Thursday, April 19, 2007

Niigata's POW Camps

Two POW camps for Allied,Korean, and Chinese prisoners were in operation in Niigata City from 1943-45. They were known as Camps 15-B and 5-B. Mr. Gregory Hadley, instructor of English and American Cultural Studies at the Niigata Prefectural University, has conducted considerable research into this dark chapter of Niigata City's history. His excellent site can be accessed by searching for "Niigata POW Camp". Hadley makes inaccurate statements, however. He erroneously asserts that Allied prisoners of war represented Niigata City's first significant influx of foreigners. "Gaikokujin" began arriving in the early years of the Meiji Era(1868-1912), with Niigata's designation as a Treaty Port. Moreover, the POW camps were located at what was then the edge of town, and few civilians would have had contact with the prisoners, whereas the traders and missionaries who constituted the bulk of the early foreign visitors commingled with the local populace. The second inaccuracy concerns what Hadley says is a monument honoring the POWs. Located in a small park overlooking the mouth of the Shinano River, Japan's longest waterway, the monument, erected in 1998, is a peace memorial. The inscription opens with an enumeration of the vessels sunk by enemy mines laid in the river and roadstead and is followed by a kind of collective obituary honoring those who died. No mention of the POWs is made until the third paragraph,which tells of foreigners who died while being held in internment and prison camps in the city. Thus, the monument is less about the POWs than an affirmation of the city's commitment to peace. The photos show the location of POW Camp 15-B, now a row of apartment blocks in the Momoyama neighborhood of Yamanoshita. Contrary to Hadley's statement that the city did not officially recognize the existence of the camps until the mid-1990's, a history of Niigata, published in 1989 under city auspices, contains an aerial photo of Camp 15-B. The buildings that housed the prisoners are clearly marked, as is that used by the camp guards. 15-B is described as having held both Chinese and Korean nationals. Curiously, no mention is made of Allied POWs or of Camp 5-B. The peace memorial is shown in the topmost photo.

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