Japanese Internment, Garden-Making and Environment

Through use of archival evidence, material culture and images, James Beattie examines the role of environment in providing comfort and enabling cross-cultural communication between Japanese internees, prison guards and the New Zealand public. Research on New Zealand’s Featherston POW Camp—which housed around 800 Japanese—is dominated by an incident in which 48 internees and 1 prison guard were killed. Examining the use of garden-making by Japanese as well as exchanges of plants and artistic depictions of the natural world between internees and the general public complicates the dominant image of poor race relations in the camp life. The work also details the environmental authorship undertaken by Japanese workers in the area, through raising vegetables on market gardens (for New Zealand’s war effort), general farm work and the construction of walls (many still there).

One thought on “Japanese Internment, Garden-Making and Environment

  1. This is a fascinating line of inquiry and a gem of a talk – I really enjoyed it! The topic of prisoners of war and their gardening activities was completely new to me, though I was aware of some recent studies on PoWs and their engagement with the environment through animals, such as their keeping them as pets (e.g. Michael O’Hagan’s post in NiCHE, https://niche-canada.org/2020/04/23/held-captive-prisoners-of-war-and-their-pets-in-canada-during-the-second-world-war/), and, in particular, how some PoWs took up birdwatching during their captivity, e.g. Derek Niemann’s “Birds in a Cage” (2013), about a group of British PoWs in World War II. Some of the prisoners mentioned in the latter study went on to publish their war-time observations in specialist journals after the war.


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