Photo-exhibition: The POWs of the Russo-Japanese war 1904–1905

3 Oct–10 Oct 2018All exhibitions

More than 10 years ago, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the end of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904–1905, many different international scientific symposia were held drawing a wide range of participants. They were mainly focused on military and political issues, in particular, military operations and diplomatic contacts. Certain aspects of military-economic and social life were also under consideration, such as restocking military budgets, control over public opinion, anti-war sentiment. There appeared several articles about POWs, as well. However, the materials on POWs, the circumstances of their lives, the conditions in the camps, Japan’s and Russia’s compliance with the norms of international law require further research.

As you know, the Russo-Japanese war was the first war in compliance with the Hague Convention “Laws and customs of war on land” (1899). The Annex to the Convention contained Chapter II: “Prisoners of war”. Article 4 states: “They must be humanely treated”. A number of POWs’ rights was provided in the spirit of humanitarianism. Prisoners of war shall be treated as regards board, lodging, and clothing on the same footing as the troops of the Government who captured them. [ARTICLE 7] A Bureau for information relative to prisoners of war is instituted ... in each of the belligerent States, and is intended to answer all inquiries about prisoners of war. [ART 14] Both belligerent parties are allowed to organize societies to assist prisoners of war. Prisoners are allowed to send and receive letters for free [Art. 16]. Prisoners of war shall enjoy every latitude in the exercise of their religion [Art 18]. Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour. [Geneva Convention, 1929, General provisions, Art. 3]

During the Russo-Japanese war of 1904–1905, over 70,000 Russian POWs were sent to Japan. They lived in different towns in Japan for about a year and a half. According to the Tokyo Institute of the Russian Language, it was a first large-scale experience of communication with foreigners and other cultures the Japanese people had, although it happened during the war. It was probably the first broad contact and the beginning of mutual understanding between the peoples of Russia and Japan. The Russian language must have played a major part in this communication, there is no doubt to it.

The Tokyo Institute of the Russian Language has long been engaged in searching, both in Japan and in Russia, for evidence of the above humane attitude towards the Russian and Japanese prisoners of war. These valuable documents include an album, The collection of photographs of Russian POWs, gathered and categorized as an annex to the report of the French Consul General, Mr. de Lucy de Fossarieu on the presence and conditions of Russian prisoners of war in Japan during the campaign of 1904–1905, stored in the Russian State Film and Photo Archive (RGAKFD). This album comprises 453 photos highlighting the arrival and transportation of POWs, the POWs camps and their interior arrangements, the POWs’ and administration staff’s personal lives, religious events, funerals, the cemetery, etc.

In 2010, the Tokyo Institute of the Russian Language in conjunction with the RGAKFD published a reprint of this album, with detailed summaries to enable the readers clearly see how the Russian POWs had been treated in Japan. All the photos of Russian POWs in Japan, presented at the exhibition are taken from this album.

The Japanese POWs’ way to their place of stay in Russia started in Harbin. From there, the POWs were transported by train to Penza via Tomsk (the Siberian railway was still under construction), and from Penza via Moscow to Medved village near Novgorod. Some groups of Japanese POWs were sent for a temporary stay to other towns: Vladimir, Orel, Tver, Yaroslavl, Kaluga, Ryazan, Tula, and others. Finally, it was the barracks in Medved village (Novgorod guberniya) that became the main place for Japanese POWs’ accommodation in the territory of the Russian Empire.

Several postcard-photos featuring the Japanese POWs have been preserved in Medved village. In 1907, upon their return to homeland former Japanese POWs published an album “The Moonlit Exile”, comprising 86 photos. Most of the photos featured the barracks and landscapes, and contained very scarce information about the POWs’ daily life. We have selected for our exhibition the few photos that highlight strolls and sports, funerals and the cemetery in Medved village. Besides, we have found some photos in Japanese and Russian magazines published at the time of the Russo-Japanese war. For this exhibition, we selected from one of the magazines about 40 photos made by Kyukichiro Ito, a Japanese photographer, a POW.

The Tokyo Institute of the Russian Language has conducted a number of photo-exhibitions dedicated to the POWs in Japan, for people to see the photos and learn how POWs were treated in both the countries more than 100 years ago. In 2018, in the context of the Russo-Japanese cross-cultural year the Institute decided to organize this photo-exhibition in Russia. In addition, this year is the 110th anniversary of the POWs' ashes return to the homeland. We hope for further deepening of the mutual understanding and strengthening of good-neighbourly relations based on friendship and peace between our two countries.


The Photo-exhibition consists of three parts: (1) Russian POWs in Matsuyama; (2) Russian POWs in other towns in Japan; and (3) Japanese POWs in Medved village.

Part I: Matsuyama. 73 photos.

Matsuyama was the first town in Japan to accommodate Russian POWs. Initially, 2,000–3,000 POWs were kept in the Matsuyama camp. The number of Russian POWs sent to Japan from the battlefields of Manzhouli was growing steadily, and in the end, after the battle of Tsushima in May 1905 it exceeded 70,000 people. As the Matsuyama camp could not accommodate so many POWs other camps were organized across the country. There were 29 places in Japan, where Russian POWs were kept. The Matsuyama camp became a sort of a model, in terms of the respect for the spirit of the Hague Convention, setting an example for other camps in Japan.

Part II: Other towns of Japan. 30 photos.

Along with Matsuyama, there were 28 towns in Japan, where Russian POWs were accommodated. We have selected photos of POWs in 12 towns. Russian POWs were transferred from Matsuyama to Shizuoka, Kumamoto, etc. The largest camp was located in Hamadera (currently, Izumiōtsu), the town of Narashino (a town in Chiba Prefecture) hosted the second-largest one. More than 20,000 POWs were kept in Hamadera, and about 15,000 – in Narashino.

Part III: Medved village. 47 photos.

There were about 1,800 Japanese POWs kept in Medved village. All of them lived in barracks. They were provided with food, clothing, and the necessary medical care. The POWs were permitted daily strolls within a certain area defined by the Commander of the unit. They were to be escorted by a Russian officer. Although they were healthy in general, 19 people died during the stay in the camp.

Along with the photos, the exhibition features musical instruments from the Museum of Music (Sheremetiev Palace), which had been made by the Japanese POWs. The materials about an invitation to a picnic, the rules for strolls in the Matsuyama camp from the Russian State Navy Archive (RGAVMF) are also on display.

This exhibition was organized by the Tokyo Institute of the Russian Language, with the active assistance of the State Museum of Political History of Russia and the Museum of Music (Saint Petersburg), whose participation was indispensable. The Russian State Film and Photo Archive and the Russian State Navy Archive rendered valuable support in the preparation of the event.

We express our deep gratitude to all those who participated in the preparation of this exhibition.

We thank the Embassy of Japan in Russia and the Consulate-General of Japan in Saint Petersburg for their assistance and support.


Публикация от: 26.09.2018 12:23:28