Remembering the war in New Guinea -

Japanese and New Guinean memories of wartime experiences at Rabaul (Symposium paper)
Panel name: Case study: Rabaul
This page was contributed by Dr IWAMOTO Hiromitsu (Australian National University, Canberra)
Japanese and New Guineans lived in proximity at Rabaul from February 1945 to mid-1946. When the war ended in August 1945, approximately 100,000 Japanese lived among about 20,000 locals in the areas of Rabaul, Kokopo, and surrounding villages on the Gazelle Peninsula. Memories of both Japanese and New Guinean residents of Rabaul are by no means uniform, as their experiences varied according to time, location, and the types of units in which soldiers served. While most villagers kept their distance from the Japanese to avoid contact, the Japanese recruited some New Guineans to work as labourers or police boys; some children attended Japanese schools, while some New Guineans were tortured, imprisoned, and executed. Similarly, Japanese experiences varied according to the kind of forces soldiers belonged to. This paper introduces the diversity of memories of both Japanese soldiers and New Guineans, focusing on how those two different races remembered each other.
1. Japanese memories

Most Japanese had no idea about what Rabaul would be like when they landed. A famous Zero fighter pilot, SAKAI Saburo, remembered his first impression when he was informed of his transfer to Rabaul: as he had never heard of Rabaul, he felt as if he was going to be exiled to a far-away island. [1] Similarly, most army soldiers who were sent to Rabaul did not know its location. [2]

After the Japanese landing in the early stages of the war, some Japanese were impressed by the beautiful landscape of Rabaul, which had a nice township, exotic coconut trees on the hills, houses with red roofs, and a quiet bay. [3] But they did not entertain favourable feelings towards the local people, and showed a racism based on ignorance of New Guinean culture and society. For most Japanese, it was the first time they had seen New Guineans, and probably their first feelings were ones of amazement at seeing people who were totally different to them. Sub-Lieutenant MOJI Chikanori of the Kure 5th Special Naval Landing Party recalled his astonishment at the local people’s appearance – their black skin, red loincloths, and red teeth, stained by chewing betel nuts. [4] The following impression of Flight Sergeant YAMAGUCHI Keizo of the 201st Air Unit was a common one; he made this observation when he visited a local village.

The village showed no sign of civilization. There were seven or eight houses which were so miserably built and worse than a doghouse. Men and women were close to naked, and they just covered their waists with withered grass. Their black skin looked like they had a skin disease; it looked dry and had no gloss......How on earth does such a miserable life exit in the 20th century? I could not believe my eyes. I felt no lust whatsoever, even though I was looking at women’s naked bodies. [5]

But first impressions gave way to more positive ones as more contact with local people occurred – although I have to emphasise that New Guineans never occupy a central place in most Japanese memoirs. Indifference to local people is a common characteristic in most Japanese writings on the war in Papua New Guinea. [6] And even those who wrote about villagers only extended their descriptions to a few paragraphs, or at most a few pages out of an entire book. Lack of Japanese reference to New Guineans can be mainly attributed to orders that prohibited them from mingling with local residents. [7] Therefore, most Japanese had few chances to develop relations with New Guineans, except for those who were assigned duties that involved contact with villagers, such as the staff of the Minseibu (Civil Administration Unit) or medical staff who treated villagers.

Although they are few in number, recollections about bartering with villagers and friendly villagers can be frequently found. Japanese cigarettes were popular among villagers, and Japanese bartered them for local produce such as tomatoes, papayas, and bananas. [8] According to Second-Lieutenant YANAGIBA Yutaka of the 144th Infantry Regiment of the South Seas Force (Nankai Shitai), some villagers were friendly to Japanese from the beginning of Japanese occupation. He wrote:

Kanakas of Rabaul and jet black Solomon boys started collaborating with Japanese from the day after we landed. They said, ‘We like Japanese better than Australians.’ Officers and men of the South Seas Force worked with them shoulder to shoulder, shook hands and ate together. For those who had been discriminated against [by Australians], those small things pleased them so deeply. I do not think they were flattering us when they said ‘they liked Japanese better [than Australians]’. [9]

OKUMIYA Masatake, then a young staff officer of the 2nd Air Unit at Rabaul, had a special interest in local people because, he thought, the success of Japanese operations depended on their support. [10] He observed indigenes more closely than most other writers, and his recollections about villagers are more detailed and substantial than those of others. In his book, OKUMIYA details the actions of a friendly headman who visited OKUMIYA’s unit after hearing that the unit was to retreat to Truk. The headman came with 40 other men to present a farewell dance. To thank them for their friendship, a Japanese commander gave them sake. But what impressed OKUMIYA was the headman’s manner when he distributed the sake among his men. He gave the sake to the young men first, and it ran out before the old men and the headman had a chance to taste. According to OKUMIYA, the headman displayed no annoyance, but the Japanese commander was embarrassed and quickly ordered that more sake be brought out. OKUMIYAadmired the leadership of the headman, who treated all his men equally, and he praised the young men for their respect for their leader. [11]

Unlike most veterans, MIZUKI Shigeru, then a private in the 229th Infantry Regiment of the 38th Division, dedicated a whole book to his friendship with New Guineans. MIZUKI is now one of the best known comic artists in postwar Japan. In Topetoro tono 50 nen (Fifty years with Topetoro), he relates the development of his friendship with a Tolai boy, Topetoro. [12] Their friendship began when his unit stayed in a camp near a village called Toma, on top of the hills behind the town of Rabaul. He returned to the field hospital there after the abortive operations at Zungen area from June 1944 to March 1945, in which he lost his left arm. In an interview with me, he explained how their friendship developed:

