In March 1942, Japan captured the Netherlands East Indies and began a military occupation advertised as liberation. For the mass of the Indonesian people, early hopes of a better life were soon dashed amid discrimination, exploitation, deprivation, and ultimately starvation. In retrospect, it was easy to disregard the depth and significance of the hopes that had accompanied the Japanese arrival, both among Japanese and Indonesians. Yet looking forward from 1942 rather than backward from 1945, the envisioned potential of this particular exchange extended far beyond the conventional. In occupied Java, a diverse array of people from the middle ranks of both societies came forward to propagate Japan’s occupation as a shared, brotherly project to lead Asia to a bright modern future through a restoration of its indigenous culture and spirit. As in other colonial and military occupations, behind the façade of unity, their interests and agendas were hardly unified—not only as colonizer and colonized, but even amongst themselves. And as in other occupations, the power balance was asymmetrical. Yet to a degree reflecting the unprecedented, “world-historical” turn towards a post-Western and even postcolonial future that Japan’s sudden advent in Southeast Asia appeared to herald—along with the unprecedented opportunity for themselves and their nations that this appeared to present—they seized upon this project with a remarkable zeal. Their experience highlights a transnational story of Japan’s wartime interaction with Asia yet to be told, with social and cultural implications much deeper, broader, more ambiguous and longer-lasting than hitherto recognized.