Songs of Japanese Prisoners of War in the Soviet Union after World War II

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The Second World War ended with Japan’s capitulation after the disastrous nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Subsequently, approximately 700,000 Japanese soldiers were selected as captives to undertake physical labour in Soviet prison camps. After returning to Japan, some of them wrote about their lives in the Soviet Union, drew pictures about their experiences, or wrote about their favourite songs that they had sung during their imprisonment.

My study of various reports of Japanese prisoners of war (POWs) after the Second World War surprisingly revealed that not only traumatic conditions during forced labour were published, but also social interactions in the form of joint artistic activities such as making music, producing theatre plays, and staging sports competitions. The prisoners have often retrospectively described these as strikingly positive events during their years of internment in the Soviet Union. This article analyses a total of thirty-four songs sung and composed by Japanese POWs during captivity on a lyrical level (text analysis). In doing so, I adopt a new approach to interpreting the social conditions during the imprisonment of Japanese soldiers in the Soviet Union.

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