Villagers used to live in a nice spot on top of the hills. Australian [planes] did not attack their villages. I used to visit their villages quite often. But when I went to their place, [Allied] planes used to appear in the sky. Then the villagers told me to go back to my camp. In fact, when I was walking alone on the trail, I was often strafed by the planes. I was wondering why they shot at me. They said that even if only one man was walking, the pilot could see him. They shot at me even when I was alone. Then I tried to be careful not to attract their attention. But they did not shoot villagers. So Japanese were hiding in holes. The Japanese killed a village chieftain, so villagers did not like us. But personally, I made good friends with them. When I first visited a village, I saw an old woman and I smiled at her, and she smiled back. She welcomed me. But I think now that she just sympathized with me, because I had only one arm. Now I think she just wanted to give me some food or something. Her name was Ikarian. After the war, I kept up a friendship with her children, and I realise now that she just sympathized with me then. Generally villagers were not cooperative with Japanese. But out of sympathy, she was nice to me. Then I started visiting her village more often, and I became like a member of her family. They looked after me well. They gave me fruit, and when I was sick in bed with malaria, they came to see me in the camp. When the war finished, they told me to run away from the army and come to live in their village. They make gardens, and their gardens are ready for harvesting very quickly. They told me that they would make a garden for me and build a house for me. They said they would look after me. So they told me to live with them. Ikarian told me to escape from the army. They were so keen. As I used to go to their village many times and had seen their life style, which looked very easy, much easier than the life in Japan. I used to think that village life was nice. And they were so keen to persuade me to escape from the army. I thought that it was not a bad idea. I thought I would not have to work so much. I could stay in bed all the time. I seriously thought about leaving the army there. I talked with an army surgeon. I sought his advice, explaining about the villagers' invitation. He was very surprised. He was too annoyed to answer my question, but told me that I should see my parents in Japan first; then I could decide what to do. I followed his advice and went back to Japan. But when I went back, Japan was so chaotic under the rule of MacArthur. I had no time to think about returning to Rabaul. I had to live in Japan.[13]

MIZUKI wrote two other books about his wartime experiences at Rabaul— Mizuki Shigeru no rabauru senki (An account of war at Rabaul by MIZUKI Shigeru) and Mizuki Shigeru no musume ni kataru otosan no senki (An account of war passed from father to daughter by MIZUKI Shigeru). In both books, his friendships with New Guineans are related in detail. But MIZUKI by no means generalizes his experiences as common to Japanese at Rabaul. In his books and in my interview with him, he emphasized that he could not conform to army life. He often talked back to his superiors, and he was slapped on the face all the time. And he was the only soldier in his unit who broke the order which prohibited Japanese from visiting villages.

Probably because of his unique character, he was able to observe the relations between Japanese and villagers relatively impartially. He claimed that villagers feared the Japanese and did not like them to come to their villages. And Japanese generally did not consider villagers as human, looking down on them as inferior. In addition, most Japanese did not speak Pidgin English, and villagers did not understand Japanese. MIZUKI also did not know Pidgin, but he says he could understand their feelings because he opened his mind to them. He refers to villagers as ‘Dojin’, which is a Japanese word literally meaning ‘earth man’ and normally is used with contempt. But he says he uses ‘dojin’ with respect because their lifestyle was in such harmony with nature. [14]

As MIZUKI himself commented in my interview with him, his friendship with New Guineans was an exceptional case. In fact, no other veterans have written of New Guineans with MIZUKIs strong nostalgia. However, MIZUKIs memoirs are often used in reference to Japanese relations with New Guineans because of his high public visibility and popularity.

Apart from MIZUKI, other Japanese who had a close relationship with villagers were the staff of the Minseibu. The Minseibu was responsible for administering civil affairs in the occupied areas in order to support military operations, and it maintained direct contact with New Guineans. [15] KAJIYAMA Ryuji, then a staff member of the General Affairs Section, related that their main mission was protection of villagers.

I was in charge of General Affairs. With cooperation of Mr. IWANAGA from the Department of Domestic Affairs of the Japanese government, first I was appointed a cadet naval officer. With Mr. Tashiro, who had lived in Rabaul before the war and worked for the navy during the war, I visited villages and attended meetings with luluais and tultuls. The Minseibu was a section aimed at protecting natives in order to make them cooperate with us. Our main assignment was to request the natives to be our allies. So whatever problems happened to them, we used to support them and to speak for them. [16]

KAJIYAMAs recollections give a good indication of how villagers reacted to the Japanese. In answer to my question, “When the Japanese came to Rabaul and held meetings with headmen, were they co-operative from the beginning?”, he said:

I cannot say they were co-operative. It was the first time they had seen us. I think that they were scared of us and felt that they had to obey us unconditionally. When we held meetings, Mr TASHIRO played the role of mediator between us and them. As he was familiar with their lifestyle and customs, our relationship with natives became smooth. And they became friendly towards us. [17]

Quite a few Japanese veterans wrote that the Japanese treated villagers well and therefore villagers were friendly towards them, and that even after the war their friendliness remained unchanged. [18] This may be partly true, but KAJIYAMA, who had extensive knowledge of affairs with villagers, is not entirely comfortable with these comments. He described one event that took place after the war.

After the war, Japanese had to achieve self-sufficiency by making their own gardens. We, the Minseibu, kept on watch over relations between Japanese and natives. One day we received a report that natives and Japanese soldiers were confronting each other and were about to fight. We were requested to go there immediately to mediate between them. I took a horse, which happened to be available, and rode to the village. There I saw natives on one side and Japanese soldiers on the other side, standing face to face. The natives were armed. They had Type-38 Infantry Rifles. They had stolen those rifles from small Japanese units which were stationed in the outskirts of Rabaul when the Japanese forces were disarmed after the war. In addition to those rifles, the natives had spears which they made from sharpened branches. They were ready to fight. I went into their midst and listened to both sides. The natives said the soldiers had come into their gardens without their consent. The soldiers said that they were acting on orders from their commander; they had to be self-sufficient, and it was a life-and-death matter. I talked with the natives. I told them, “It would be a problem if the Australians knew that you possessed arms, and you would be punished. The Japanese soldiers are making these gardens only temporarily until they go back to Japan; they will not need them then. These gardens will be yours in the future. So you had better provide the land for the soldiers and let them clear the land because they will leave good gardens for you. You had better not engage in vain fights.” After saying this, I could make the natives shake hands with soldiers. I was able to settle the situation peacefully.[19]

KAJIYAMA testified that more than half of Japanese units did not follow the Minseibu’s order not to trespass on villagers’ land.

