(英語の後に日本語が続きます。) War time events in Australia and Japan brought about an otherwise unlikely connection between Joetsu and Cowra, NSW, Australia. In 2003, the mayors of Cowra and Joetsu signed a Peace and Friendship Agreement.

I have described the Naoetsu side of the relationship in “The Naoetsu POW Camp”, and development of the relations between the cities in “The Peace Memorial Park – Naoetsu”. Following are the events that took place in Cowra that eventually led to the Peace and Friendship Agreement.

During the 2nd World War many residents from the Axis nations (Japan, Germany and Italy) living in Australia or sent to Australia by allied countries were interned in Australia. To accomodate the internees and a large number of POWs, Australia created a total of 28 POW and internment camps. The camps eventually held more than 18,000 POWs and internees. The number of Japanese POWs reached a total of 2223.

The Cowra No. 12 POW camp was one of 7 POW camps in New South Wales and its construction began in 1941. The camp was initially used to house Italian POWs.

Cowra No. 12 POW camp

Japanese prisoners started arriving from January 1943 and by June 1944 when the camp held more than 1000 Japanese prisoners the camp had become seriously overcrowded. The relationship between the Australian guards and Japanese POWs was tense at best. Much of this was due to the inability of both to understand each other, a combination of language and cultural differences. When the Japanese prisoners got wind of a plan to transfer part of the group to a different location, to alleviate overcrowding but also to address unrest among Japanese POWs, an attempted breakout occurred on August 5, 1944 that became known as the “Cowra breakout”. Much has been written about it already, so I’ll be brief:

The breakout

A little after midnight a bugle was sounded. The bugler was Toyoshima Hajime, Australia’s first Japanese war prisoner. A group of 545 prisoners tried to scale the fence, armed with no more than baseball bats and improvised weapons. The Australian guards sent warning shots over their heads at first but started shooting at the prisoners when they attacked the watch towers. In the end 231 prisoners were killed — including Toyoshima — many as a result of violence inflicted on themselves and 108 were wounded. The prisoners who managed to escape were all recaptured within 10 days. Japanese officers had not been involved in planning of the break-out and did not participate.

The morning after the breakout. Prisoners had used blankets to scale the fence.

What motivated the Japanese POWs?

The breakout attempt had absolutely no prospect of succeeding in any way whatsoever. The motivation for the Japanese prisoners to do so is found in the Japanese Army’s Field Service Code that instructed soldiers to never subject themselves to the humiliation of capture by remaining alive.

The Japanese Army’s Field Service Code (戦陣訓 – Senjinkun) explained the ethics of a soldier and lessons for the battle­field. It instructed soldiers to never subject themselves – and by extension their families — to the humiliation of capture by remaining alive. In other words, death was regarded as more honorable than being taken prisoner and viewed as the only option for soldiers in defeat. It explains why many prisoners did not want to disclose their real names and often gave a fictitious name after being captured. However, it also explains why it became almost unavoidable for the Japanese POWs in Cowra to attempt regaining their honor by staging a suicidal breakout.

Four Australian guards lost their lives and four were wounded. It is noteworthy that the Japanese prisoners were under orders not to attack civilians.

The prisoners who died in the breakout were buried in a specially created Japanese war cemetery in Cowra.

The Cowra camp was closed in 1947 when the last Japanese and Italian prisoners were repatriated.

 The Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Center

After the war the cemetery had been maintained by members of the Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL) but use of the land was granted to Japan in 1963. Remains of Japanese soldiers and internees from other locations in Australia were transferred to the Cowra cemetery. The cemetry was officially opened on November 22, 1964. Cowra now is the only Japanese war cemetery in Australia.

In 1971 the Cowra Tourism Development proposed construction of a Japanese garden.

This project, named the Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Center, was realized with financial support from both sides and was based on a design for an Edo-style garden by the well-known Japanese garden designer Ken Nakajima.  

The Cowra-Joetsu city relationship

Cowra has a special relationship with all of Japan because of its Japanese war cemetery. But it also has a special relationship with Naoetsu, now part of the city of Joetsu. One of Japan’s most notorious POW camps was located in Naoetsu and 60 of the 291 Australian soldiers sent there did not survive (please see my blog post “The Naoetsu POW Camp”).

In 1989, Tony Mooney – on behalf of the RSL – contacted Joetsu city with a suggestion to develop a memorial park in Naoetsu in order to promote peace and reconciliation. This park was completed and dedicated in 1995.

Naoetsu’s Peace Memorial Park

The Peace and Friendship Agreement that was signed by Cowra and Joetsu in 2003 was intended to promote peace and friendship but also to explore economic opportunities and promote visits by students and citizens

Atsuko and Roger Moore with the Cowra Mayor and Cowra school children

International exchanges have been shelved due to Covid but the relationship is alive as evidenced by the recent donation of four cherry trees to the Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Center by an Australian/Japanese couple (see photo above) with many years of residence in Japan.

Joetsu and Cowra are both anxious to re-start the exchanges that should help in remembering the historical aspects of the relationship as well as point at their shared vision for a peaceful future.

Japanese War Cemetry, Cowra










脱走の試みは、成功する見込みが全くないものであった。日本人捕虜の動機は、日本陸軍の戦陣訓にある「生きて虜囚の辱(はずかしめ)を受けず、死して罪禍の汚名を残すこと勿(なか)れ (= 生き永らえて捕虜になるよりも死を選べ)」という規定にある。






戦後、この墓地はオーストラリア退役軍人連盟 (RSL)のメンバーによって管理されていたが、1963年、土地の使用が日本に許可された。オーストラリア国内の他の場所にあった日本兵や抑留者の遺骨は、カウラ墓地に移された。1964年11月22日、正式に開園し、現在、オーストラリアで唯一の日本人戦没者墓地となっている。





1989年、トニー・ムーニー氏はRSL (退役軍人連盟)を代表して上越市に連絡し、平和と和解を促進するために直江津に記念公園を建設することを提案した。この公園は1995年に完成した。


現在 両市の国際交流はコロナ禍のために見送られているが、友好関係は続いている。というのも、最近、日本に長年住んでいるオーストラリア人と日本人の夫婦(写真参照)がカウラ日本庭園・文化センターに4本の桜を寄贈したのだ。


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