Lockdown Lecture #4
PoWs and Commemoration: Japan

Delivered by Mahon Murphy, Associate Professor of International History at the Graduate School of Law, Kyoto University, Japan.

During the First World War Japan housed around 4,800 German and Austro-Hungarian POWs in various camps across the country. These prisoners were mainly captured after Japan’s successful siege of the German concession of Qingdao (Tsingtao) on the Shandong Peninsula, China. My short lecture discusses the background to the POWs capture, explaining how Germans were in possession of concessions in China at the outbreak of the war and Japan’s motivations in electing to fight on the Entente side after war was declared in Europe. I then discuss the treatment of POWs held in Japan during the war, looking at camp conditions, camp regulations and the prisoners’ interactions with the local Japanese population.

The main focus of this talk will centre around the camp of Bando in Tokushima prefecture on the island of Shikoku. While this camp was not representative of camps as a whole in Japan it occupies and important place in the popular memory of the First World War in Japan. Purpose built and opened in 1917, it held a little over 1,000 POWs or around one fifth of all POWs held in Japan during the war. Bando became a model camp with ample room for prisoners to engage in agriculture, engineering, arts and crafts and sport. It also became a site of cultural interaction with prisoners taking an interest in Japanese culture as well as introducing their own to Japan. The main legacy of which is the performance of Beethoven’s ninth symphony in the camp which has since gone to be country-wide tradition.

The site of the former Bando camp itself is an important site of memory in that it houses a memorial stone to all those POWs who died in Japan during the war. With the opening of the ‘The Naruto German House’ it is has also become a site of commemoration and important facet of Japan’s popular culture. (see the link for the Naruto German House Homepage (Japanese only) http://doitsukan.com/).

Mahon Murphy is an Associate Professor of International History at the Graduate School of Law at Kyoto University. He received his PhD in 2015 from the London School of Economics and Political Science where he studied under David Stevenson and Heather Jones. His PhD was awarded the German Historical Institute London annual thesis prize in 2015. His first book, Colonial Captivity during the First World War: Internment and the Fall of the German Empire, 1914 -1919 (Cambridge University Press) was published in 2017. He was a member of the HERA funded project Making War Mapping Europe: Militarized Cultural Encounters 1792-1920 where he researched and published on the British military of occupation of Jerusalem 1917-1920. He is a region editor for the British Journal for Military History. Since moving to Japan, he has been a member of the research group Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees from the Viewpoint of East Asia, along with Naraoka Sochi and Kajiwara Katsuhiko. They are currently working on an edited volume on Japan’s treatment of prisoners of war from the Meiji Restoration until the Second World War. His most recent publication (2020) ‘The Heimei Maru Incident 1921: Japan’s Diplomatic Intervention in Prisoner of War Repatriation’ was published in The International History Review.