KAJIYAMA also pointed out the harsh treatment of villagers by the Japanese Kenpeitai (military police units). He recalled the grotesque sight of a villager who was suspected of spying and was tortured by Kenpeitai, who forced water into his mouth. His belly was bulging out, and water was coming out from his mouth and anus. At my interview, KAJIYAMA expressed deep regret and sympathy for those villagers; he said that they were friendly to staff of the Minseibu, but they feared the Kenpeitai. References to severe treatment of villagers by the Kenpeitai also appears in the recollections of then-Warrant Officer MAJIMA Mitsuru of the 30th Independent Engineer Regiment. He remembered the screams of a villager who was flogged by Kenpeitai when he was walking in front of Kenpeitai Headquarters. [20]

But MATSUDA Saiji, an ex-kempei, wrote quite a different story:

As the situation deteriorated, the Navy’s Minseibu was too weak and small to look after local residents. Consequently the Kenpeitai were obliged to cooperate with the Minseibu. We worked so hard to protect their lives that we were able to evacuate them to safe areas. [21]

However, in my interviews with about 40 elders in the Rabaul and Kokopo areas, I never came across a person who made favourable comments about the Kenpeitai, whose name still evoked deep fear and anger.

Rabaul was a strongly fortified base, and the Allied forces avoided an invasion, which would have led to enormous casualties. There were no land battles fought around Rabaul on a scale comparable to those on mainland New Guinea. The land battles around Rabaul waged between Japanese and Australians were limited to the short operation accompanying the Japanese landing in January 1942 and defensive operations from mid-1942 in the areas of Open Bay and Wide Bay, both approximately 80 kilometres south of Rabaul. The air war was more intensive than the land fighting. The Japanese air force intercepted Allied planes in the sky over Rabaul, but the scale of Allied operations was far smaller than that of the sorties to the Solomons and mainland New Guinea. There were no major sea battles around Rabaul. As a result, there are few memories of the battles which focused on Rabaul itself. This fact is well-demonstrated by the title of the of book of Admiral KUSAKA Jin’ichi — Rabauru sensen ijo nashi [All quiet on the Rabaul front]. KUSAKA was in Rabaul from October 1942 to October 1946. In his book he relates episodes relating to scientists at a vulcanological observatory, YAMAMOTO Isoroku, the Minseibu, and so on, but his book includes few stories about fighting.

Quite a few veterans touched on living conditions in their memoirs. The life of low-ranking soldiers was hard, particularly that of young draftees, who were invariably given incidental tasks by their seniors. Their life became harder when Imamura rigorously pursued the reinforcement of Rabaul’s defences by setting out a rigid daily routine for soldiers: 40 per cent of the day was dedicated to exercise, 30 per cent to fortress construction, and 30 per cent to garden work in order to achieve self-sufficiency in food. [22] And the soldiers’ life was made even difficult by the lack of food. YOKOKAWA Masaaki, a private of the 17th Engineer Regiment, wrote in detail about his hunger and hard labour.

We were never given enough food. Our meals filled less than half of our stomachs. And yet we had to work so hard every day that we could never maintain our physical strength, even though we were young......After a day’s work, I used to drag myself off to find food, not knowing where I could find it. Sometimes I wandered about all night until dawn. We were so desperate to keep ourselves alive......In those days, we soldiers were worn out by labour, building up defences and roads and digging air-raid shelters; and on top of those, we had drills of anti-tank assault. We were dead tired, but we were never allowed a day off, unless we developed malaria fever or something. [23]

Similarly, MIZUKI Shigeru recollected that the soldiers’ life was like a hell: it was a life of a hard labour worse than a slave’s life, because slaves do not have to worry about their life.[24] When soldiers worked in gardens, they used to sing:

“First, we dig. Second, we farm. Third, we crash onto tanks.” [25]

The recollections of Japanese soldiers about their time at Rabaul often include memories of their feelings about the progress of the war. General IMAMURA Hitoshi, Commander of the 8th Army, recalled that he had anticipated Japan’s defeat as early as the end of 1942, when he was transferred from Java to Rabaul.[26] The decline in morale was brought on by the change of Rabaul’s landscape after mid-1943, when the Allied air forces began full-scale bombing. A naval surgeon, WATANABE Tetsuo, who visited Rabaul in June 1942, wrote:

At first glance, Rabaul impressed me. Even to an inexperienced navy officer like myself, this was a good natural harbour. The harbour was crowded with ships and Japanese planes were always flying in the sky, demonstrating the strength of the Japanese forces. [27]

But his impression totally changed when he revisited in August 1943.

My impression of Rabaul changed entirely. Only a few months before, the harbour was crowded with many ships. But now only a couple of barges were to be seen in the harbour. There was neither sound nor sight of Zero fighters or dive bombers......Rabaul had changed into a desolate town. The air raids had destroyed most buildings and there were only a few people walking on the streets, even during the day.[28]

OKUMIYA stated that the officers at Navy Headquarters had lost all their hope for the future of the war by January 1944. [29] Although Admiral KUSAKA wrote that morale never declined, skepticism about their fate seemed common among all Japanese. Even a private like YOKOKAWA doubted the Japanese capability to meet an expected Allied landing.

We were always told that the fortress of Rabaul was invincible, with its stores of ten years’ worth of food, weapons, and ammunition. But most of our weapons were outdated, like Type-38 infantry rifles and Type-38 field guns, which were produced in 1905 (38th year in Meiji Era), and 41st Year-model mountain guns and howitzers from the Taisho 4th Year [produced in 1908 and 1915, respectively]. I was not the only one who wondered whether we could counter the enemy when they landed. We could no longer see our Rabaul Air Force, which was once reputed to be unrivaled. We now saw a large formation of enemy planes flying like red dragonflies in autumn. We saw our powerless anti-aircraft fire. I thought we could never stand up to the enemy, no matter how high the morale of the officers and men of the Rabaul defence forces. [30]

The end of the war relieved most soldiers of their anxiety. MIZUKI rejoiced as if he was in heaven, although he was told they were to be prisoners of war under the Allied forces. [31] OKAMOTO Nobuo, a private of the 47th Independent Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion, was filled with a feeling that he was freed from ‘horrible’ military rule and ‘slavery’ under the few privileged officers. [32] Officers were also deeply moved. When Admiral KUSAKA was reading the Imperial Edict of Surrender in front of all commanders, at several moments he became too emotional to continue reading. He wrote that all the other officers also cried. [33] But some men felt differently. Paymaster OKADA Isao also shed tears of emotion, but thought that the Japanese at Rabaul were not defeated, even though Japan was defeated. [34] Similarly MURAKAMI Heiichiro, Sergeant of the 212th Construction Unit, felt that the Japanese troops had never been defeated in a land battle. [35] Incidentally, neither man had ever fought in actual combat.

