Australia-Japan Research Project

AustraliaJapan Research Project at the Australian War Memorial
The human face of war
OKADA Seizo and James Benson: A Japanese war correspondent meets a POW missionary

It was after his return from the Owen Stanley Range when OKADA, a Japanese war correspondent, met an English missionary, James Benson. Benson was working an Anglican mission in Gona when the Japanese troops landed there. He was captured and interned as a POW in Sanananda. OKADA could speak English well and did not have any problem communicating with Benson. In his memoir, Prisoner's base and home again (1957), Benson wrote that he was quite surprised to learn about OKADA's views on the war in their conversations.

… I have been talking to Okada only a little while before he said, quite unexpectedly:
"I feel it is impossible for Japan to win the war; and what a horrible prospect it would be for the world if she did!"
I replied cautiously, uncertain of how far I could trust him. He noticed that, and said:
"Please believe that what I say is genuine. I am no secret police spy. I am an honest man; a writer, who hates all that militarism stands for. Militarism must go." (p.71)

Benson was worried for OKADA as the reporter spoke aloud of his strong detestation for militarism, and the policemen were not too far away from them. Benson wrote:
I said, "But if these military police should hear you talking to me like this?" With a significant sweep of the forefinger across his throat, he said "Yes, I would get that; but I am always careful they don't hear me. What angers me most is that I am not allowed to write what I think. But when the war is over, my how I shall write!"

After Benson was transferred to the military police prison in Rabaul, OKADA looked him up in December 1942. OKADA made an arrangement with the police to allow Benson to wash, and gave him a towel, soap and tooth brush. Benson appreciated OKADA's kindness. They vowed they would get in touch again if they lived through the war.

In March 1946, OKADA received a letter from Benson via GHQ. In the meantime, OKADA won the prestigious Naoki Prize in 1944 with a short story, "Nyuginia sangaku-sen" (The mountain battles in New Guinea) which was based on his experience in accompanying the South Seas Force in their attack on Port Moresby. In spite of winning the prize, OKADA claimed what was published was not the same as the original story as the concluding chapter which described the Force's fateful retreat was struck out by the censors and not published.

A typed manuscript of an English translation of OKADA's work, "Lost troops", which was published in a Japanese monthly journal, Bungei shunju, with a foreword and epilogue written by Benson is kept in the Private Record Collection at the Australian War Memorial. (AWM MSS0732). The attached records in the file show that there were attempts made to publish the manuscript in English. Although the English book did not materialise, the manuscript and its content demonstrates that a meaningful relationship existed between the Japanese journalist and the English Missionary in Sanananda and Rabaul in the midst of the war.

Contributed by Keiko Tamura (AJRP)

Sources
James Benson, Prisoner's base and home again, London: Robert Hale, 1957, p. 30.

OKADA Seizô, "Lost troops" (AWM) MSS0732.

Printed on 11/22/2019 12:53:12 AM