A fellow blogger wrote this fascinating snippet about the art created by WW2 Japanese prisoners of war in New Zealand. My fellow blogger attends a series of very interesting talks for ‘third age’ people in Canterbury (our province) called U3A, dedicated to the stimulation of lifelong learning. https://www.u3anetcant.nz/
Here’s her blog-piece –
7 June 2022 by realruth
The story of the Japanese Prisoners of War who were interned in Featherston in the 1940s is a fascinating one, not well known in Aotearoa. Richard Bullen, the Associate Professor of Japanese Art History at the University of Canterbury gave an engrossing talk about these men and the art they created. 850 Japanese men had been captured and were on their way to Aotearoa before the American forces told our government they were coming.
On 1 September 1942 the N.Z. Government made the decision to house them at Featherston where there had been a World War One military training camp, which was now bare. On 8 September troops were sent to make the area ready, put up tents, etc, and on 12 September the Japanese arrived. They were given old WWI uniforms to wear, including lemon-squeezer hats. Their names and occupations were recorded, but it’s apparent that the names, and probably many of the occupations were false. For all the time they were interned they had no correspondence with their families back in Japan.
The prisoners were expected to join work parties, as allowed under the Geneva Convention, but these ordinary men had no idea their government had signed the Geneva Convention and they resisted the call to work. In 1943 this led to a riot where 48 Japanese and one New Zealander were killed.
Huts were built to replace the tents the prisoners were first housed in, and remnants of building materials were used by them to create artworks, mainly relief sculptures. Their tools were made from wire, nails, and cutlery. They used these nostalgic Japanese pictures to decorate their quarters and to trade with the guards for cigarette tobacco. They also carved some NZEF badges, which were presumably commissioned by guards. Some materials, e.g. coloured paints, were donated to the prisoners by the Red Cross and the Society of Friends (Quakers). Paua shell used for decoration probably came from the same sources, as it was known to have been given to the 20 Japanese civilians housed in a camp at Pahiatua. The chaplain Hessell Troughton established an organised system for making and selling items of art. All the items were well made, especially considering the artists were amateurs, although art was a compulsory subject in all Japanese schools from the 1890s.