After the surrender, the Japanese were disarmed, and shortly after that they started living in a prison camp until they were repatriated to Japan by mid-1946. During this period, most Japanese saw changes in New Guinean attitudes. Although KUSAKA wrote that villagers remained friendly, other Japanese recalled that some villagers began to show open hostility. [36] Private OKAMOTO saw some villagers ransack Japanese gardens to steal crops, teasing the Japanese and shouting “Japan boy Number Ten, Australia Number One”. [37] Similarly MORIKAWA Kenji, an Army correspondent, had some villagers threw stones at him, shouting “Bakayaro!” (You bloody fool!), when he refused to pick them up in his truck because it was already full. [38] However, I have to note that MIZUKIs New Guinean friends remained friendly and indeed invited him to live with them, as already described.

Japanese had both bitter and good memories of Australians who came to Rabaul after the surrender. OGAWARA Yoshio, then Chief of General Affairs Section of the Minseibu, encountered ‘rough’ Australians.

Australians who came from the New Guinea front were very rough. They rolled their sleeves up showing tattooed arms, and shouted ‘Come on!’ at Japanese who got out for labour. I remember proud Australian men wearing four or five Japanese watches. Probably they had exchanged them for cigarettes or something. [39]

KAWAMURA Hideo, who served a sentence for war crimes in Manus and Rabaul from 1949 to 1953, also recalled harsh treatment by Australians.

After we were moved to Rabaul, a variety of foolish ill-treatment continued. For example, Australians ordered us to perform hard labour for reasons such as: our hair was two inches longer than the rule; there was some rubbish under our beds; and our socks had holes. They just wanted to ill-treat us. One day, only because we saluted a convict on death row, we were told that we had violated the rules, and that we were to serve two weeks’ hard labour pushing a wheelbarrow. We were not even allowed such freedom [to salute a comrade]. But we kept on saluting the convicts on death row silently, knowing that we would be punished later. [40]

But OGAWARA admired the gentlemanly attitudes of a supervising officer, Major Smythe, who rebuked young officers. OGAWARA recalled Smythe saying to him that he understood what patience meant after taking on the responsibility for supervising Japanese camps at Rabaul. [41]

2. New Guinean memories

New Guinean memories of the Japanese and the war vary according to the locations of their villages and the times, except for one common reflection that it was a hard time and that they just had to cope with the situation helplessly. To most villagers, the war started all of a sudden, without any knowledge of who the Japanese were. When villagers saw Japanese planes and ships, they only knew that a very big war was coming to Rabaul. Ferdinand Urawai of Ramalmal village of Rabaul recalled the coming of Japanese; he was 12 yeas old at the time.

When the Japanese came, I was in my village. When a formation of Japanese planes appeared in the sky, we were in our church. When we came out of the church, we saw the planes come and drop bombs on Rabaul. Then a fleet of warships came, with a large formation of planes above them. It was Sunday afternoon and the planes dropped bombs at Tomaringa. Yes, it was afternoon, it was Sunday afternoon. Then in the morning, on Monday, warships and transport ships came. They filled up the sea in front of our village and went towards the town of Rabaul. Not long after this, one day later, the Japanese landed at Rabaul and they were marching on the road. There was a long line of soldiers carrying rifles, machine-guns, and many guns. They were camouflaged with grass on their bodies and heads. They followed the road to the entrance of our village and finally arrived. We gathered at the corner of the village and watched them walking. And I think they found us and they fired their rifles. Then we ran into the jungle. We were frightened and stayed in the jungle like that. We could not come back to the village until the Japanese had gone. The Japanese came to our village like that. But I was a kid and was not so frightened. When we kids heard that the Japanese had gone, we went to see them. Kids gathered and watched the Japanese. We saw the Japanese going away, and we saw the Australian Army leaving and going to Toma and into the jungle. All Australian soldiers had gone.[42]

Joseph Tokankan, a mixed-race man born of a Chinese father and a Tolai mother, closely observed the fight between Japanese and Australians. He related:

There was a mixed-race man like me. He was a Malay. He could speak Japanese and went to the Japanese. And he told them that many English were hiding in the jungle here. When the Japanese heard this, they used a trench motor, the one with which they could shell from a long distance. The Japanese fired it here and shells exploded there. The Australians and English were killed like dogs. Then the fight was finished. The Japanese chased them. They killed most Australians. Only a few escaped. Some Australians fought back. But when they ran out of ammunition, they threw away rifles and ran away. They came this way and some went to a station in Baining. [43]

After the short fight was over, more Japanese came, and life under Japanese rule began. Danks Tomila from Baai villager near Rabaul was then about 15 yeas old and watched Japanese coming to Rabaul and his village. He saw the sea full of Japanese battleships and barges. When they came to Baai, they did not damage houses or property. But Japanese entered the school building and cut down the photographs of King George and tore up the Australian flag with bayonets and did much damage to school equipment. Tomila remembered that these Japanese were friendly to villagers: “they did not fight us, and they did not interfere with our houses and gardens”. Then Japanese and villagers went looting in the town of Rabaul together. [44]

However, the friendship at Baai was short-lived. For the first several months the Japanese used to pay the villagers for produce, but soon they began to cut down coconut trees, and they declared that the gardens no longer belonged to the villagers. The villagers were thus obliged to move away from Japanese into the bush to make new gardens. [45] But contact with the Japanese continued, because they began to recruit villagers as labourers to make gardens, plant sweet potatoes, and dig tunnels. It was hard work, with only one meal a day in the evening. As a result, “a lot of our men went hungry and sick, and so were forced to steal kaukau [sweet potato] from the Japanese gardens.” [46]

Most informants I interviewed agreed that stealing was a serious offence under the Japanese rules and that offenders were severely punished. [47] Tomila experienced torture by the Japanese when he was working at Nonga, about five kilometers from Rabaul.

