copacabana nightclub in Tokyo when Sukarno met her. He was 58, married already, and renowned for his womanising across Asia. She was 19. Sukarno was smitten, renamed her Ratna Sari Dewi - the Essence of a Jewel of a Princess - and brought her back to Jakarta as his new wife and first lady.
What Sukarno did not realise was that his meeting with her was not a coincidence: in fact it had been set up by a Japanese businessman, Masao Kubo, who was later to use his connection with Mrs Sukarno to boost his company's commercial position in Indonesia. But she turned out to be more than just a secret weapon for a Japanese company: she quickly learnt how to make the system work for her as well and became involved in politics and business. However, in 1965, during the failed Communist coup that eventually toppled Sukarno and plunged the country into a frenzy of bloodletting, she was sent out of the country for her safety. She did not see Sukarno again until he was dying in 1970. Since then she has lived the high life in Paris and New York, with a spell in Jakarta in the 1980s. The champagne party incident last year, during which she broke a glass in the face of Victoria Osmena, the granddaughter of a past President of the Philippines, cost Mrs Sukarno five weeks in jail - and Ms Osmena 37 stitches.
Her latest dose of controversy costs just 4,800 yen ( pounds 30) and was photographed in Paris, Tokyo, Kyoto and Indonesia. 'I believe those who love and understand the arts will not blame me for posing nude,' she told a magazine interviewer days before the Indonesian attorney general banned the book. 'My late husband himself was an artist,' she said.
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