Japanese Art in Australasia During the Second World War

Richard Bullen, Tets Kimura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nowhere other than in war are people’s social lives more insistently determined by their relationship to the objects which represent them, and through which they come to know and define themselves.1

Few Australians and New Zealanders are aware that during the Second World War (1939–45) thousands of Japanese people, and people of Japanese descent, were imprisoned in Australasia. At the outbreak of hostilities with Japan in December 1941, according to Yuriko Nagata, there were more than 560,000 Japanese living in 27 different enemy countries.2 The scale of imprisonment in Australasia was smaller than in the United States of America, where 120,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated; the maximum number of interned ethnic Japanese or part-Japanese in Australia did not exceed 4301, and about 900 in New Zealand—850 prisoners of war (POWs) and around fifty civilians.3 Camps were established in Cowra, Hay (both New South Wales), Tatura (Victoria), Loveday (South Australia), and Featherston (New Zealand), and there were smaller ‘satellite’ camps, such as the Woolenook Wood Camp (South Australia) and at Pahiatua and Somes Island (New Zealand).4 Ethnic Japanese civilians captured in Fiji and Tonga were initially deported to New Zealand camps, and later transferred to Australia; those from elsewhere in Melanesia and Micronesia were deported directly to Australia. In Australia, approximately 100 ethnic Japanese detained were Australian-born,5 including a small number of white and Aboriginal wives of Japanese men.6 Japanese POWs imprisoned in New Zealand were seized in the Solomon Islands. The initial batch of detainees, who arrived at the Featherston camp in September 1942, came from the Japanese labour force, charged with building air bases in the Pacific. The next groups, arriving in November and December 1942, came from the military forces fighting at Guadalcanal. The POWs detained at Cowra and Hay were captured at various battles at different times, such as navel airmen involved in the raids on Darwin in February 1942 and in New Guinea, including at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Members of the Japanese labour force were also imprisoned at Cowra.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-124
Number of pages18
JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Art
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Japanese Art
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • World War 2
  • World War II
  • prison camps
  • internment camps
  • prisoners of war
  • labour camps


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