One of the workers apparently stole some food from the gardens, and the Japanese were unable to find out who it was. They asked all forty-three of us who were workers there, but nobody knew who had done it. Determined to find out who did it, they tied our legs onto pieces of logs and made us sit with the logs on top of our legs. This was a very painful experience. We were told not to move any part of our body but to sit still. The Japanese closely watched us, and when anyone moved they stepped on him and kicked him with their boots. Finally, one of the men, unable to stand the pain any longer, declared himself to be the man responsible for the theft and so was taken away from us. We did not know what they did with him. The rest of us were set free. [48]

Villagers found out that this harshness was directed not only towards them but also towards the Japanese themselves. A widow of the then-luluai To Kubak from Tinaganagalip remembered that “if the Japanese stole from the gardens without higher authority and were reported to their officers they were harshly punished,” and that once a Japanese soldier who was caught stealing coconuts was badly beaten by his officer. [49]

Most villagers in the areas of Rabaul and Kokopo had to perform labour for the Japanese. Jacob Timele from Gunaba village in Kokopo was 12 years old when the war started; he saw his parents and other adults of his village clearing land to make gardens.

The Japanese caught village men and forced them to make gardens. They used men at the airfield at Tobera and at other places there, and one more place in the town. It was hard work. It was hard work indeed. We were surprised to see the Japanese way of working. After work started at 8 o’clock, the men just repeated actions of bending their back and standing up straight. The Japanese said in Japanese, “Cut! Cut!” They made us into a long line and gave us knives. When the boss said, “Kakare!”, we bent our backs, then worked, worked, worked. Nobody could rest. Nobody had a smoke. At 10 o’clock, they said, “Yasume!” Now we could rest. We had a cigarette for the first time and went to the toilet. Shortly after this, they would say “Kakare!”. Then we started working again. At 4 o’clock, they would say “Yasume!” Then we could finish. “Yasume” means “rest”. During the day, we heard them talk in their language, “OK. Boy, come! Meshi-meshi”. “Meshi-meshi” means “let’s eat”. They gave us food. It was only rice, and we ate. That was lunch time. Then we worked from 1 o’clock to 4 o’clock. We worked like this. It was really hard work. [50]

At Baai village, the Japanese forced all the villagers, young and old, to dig tunnels, except for luluais and tultuls and the very sick. The Japanese used to beat up villagers who did not work, and Tomila remembered that many villagers got sick and some even died. [51] This Japanese brutality against village labourers was also confirmed by KAJIYAMA, an ex-Minseibu staff member. [52] The labour performed for the Japanese also involved carrying supplies to the Bainings and even to the New Guinea mainland. Elders at Rakatop village testified that the Japanese tricked villagers by organising a big singsing feast at Rapolo; they then imprisoned all those who attended. These prisoners were taken to Buna. [53] Urawai also saw this singsing, but he was too suspicious to attend and so avoided being caught. [54]

A Japanese unit that Urawai remembers as “Suzuki-butai” came and camped in Ramalmal village. The Japanese recruited villagers to construct the Burma Road — a main road going out of the town to the hills. KAJIYAMA remembered the difficulty of construction and the harshness of Japanese treatment of labourers. [55] Then in Ramalmal the Japanese used villagers to cultivate gardens. But Urawai recalled that although the work was hard, the Japanese opened a hospital in which they treated villagers and gave them medicine. He referred to those Japanese as “good” ones.

Japanese used luluais to recruit labourers. Peni To Pitumur from Makurapua village, then a luluai, attended meetings with the Japanese together with other luluais. At the meeting, the Japanese demanded that luluais force their villagers to work in the Japanese gardens, to make roofs for houses from palms, and to work at Tobera and Rapopo airstrips. The Japanese also instructed them not to light fires at night. [56] The Japanese used to call a luluai ‘No. 1 Captain’ and a tultul ‘No. 2 Captain’, and used them as their ‘mouths’. [57]

Obedience by villagers of the Japanese can be mainly attributed to the brutality of the Kenpeitai (military police units). Kempei (military police officers) tortured and executed villagers who were suspected of spying or who had committed thefts. Although killings and beatings were not witnessed in all villages, all villagers came to know of the brutality and realised that they had no option but to obey the Japanese. Villagers’ memories of the kempei are still strong, and the name evoked fear from many villagers I interviewed. Nelson To Bungtaobui from Korere village recalled that kempei lined up villagers and told them to give a 'keirei (salute)'; when he laughed at this action, they beat him. [58] Saimon Gaius, then a luluai and after the war a bishop of the United Church, remembered that “the kempitai police had a policy of punishing the luluai first when someone did something wrong in the village” and that the luluai “was often slapped across the face and beaten about the back”. [59] Tutal Kaminiel, a tultul before the war, related stories of a series of brutalities he witnessed:

Tamtu [name of a villager] was severely bashed up when he was found to have conducted a quarterly [church] meeting. Other people were put into a hole with sticks and leaves, which were then burnt; they were nearly smoked to death. Sometimes people were made to drink water and were then jumped on; they were hung upside down and bashed about the face and buttocks. Those who were put in the kalabus [prison] often found it to be a watery cave. Tolais from Viviran, Naunaram, Karavia, and Kabakap were killed. [60]

The Japanese used mainland New Guineans, who were mostly plantation workers in the Rabaul and Kokopo areas when the war broke out, as ‘kenpei boys’ (indegenous kempei). They were feared like Japanese kempei by villagers. But the Japanese were also quite harsh to those New Guinean kempei. Dale To Pine recalled: “once a Sepik group of the Kenpeitai demonstrated ‘lack of discipline’ with a Tolai woman, and all of them, including the woman, were strapped to coconut trees and beaten with bamboo rods.” [61] Tokankan became a ‘kempei boy’ in 1943. His work involved watching villagers to check that they followed Japanese laws and watching for spies for the Allied forces; he also witnessed torture and executions. [62] But Tokankan pointed out that Kenpeitai tormented villagers for reasons such as disobedience or suspicious behaviour. Talingi Eliuda from Tinganagalip village of Rabaul recalled that not all kempei were cruel; he emphasized that some were good and some were bad and harsh. [63]

Villagers’ life under Japanese rule was greatly restricted. Villagers had to have a Japanese-issued pass to travel even to the next village, and they were not allowed to travel to distant villages. [64] Esmun Tirovin from Barovon village was one of the privileged few who could travel around, because he had a rank which he received from a school opened by Japanese. At the school, he learned some Japanese words and received military drilling.[65] But most villagers enjoyed no such freedom. In Korere village, located near Rabaul, Japanese banned villagers from going to the beach because of their suspicion that villagers might engage in espionage. Darusiza Warngangar, then a little girl, remembered a Japanese throwing a stone at her to drive her away when she went down to the beach to look for fish.[66]

