On a fateful night in 1959, the beautiful 19-year old Naoko Nemoto met the 57-year old Sukarno at a hostess bar in Ginza, Tokyo. Originally on a state visit to Japan, Indonesia’s first President was instantly smitten. He persuaded her to move to Indonesia, where they were married not long after. Naoko was Soekarno’s sixth wife.
After converting to Islam, he bestowed upon her the Indonesian name Ratna Sari Dewi Soekarno, meaning “the jewel essence of a goddess.” Since then, Dewi’s life has been nothing short of glitz and glamor.
Dewi Soekarno inspires us with her flawless style and outspoken “no filter” personality. To us, she is equivalent to the Indonesian version of Jackie-O or Imelda Marcos.
After Soekarno’s death in 1970, she lived a jet-setting, and often controversial life in Paris and New York City before returning to Tokyo. In 1992, she was detained for 34 days in Aspen, Colorado for slashing a socialite and heiress’ face with a champagne glass after an altercation at a party. A couple years later at the ripe age of 53, she even published a book of photos, many of them nude.
On this 70th anniversary of the independence of Indonesia, we are reminded of why we truly adore her: for being a strong minded and opinionated woman in a cultural environment that highly regards cool, calm collectivity. In an interview, she once commented about why Soekarno chose her to be his wife: “people assume he chose me because I was pretty, but I don’t think so. I think it was my character, because I’ve never been afraid of anybody. Imagine standing on top of Mount Fuji, unable to see the ground for all the cloud. He was surrounded by people concerned only with pleasing him. I was very straightforward, had my own opinions, loved history, spoke English. I was a very unusual young Japanese woman.”*
Dewi is now a philanthropist and business woman living in Tokyo who frequently appears on Japanese television. She is commonly referred to as “Dewi Fujin,” meaning “Madame Dewi.”
Of course, we hope to see more of Dewi’s ever-colorful personality for many years to come.