Yasuko Hassall Kobayashi
Ritsumeikan University, Osaka, Japan
‘A paradise is Java, a hell is Burma. And New Guinea is the hell that no one can return from even after one’s death’. This was a commonly used phrase by conscripted soldiers of the Japanese Empire. In this place worse than hell, New Guinea, at the end of WWII, there were around 140,000 Japanese Imperial Army soldiers, of whom approximately 100,000 were in Rabaul under Australian jurisdiction (Tanaka, 2000). These Japanese prisoners of war assumed that their turn for repatriation would be last, due to their long distance from Japan. While waiting for repatriation those POWs did not just sit and despair at their future but attempted to live their lives meaningfully, even in captivity. They started by building their own housing in the camps. This paper will explore those Japanese POWs’ lives in the camps, as a process of acclimatizing themselves to their new environment in New Guinea, by analyzing them not as combatants but as migrants. In so doing, this paper will reveal tales of Japanese soldiers’ lives without reducing them to tales of nationalism or survivor’s shame.
Yasuko Hassall Kobayashi is Associate Professor at Ritsumeikan University, Japan. Her research interests include transpacific histories, and her current project is: “Soldiers as mobile subjects: Japanese POWs’ Experiences in PNG during and after WWII” (funded by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science).