The Japanese showed some leniency to local church services, although in principle they were banned. In Tavui village the service was entirely prohibited. [67] But Joe Shulz from Vunamami village remembered that Roman Catholic services were allowed all through the war, although they took place under Japanese supervision.[68] The death of a Tolai catechist, To Rot, at Rakunai is the best known example of Christian martyrdom under Japanese rule. To Rot was allegedly murdered by kempei because he kept on conducting services in the face of the Japanese prohibition. [69] Shulz claimed that his death strengthened the villagers’ faith as a whole. [70] In general, the Japanese prohibition against church activities became stricter towards the end of the war, but according to Bishop Gaius, their strictness was due to their concerns for villagers’ safety:

When bombing became intensive at the beginning of 1944, the Japanese prohibited gatherings of Christian people for worship and so on. So we worshipped in hidden places — in tunnels and in the bush. I don’t think the Japanese stopped worship because they were anti-Christian, but for the sake of the safety of the people during air raids. [71]

To Kilala W., son of a then-pastor of the Methodist Church, remembered that the Japanese put his family in a prison camp because of a ‘rumour’ that his father was a spy working for the Australian Air Force; “there were also hundreds of other false stories created by those who hated Christianity, and these were applied to all the pastors and ministers.” [72]

In contrast to most memories of Kenpeitai brutality, some villagers recalled friendly Japanese. To Kilala stated that “the Japanese were on the whole quite friendly, providing everything went well”. [73] Arap Tibak, then a spy for the Japanese, insisted that the Japanese were good people and that they used to sit and eat with him. Arap used to drink sake with Japanese, and Japanese doctors used to come to his village to treat villagers. [74] David Han Hai Fong from Makurapau village, then a driver and interpreter for the Japanese, noticed the difference between the Army and the Navy in Japanese behaviour. He stated that “the soldiers were most ‘unprofessional’ and very often cruel, particularly the army (e.g. they kicked dead bodies of crew of downed B–29s), but that the Navy was more humane, as when they came to the bodies they saluted and arranged their burial.”[75]

The Japanese for the most part seem not to have interfered with local women. Shulz pointed out that there was only one case of Japanese rape of a local mixed race woman, and he recollected:

[Japanese] officers were incredibly strict towards soldiers who committed misdemeanours. Once a couple of soldiers tried to play up with Joe’s wife. When reported, they were slapped by a leather-gloved hand with tremendous force and didn’t so much as wince. [76]

Like Shulz, To Kilala also noticed the strict Japanese discipline of their own men. [77]

The Japanese opened some schools in Rabaul and Kokopo as part of their ‘senbu kosaku’ (propaganda operations). Many village children were told to attend the schools and received brief schooling. [78] Teachers of those schools were in most cases young cadets of the Minseibu, but in some cases also soldiers of units camped near or in the village. Those who attended the schools remember their teachers mostly affectionately. The former pupils are now old, but they can still nostalgically speak some Japanese words and sing some Japanese songs. Sailas Urauma from Kunakunai village in Kokopo is one of them. He says:

One Japanese song is like this. “You and I are like an egg. I am an egg white and you are an egg yolk, and I cover you. Sunsun rerorero sunrero...” [79]

In the schools, the Japanese conducted simple lessons, teaching Japanese words, writing, counting, and songs, and conducting some basic military drills. Some children who did well in these lessons were selected to receive further military training. To Kilala was one of such children. He recalled:

I was taught to use a rifle — to dismantle it, clean it, and shoot it. I was called “Captain”, and they even allowed me to carry a bayonet. While we were at Matanatar we were taught many other things, such as rice paper manufacture, processing of scrap aluminum, basic carpentry, and sake-distilling. [80]

In and out of schools, the Japanese rigorously attempted to spread propaganda. Timele remembered how the Japanese forced villagers to show their allegiance:

This was a very important announcement the Japanese made. The Japanese forced us to say, “Japan No. 1! America and Australia No. 10!” After we said this, we could shake hands with them. “America and Australia No. 10! Japan No. 1!” In this way we learned their law. If we did not say it, they used to slap our faces. [81]

This was a crude and simple method, but it reflected strong Japanese anxiety about espionage activities by villagers. In fact, some villagers were assisting Australian intelligence, reporting the Japanese situation, guiding air raids, and helping with sabotage.[82] The Japanese were aware of these activities by pro-Allied locals and coast watchers in and around Rabaul, and their anxiety increased as Allied bombing became intense and accurate in 1944. [83] As a result, the Japanese regarded any suspicious behaviour, disobedience, or lack of respect as anti-Japanese activities, and punished offenders severely. The Japanese demand that villagers repeat ‘Japan No. 1’ was a desperate attempt to stop anti-Japanese activities.

Villagers had various ideas about the progress of the war. Some villagers believed until the end of the war that the Japanese were stronger than the Allied forces. This came from their observations of Japanese preparedness. Tokankan, a ‘kempei boy’, closely watched Japanese actions and compared Australian preparations for the defence of Rabaul before the Japanese landing with the hard work of the Japanese who dug so many tunnels to prepare for the Allied landing. He thought that if the Allies had invaded, the Japanese would have defeated them, and he could not believe that the Japanese had lost the war.[84]

But towards August 1945, many villagers had anticipated the Japanese defeat. Tomila recalled:

Only on rare occasions did we see Japanese planes. The domination of the sky by allied planes made our hearts feel much better. We were beginning to feel happy again because we realized that the Japanese were losing the war. Even the Japanese soldiers themselves told us sometimes that they were losing the war and that very soon the Australians would take them over again. [85]

OKUMIYA also remembered that the villagers used to say, when they saw the decline of Japanese air force, that the Japanese planes had malaria. [86]

Most villagers did not know exactly when the war ended, except for those villagers who were in close contact with the Japanese. Timele’s testimony illustrates this point well. He found out, to his great surprise, about the end of the war when two Japanese soldiers who had come previously to lay a telephone line in his village came back again:

Later the two Japanese found us two — me and my friend. They dug a hole and called us. They tried to shake hands with us. We were surprised why they tried to shake hands with us. They were just doing their jobs alright. Then they said, “Boy, America No. 1. Australia No. 1. Japan No. 10.” Now we were very frightened and said, “No, no. America No. 10. Australia No. 10. Japan No. 1.” Then they said, “No, no, no. Japan No. 10.” Now we were very surprised. We were very confused; why did they tell us such a thing? We said to them, “Later we will report to our boss about what you said. We will report you.” Then they said, “No. Bang-bang, okoru [warfare] stop.” Saying that, they tried to tell us that the war had finished. [87]

