Statues of Peace and Friendship

(英語の後に日本語が続きます。) Tokyo POW Camp #4 branch, Naoetsu could have easily turned into “the camp that never was” – a fate suffered by almost all of the POW camps located in Japan — had it not been for the initiative of a small group of Naoetsu citizens who conducted their efforts through the “Council for the Creation of a Peace and Friendship Monument”.

Japan collectively focused on its reconstruction and subjects like war and POWs were subjects that most people preferred to put behind them. It has taken time for Japan to acknowledge what took place in POW camps and particularly in Naoetsu in 1942-1945.  

The repatriated POWs mostly preferred to get on with their lives and other than the Yokohama war tribunals there was no further interaction between Australian POWs and Naoetsu until one of them, Theo Lee sent a letter to the principal of the Naoetsu High School in 1978, inquiring about the camp and about Naoetsu. This was an important first step towards some form of reconciliation. His letter was accompanied by some books about Australian flora and fauna. It started development of a relationship between former POWs, relatives of former camp guards and citizens of Naoetsu that led to the creation of the Naoetsu Peace Memorial Park in 1995.


In 1978 first letter from Theo Lee to the principal of Naoetsu High School. Further correspondence led to the visit by Mr. and Mrs. Lee in 1982 to Naoetsu.

In 1983, Jack Mudie, a former POW visited Naoetsu.

In May, 1988, a memorial service was held at the site of the former POW camp under the auspices of the Cowra-Japan Society. Frank Hole, a former POW had brought and presented a plaque commemorating the 60 Australians who died there. For several years this plaque was kept at the Joetsu City Hall but in 1995 it was incorporated in the Peace Memorial Park.

In July, 1993, a group of eight local residents of Joetsu launched a plan to erect a permanent memorial on the site of the former POW camp to honor the victims and to bring reconciliation. After gaining official backing from the City authorities, a Council for the Creation of a Peace and Friendship Monument was set up, presided by Sakuji Sato, former Mayor of Naoetsu. Fund-raising was started, the landowner was persuaded to sell the land, and contacts were established with the Australia-Japan Foundation and Australian ex-POWs and their families.

In July, 1995 Jack Mudie visited Naoetsu again.

On October 8, 1995, in a ceremony attended by Australian Ambassador Ashton Calvert and 33 Australian former POWs and bereaved family members, the Peace Memorial Park was officially dedicated. Almost all the bereaved families of the executed guards also attended.

From Naoetsu, you can just see the Park, across the Seki River near the port. A grassy area, two sculptures and two memorial stones. Joetsu city added a building in 2000, housing meeting rooms and a small museum on the 2nd floor.

The focal point of the park is the Statues of Peace and Friendship designed by the sculptor Tetsuji Okamoto, who was born in Joetsu.

Peace Memorial Park across the water to the left
Overview of the Peace Memorial Park

During the planning phase of the memorial park, controversy arose over the council’s plan to incorporate cenotaphs for the sixty Australians who died in the camp as well as for the eight Japanese guards executed after the war alongside each other on the pedestal of the main monument. The controversy was resolved by erecting separate cenotaphs for the sixty Australians and for the eight guards to either side of the monument. At the request of the families of the executed guards, there was an inscription on the cenotaph reading “Eight Stars in the Peaceful Sky”, instead of the names of individual guards.

The Naoetsu Peace Memorial Park is one of the very few memorials in Japan acknowledging the suffering of foreign prisoners of war in Japan and Japanese responsibility for it.

After dedication of the Peace Memorial in 1995, the activities of the Council for the Creation of a Peace and Friendship Monument were taken over in 1996 by the Japan and Australia Society of Joetsu.

There was a subsequent visit in 2000 from the Australian side, sponsored by Japan’s MoFA. In 2002, a representative of Australia’s RSL visited Joetsu, followed by a visit from the president of the RSL the following year.

In 2003, Mayor Konoura and a group of citizens from Naoetsu visited Cowra and on that occasion a Peace and Friendship Agreement was exchanged between Joetsu and Cowra, connecting the wartime experiences of both cities.

Joetsu and Cowra are both anxious to re-start the exchanges that have been halted as a result of the Covid pandemic. These exchanges should in the first place serve as a reminder not to repeat the mistakes that led to war. Or, as a memorial stone in the garden of the temple (Kakushinji) where the ashes were kept of 60 Australians POWs who died in Naoetsu, beautifully sums up the pointlessness of war:

“Among the dead there are neither enemies nor allies”

平和記念公園, 直江津

直江津捕虜収容所も、「平和友好記念像を建てる会」を中心とした市民の活動がなければ-日本にあるほとんどの捕虜収容所がそうであったように ―「なかったこと」にされかねない場所であった。















その後、2000年に日本の外務省が主催したオーストラリア側の直江津訪問があった。2002年にはオーストラリアのRSL (退役軍人連盟)代表が上越を訪れ、翌年にはRSL会長の訪問があった。



2 thoughts on “The PEACE MEMORIAL PARK – Naoetsu



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