Thursday, 21 March 2013

Australian studies and the Cowra breakout

Blog writting is winding down and preparation for classes is ramping up.
This year I am teaching 11 groups of students 8 different subjects.
The biggest class of students is likely to be just under 40.  If I am lucky one or two might be ten or less.

One of the classes I'll be teaching is Australian Studies.
Honestly, it goes in the same basket as Canadian Studies and  I can't imagine who in their right mind would pick it ....   It's up to me (with the assistance my ever helpful, benevolent mother) to come up with the material for it.

I'm trying to pick topics that will both let them know about Australia but also give them a chance to reflect on Japan - indigenous people, immigration, diversity, formation of nation, and world war II...    The war in China is well known, but less talked about is the war in South East Asia and I think probably most Japanese are unaware that places such as Sydney, Newcastle, Darwin, Townsville and Broome were also bombed. I'm looking at both the Cowra Breakout and either Changi or the Thai Burma Railway, but it has been difficult to find Japanese sources in translation.  By sheer chance this article, with anecdotes from a Cowra Breakout survivor turned up in the Japan Times this week.
The full article is at the link below.


·         MAR 17, 2013
Prisoner A: ” ‘Never live to experience the shame of being taken prisoner by the enemy’ … that’s what the Imperial Japanese Military Regulations say, hence there must be no prisoners. So what’s happening here now are the dreams of ghosts” — from “Cowra no Hancho Kaigi” (“Honchos’ Meeting in Cowra”).
Last week in Tokyo’s bohemian Shimokitazawa quarter, I never expected to encounter one of those “ghosts.” Yet there he was at the Suzunari Theater, one of the few survivors of a breakout by Japanese troops from a POW camp in Australia that featured in a play whose premiere I attended there the night before…
Teruo Murakami, who had come from distant Tottori Prefecture to see the play, told me he was sent to the Cowra camp 300 km west of Sydney in New South Wales a few months before the breakout by 1,104 Japanese captives on Aug. 5, 1944.
After seeing service from Korea to China to Rabaul in New Britain (in present-day Papua New Guinea), this nonagenarian recounted being captured by U.S. soldiers there.
“When I was taken to Cowra, I never imagined I would ever see Japan again,” he said. “And actually, when I finally got home my family said a ghost had returned from the war.”
At the camp, Murakami said he’d lived a rather heavenly life, for the most part killing time playing mah-jongg with his hut-mates using pieces they’d fashioned themselves. “Others played games with cards they’d made and some played baseball with bats they carved,” he recounted, seeing in his mind’s eye episodes I’d only watched being acted out on stage.
But if life at Cowra was so easy-going, why did all the prisoners decide to stage their near-suicidal breakout together? It’s this question, above all, that mystifies many beyond these shores. So I asked Murakami for his explanation.
“The prisoners didn’t know how the war was actually going,” he began. “But we had no doubt about the rule that Imperial Japanese troops must not allow themselves to become prisoners of the enemy. So there was no alternative for us except to die, and we agreed to finish our lives that way. Yet because of a basic human instinct, many of the men — including me — didn’t want to die.”
But when the time came, Murakami was fated to find he’d run down a track to a dead end, where he jumped into a ditch as bullets flew around. Soon, Australian soldiers came and took him back to his fire-damaged hut, where he fully expected to be executed for trying to escape. To his astonishment, though, he was set to work cleaning up the mess.
Since then, Murakami has revisited Cowra several times with other survivors, and now he gives lectures to young Japanese, just as he’d talked at length with the play’s cast during their preparations


Rurousha said...

Cowra breakout? Never heard of it. Google!

PS: There's a book called "Japan's Greatest Victory, Britain's Worst Defeat" about Japan's Singapore campaign. It has little to do with Australia, but it's a rare book written by a Japanese author (Colonel Masanobu Tsuji), translated into English.

PPS: Well, there's some Aussie link. It was edited by H.V. Howe, Military Secretary to the Australian Minister for the Army 1940-46.

PPPS: Was that utterly irrelevant information? Ah well. That's what happens when you're thinking of umeshu! :D

Rurousha said...

You've got a VERY heavy teaching load. Good luck! Break a leg! Ganbatte! Vasbyt, uithou en aanhou. (Grit your teeth, hang in there, don't give up.) [Sort of.]

Cecilia said...

The Fall of Singapore was pivotal in the war and the rapid Japanese southward expansion meant Australia had little option but to find an alternative powerful friend with big weapons. I'd be quite interested to read the book.

I need self generate material for 4 classes this year. Can recycle material from last year for most of the rest. Need to get it in order... I feel sick at the thought...

Cecilia said...

If you're up to Australia meets Japan meets WWII meets POW meets dramatization rather than documentary - this is a very good series.

This is from episode three but it has the link to the rest of the series in the comment.