After the war, villagers grasped the scale of the devastation the war had brought. To Kilala recalled his feelings then:

What a place Rabaul was! Sunken ships all around the harbour, bomb holes everywhere, there was really no town — a few trees, concrete blocks, and in between the ruins of houses and concrete posts the Japanese had planted kaukau, greens, and their vegetables![88]


Memories of both Japanese and New Guineans differed according to their situations, locations and the period of contact. It is difficult and even dangerous to generalise their experiences into one ‘average’ memory, because it would create a strongly biased image. However, some characteristics common to some groups of people may be drawn out from New Guinean memories — namely, that they all had a hard time, although their hardships varied according to the forms of contact they had with the Japanese. In the case of the Japanese, finding such common characteristics is hard, partly due to the paucity of information, and partly due to the diversity of Japanese forces, which were a mixture of Army and Navy forces, officers and men, military and civilians, fighting units and non-fighting units, and so on.


1. SAKAI Saburo, 1959, “Ozora no Samurai (2)” (Samurai in the sky), Maru, 12 (5): 155.
2. IKEDA Iwao, NAGOSHI Hiroshi, 1971, “Rabauru sensha-tai ga shirushita kuhaku no sento kiroku” (Blank war diary that Rabaul tank unit wrote)’, Maru, 24 (4): 209.
3. MORITA Shinzo, 1964, Rabauru ni okeru shokuryo no genchi jikatsu wa ikani okonawaretaka 1/2 (How was food self-sufficiency at Rabaul achieved?), Defence Agency Matsudo Shushin-kai, Tokyo: 4.
4. MOJI Chikanori, 1978, Sora to umi no hate de—dai 1 koku kantai fuku-kan no kaiso (At the end of sky and sea—recollections by an adjutant of the 1st Air Fleet), Mainichi Shimbun-sha, Tokyo: 91.
5. YAMAGUCHI Keizo, 1959, “Bu-un mazushi, 201 Rabauru koku-tai” (No luck in battles, 201st Rabaul Air Unit), Maru, 12 (2): 108.
6. IWAMOTO Hiromitsu, 1998, “Japanese perceptions of the Pacific War in Papua New Guinea: views in publications”, paper presented to the 1st Symposium of ‘The Pacific War in Papua New Guinea: Perceptions and Realities’, 21 July 1998, Tsukuba University, Tsukuba.
7. ‘A set of Japanese orders to the guard forces at Rabaul, 1 July 1942, “Treatment of natives and foreigners”, National Archives of Australia (hereafter abbreviated as NAA), AWM54-506/2/2, ‘Intelligence Information Memorandum, No.32. The Japanese attitude towards natives in New Guinea and the Solomons‘
8. NOMAGUCHI Fumio, 1993, “Iko bunakunau air base” (Posthumous manuscripts, Bunakunau Air Base), Kaigun Rabauru homen-kai kaiho (Bulletin of Navy Association of Rabaul Area): 10.
9. YANAGIBA Yutaka, 1986, “Tosa Rentai Port Moresby koryaku-ki” (Record of attacking Port Moresby by Tosa Regiment)’, Maru (special issue, Pacific War series 2): 281.
10. OKUMIYA Masatake, 1982, Rabauru kaigun koku-tai (Rabaul Flying Corps), Asahi Sonorama, Tokyo: 352-353.
11. Ibid.: 356-358.
12. Tolai is the name of a major ethnic group living in the Gazelle Peninsula area.
13. IWAMOTO’s interview with Mizuki Shigeru, Tokyo, 5 September 2000.
14. MIZUKI Shigeru, 1994, Mizuki Shigeru’s Rabauru senki (MIZUKI Shigeru's history of the Rabaul campaigns), Chikuma-shobo, Tokyo: 30.
15. For the details of Minseibu, see IWAMOTO Hiromitsu, 1999, “Japanese Occupation of Rabaul, 1942 to 1945”, paper presented to the 2nd Symposium on ‘The Pacific War in Papua New Guinea: Perceptions and Realities”, 1–2 September, hosted by the Division of Pacific and Asian History, Australian National University, Canberra.
16. IWAMOTO’s interview with KAJIYAMA Ryuji, Tokyo, 20 September 2000. Luluai is a term for a head man of a village so confirmed by the colonial administration. Tultul is also an indigenous official and often an aide to a luluai. Japanese also appointed luluais and tultuls during their rule.
17. Ibid.
18. KUSAKA Jinichi, 1976, Rabauru sensen ijo nashi (All quiet on the Rabaul front), Kowa-do, Tokyo: 103; YASUKAWA Yoshio, 1992, “Rabauru senseki junpai hokoku” (Report on the memorial trip to visit war relics at Rabaul), Kaigun Rabauru homen-kai kaiho (Bulletin of Navy Association of Rabaul Area), No. 30: 22; SATOTaichi, 1989, “Utsukushiki rabauru” (Beautiful Rabaul), in Chiba nippo-sha (ed.), Papua nyuginia senchi junpai no ki (Records of memorial trip to battle fields in Papua New Guinea), New Guinea Solomon Memorial Centre, Iwate: 34.
19. IWAMOTO’s interview with Kajiyama, op. cit.
20. MAJIMA Mitsuru, 1996, Jigoku no senjo (Battlefield in hell), Kojin-sha, Tokyo: 18.
21. MATSUDA Saiji, 1993, Koo no me - zuihitu senjin yowa (Eyes of a lone hawk - essays on the rest story of battle line), Sogensha-shuppan, Tokyo: 179.
22. TANAKA Kengoro, 1980, Papua nyuginia chi'iki ni okeru kyu-nihon-riku-kaigun-butai no dai 2 ji sekai-taisen kan no sho-sakusen (Operations of the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces in the Papua New Guinea theatre during Word War II), Nihon-Papua Nyuginia yuko kyokai, Tokyo: 96.
23. YOKOKAWA Masaaki, 1993, Rabauru kobo-sen to watashi (Defensive battle at Rabaul and my life), Oshi-sha, Tokyo: 204, 215-216.
