Discover Nikkei

No. 42 Japanese Australians during the war - Reading "Records of the Internment of Japanese Australians"

It is well known that with the outbreak of the Pacific War, Japanese and Japanese-Americans in the United States were forcibly isolated and placed in internment camps. It is also well known that a similar policy was implemented in Canada, although not to the same extent as the internment in the United States, and it is easy to imagine what would have happened if it had been mentioned.

However, what is little known is the fact that similar internment camps were also set up in Australia, where people of Japanese descent (including Japanese nationals) were interned.

In the past few columns, I have taken up the novel "After Darkness," set mainly in wartime Australia and featuring a Japanese protagonist, and introduced interviews with the Japanese-Australian author . The novel features Japanese-Canadian internment camps as a backdrop, but I would like to trace what those camps were really like based on "Records of the Internment of Japanese-Canadians in Australia" (Kobunken), published in 2002.

According to the author profile in the book's colophon, author Nagata Yuriko was "born in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture in 1949, graduated from the English Department of Meiji Gakuin University in 1971, studied at Indiana State University in the United States for a master's degree in applied linguistics in 1973, and obtained her master's degree from the same university in 1975. In 1980, she moved permanently to Australia. In 1993, she obtained a PhD in History (Literature) from the University of Adelaide in Australia, and is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Language and Comparative Culture at the University of Queensland, Australia."

This book is the Japanese translation of a book originally published in Australia in 1996 as "Unwanted Aliens—Japanese Interment in Australian During World War 2" (University of Queensland Press). It is a valuable record, acclaimed as "the first study to reveal the full extent of the internment of Japanese people in Australia."

According to the author, there are few official Japanese documents about the internment of Japanese people in Australia, so he relied on records from the National Archives of Australia and the Australian War Memorial for most of the facts, as well as interviews he conducted since 1985 with both former internees and supervisors.

The book interviewed 70 detainees in Australia, Japan and Taiwan, and also 17 prison guards and soldiers who worked at the camps at the time.

The former detainees and their families interviewed, most of whom were second-generation Japanese, had a wide range of reactions. Some did not want to talk.

"The fact that they were treated like 'criminals' simply because they were of Japanese descent has left deep psychological scars. For the second generation, who already had an Australian identity at the time and grew up thinking they had no connection to Japan, the internment by the Australian government meant the deprivation of their 'citizenship'."

In this respect, they are probably the same as Japanese Americans who experienced internment in the United States. However, unlike in the United States, Japanese people were a minority, and they were less conscious of their Japanese ancestry through their communities than in the United States, so the fact that they were Japanese ancestry must have felt much more significant.

Unknown War, Detention

The subtitle of this book is "The Unknown Pacific War." In Japan, when people think of the Pacific War, they generally think of the war with the United States, which began with the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, there is little talk about the fact that it involved many Asian countries and caused enormous damage, and there are probably many Japanese who do not even know that they fought against Australia.

"The Unknown Pacific War" refers to the aspects of the war that involved the battle between Japan and Australia, and the internment of Japanese people.

With regard to the "history of war" centered on one's own country or the great powers, a book entitled "The Secret History of the Pacific War: Japan's War as Seen from Neighboring Countries and Colonies" (Yamazaki Masahiro, Asahi Shinsho) was recently published as a reflection on this. It also goes into detail about Australia. On December 8, 1941, when Japan declared war on the Commonwealth countries, Australia also declared war on Japan, and as part of the Commonwealth, fought against the Japanese army on the front lines in the Malay Peninsula and elsewhere. However, in February of the following year, 1942, the northern Australian city of Darwin was hit by the first air raid by the Japanese army, killing 243 people.

Air raids and other attacks continued after this, and in May 1943, an unarmed hospital ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine, killing 268 people. Anger towards Japan grew in Australia. Naturally, this anger was directed at Japanese people in the country. This continued even after the war ended, and whether they were aware of it or not, anyone with Japanese ancestry would carry the shadow of being "Japanese" with them.

The complex detention of “Japanese”

So, what kind of people were the Japanese people in Australia, and what was their history? Records of the Internment of Japanese in Australia examines the transition of Japanese immigrants in Australia and how Australia responded to them.

Most of them came to Japan in the early Meiji period to harvest pearl oysters, but some came as contract laborers on sugar cane plantations, and others came for trade or local business purposes. Most came as migrant workers, but as with immigrants to other countries, they married, started families, and eventually had children and gradually settled down.

However, the war changed things. Italians and Germans in Australia were also interned, but only those whose detention was deemed necessary, whereas all Japanese were interned. A total of 4,301 people were interned, of which 3,160 were transferred from nearby areas such as New Caledonia through arrangements with other Allied governments.

Among them were Taiwanese people, as well as Koreans who were interned. The Japanese were interned in three locations: Tatsura, Hey, and Loveday.

Among the Japanese people there was a wide variety of ethnicities, including second-generation Japanese born in Australia to Japanese parents, and those with one Japanese parent and one Australian parent. Within the camps, conflicts arose between the Australian-born second-generation Japanese and the Japanese, and between Taiwanese and Japanese, and Taiwanese people were sometimes discriminated against.

After the war, those who had been interned were released, but those who held Japanese nationality were deported to Japan. This resulted in families being separated in some cases. Some of those who had been interned without their families from outside Australia were deported to Japan rather than to the countries where their families were.

This book reveals the reality of the internment of Japanese people through the testimonies of detainees based on official records, and also makes readers consider what it means to be an immigrant and of Japanese descent in Australia.It is also a compelling piece of non-fiction that captures a truly unknown side of the Pacific War.

Another book exploring the relationship between Japan and Australia over the Pacific War, in which Nagata is also listed as a contributor, is Japan and Australia's Pacific War: Questioning the Border of Memory (edited by Kamata Mayumi, Ochanomizu Shobo, published in 2012).

© 2024 Ryusuke Kawai

Australia concentration camps education imprisonment incarceration Japanese prisoners prisoners of war teaching Unwanted Aliens (book) World War II World War II camps Yuriko Nagata
About this series

What is Nikkei? Ryusuke Kawai, a non-fiction writer who translated "No-No Boy," covers a variety of topics related to Nikkei, including people, history, books, movies, and music, focusing on his own involvement with Nikkei.

Learn More
About the Author

Journalist and non-fiction writer. Born in Kanagawa Prefecture. Graduated from the Faculty of Law at Keio University, he worked as a reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun before going independent. His books include "Yamato Colony: The Men Who Left Japan in Florida" (Shunpousha). He translated the monumental work of Japanese American literature, "No-No Boy" (Shunpousha). The English version of "Yamato Colony," won the 2021 Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Award for the best book on ethnic groups or social issues from the Florida Historical Society.

(Updated November 2021)

Explore more stories! Learn more about Nikkei around the world by searching our vast archive. Explore the Journal
We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More