24. IWAMOTO’s interview with MIZUKI, op. cit.
25. TSUNODA Fusako, 1984, Sekinin rabauru no shogun Imamura Hitoshi (Responsibility of Commander of Rabaul Imamura Hitoshi), Shincho-sha, Tokyo: 303.
26. Ibid.: 232.
27. WATANABE Tetsuo, 1995, (edited and translated by IWAMOTO Hiromitsu), The naval land unit that vanished in the jungle, Tabletop Press, Canberra: 8.
28. Ibid.: 21.
29. OKUMIYA, op. cit.: 341.
30. YOKOKAWA, op. cit.: 208.
31. MIZUKI, op. cit.: 166.
32. OKAMOTO Nobuo, 1975, Rabauru no rakujitsu (The declining sun at Rabaul), Okoku-sha, Tokyo: 229-230.
33. KUSAKA, op. cit.: 279.
34. OKADA Isao, 1981, “Saraba Rabauru” (Goodbye Rabaul), in Yasukawa (ed.), Kaiso no nevi laifu (Recollections of the Navy life), 68 kai bunshu kaiko-kai, Tokyo: 429-430.
35. MURAKAMI Heiichiro, 1985, “Kaigun doko senshi rabauru ni shisu” (Naval construction labourer died in Rabaul], Maru, 38 (9): 119.
36. Ibid.: 103, 123.
37. OKAMOTO, op. cit.: 235-236.
38. MORIKAWA Kenji, 1948, Saraba rabauru (Goodbye rabauru), Shisei-kobo: 121.
39. OGAWARA Yoshio, 1993, “Goshu-hei to Goshu-jin” (Australian soldiers and Australians), Kaigun Rabauru homen-kai kaiho (Bulletin of Navy Association of Rabaul Area): 13. After the war, Ogawara consecutively held positions of a vice-minister of Department of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to the USA, Australia, and PNG.
40. KAWAMURA Hideo, 1953, “Manusu-to shikei-shu no saigo” (Last moment of death convicts at Manus), Fujin Koron (Women’s public opinion), October: 142.
41. OGAWARA, op. cit.: 13-14.
42. IWAMOTO’s interview with Ferdinand Urawai, 26 July 2000, Rabaul.
43. IWAMOTO’s interview with Joseph Tokanakan, 9 August 2000, Kimbe.
44. Tetaga, Jeremiah, 1973, “The wartime experience of Danks Tomila”, Oral History, No.4, University of Papua New Guinea: 27-28. The information here is from Tetaga’s interview with Danks Tomila in 1971.
45. Ibid.: 29.
46. Ibid.: 31.
47. I interviewed 41 elders from Rabaul and Kokopo districts from 7 December 1999 to 9 August 2000.
48. Tetaga, op. cit.: 31.
49. Leadley, Allan, 1975, ‘The Japanese on the Gazelle’, Oral History, 3(3): 53. Information here is from Leadley’s interview in 1973.
50. IWAMOTO’s interview with Jacob Timele, 29 July 2000, Kokopo.
51. Ibid. : 32.
52. IWAMOTO’s interview with Kajiyama, op. cit.
53. Leadley, op. cit.: 61. Information here is from Leadley’s interview with Peter To Warawai, Kamineil To Vue, David To Loborone, John To Pinipit and Samuel To Vina in April 1974. ‘Singsing’ is a traditional feast with dancing and singing.
54. IWAMOTO’s interview with Urawai, op. cit.
55. IWAMOTO’s interview with Kajiyama, op. cit.
56. Leadley, op. cit.: 45. Information here is from Leadley’s interview in September 1973.
57. Ibid.: 54. Information here is from Leadley’s interview with Dale To Pine from Tinganagalip in 1973.
58. IWAMOTO’s interview with Nelson To Bungtaobui, 25 July 2000, Rabaul.
59. Leadley, op. cit.: 71. Information here is from Leadley’s interview in 1974.
60. Ibid.:.48. Information here is from Leadley’s interview in 1973.
61. Ibid.: 54. Information here is from Leadley’s interview in 1973.
62. IWAMOTO’s interview with Tokankan, op. cit.
63. IWAMOTO’s interview with Talingi Eliuda, 27 July 2000, Rabaul.
64. IWAMOTO’s interview with Timele, op. cit.
65. IWAMOTO’s interview with Esmun Tirovin, 25 July 2000, Rabaul.
66. IWAMOTO’s interview with Darusiza Warngangar, 25 July 2000, Rabaul.
67. IWAMOTO’s interview with Galipua Mimi, 26 July 2000, Rabaul.
68. Leadley, op. cit.: 40. Information here is from Leadley’s interview in June 1973.
69. Investigating officer's report, 12 August 1948, NAA, MP742/1-336/1/1955 BOX1, “[1] New Britain 4 Part 1 - War crimes - Rabaul area”.
70. Leadley, op. cit.: 42. Information here is from Leadley’s interview with Joe Shulz at Vunamami village in June 1973.
71. Ibid.: 68. Information here is from Leadley’s interview with Saimon Gaius in 1974.
72. To Kilala W., 1974, “The Valley of the Prison”, Oral History, No.5 (May): 2.
73. Ibid.: 14-15.
74. IWAMOTO’s interview with Arap Tibak, 27 July 2000, Rabaul.
75. Leadley, op. cit. Information here is from Leadley’s interview with David Han Hai Fong in September 1973.
76. Leadley, op. cit. Information here is from Leadley’s interview with men at Latlat village in August 1973.
77. To Kilala, op. cit.: 15.
78. According to IWAMOTO’s research, the presence of schools are alleged at Namanula, Ramalmal, Takabur, Tavuiriu, Vunatarua and Rakunai. The size of schools varies.
79. IWAMOTO’s interview with Sailas Urauma, 7 December 1999, Port Moresby.
80. To Kilala, op. cit.: 14.
81. IWAMOTO’s interview with Timele, op. cit.
82. Leadley, Alan J., 1976, “A history of the Japanese occupation of the New Guinea islands and its effects.” MA thesis, University of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby: 133-137.
83. TANAKA, op. cit.: 94.
84. IWAMOTO’s interview with Tokankan, op. cit.
85. Tetaga, op. cit.: 33.
86. OKUMIYA, op. cit.: 348.
87. IWAMOTO’s interview with Timele, op. cit.
88. To Kilala, op. cit.: 14.

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