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German-POW camp reveals little-known history of Japan.

TOKYO, Jan. 25 Kyodo

Helmut Ketel runs a German restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza district that he inherited from his grandfather, who was a German prisoner of war at a camp in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, during World War I.

Ketel's grandfather, Hellmuth Ketel, who was a member of the German navy during the war, was among some 1,000 German POWs held at the Narashino camp from 1915 to 1920.

Japanese troops took about 5,000 German soldiers prisoner in Qingdao in China's Shandong Peninsula in 1914, and sent them to 12 camps in Japan, including the Kurume camp in Fukuoka Prefecture and the Bando camp in Tokushima Prefecture. About 250 POWs were transferred to the newly built Narashino camp in 1915, and some 1,000 POWs lived in the camp at its peak.

Hellmuth chose to stay in Japan after the German POWs were released following the signing of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. About 30 others did the same, while the remaining left for home. Hellmuth, who passed away in 1961, launched Restaurant Ketel in 1930 and married a Japanese woman.

"My grandfather told me he opted to live in Japan because he liked it here, including life at the Narashino camp. I remember his colleagues (former POWs) often gathered at the restaurant when I was a little boy," Ketel said during a recent visit to an exhibition featuring the lives of the German POWs in Narashino.

The exhibition, "Gedenkausstellung: Lager Narashino (Reminiscent Exhibition: Camp Narashino) 1915-1920," shows little-known facts about the lives of the POWs in the camp. It includes about 170 photographs, 70 letters and postcards, and documents that were gathered from families and relatives of the POWs in Japan and Germany.

The exhibition, which runs until Sunday at the Crest Hotel Tsudanuma in Narashino, shows POWs spending time playing soccer and tennis, holding athletic meets, watching movies, playing music and holding theatrical performances. They also brewed beer, baked bread, grew vegetables and made sausages.

Some POWs spent considerable time associating with Japanese and promoted German culture in Japan.

Five POWs, including sausage master Karl Jahn, taught the traditional German method of making sausages to a government official, identified as Yoshifusa Iida. Sausage production spread across Japan after the government introduced this method to meat processors in the nation.

One POW taught local farmers how to make condensed milk at a stock farm on the Boso Peninsula, while another taught how to make German confectionery at a cafe in Tokyo's Ginza district.

Local residents in and around Narashino were allowed to visit the camp to attend concerts hosted by the POWs' orchestra and watch sports activities, according to the exhibition.

The camp's chief, Torataro Saigo, was believed to have the understanding of the POWs because he had studied at a military academy in Germany.

Saigo was a son of Saigo Takamori, one of leaders in the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate and in the establishment of the Meiji government in 1867-1868.

"Many of us would find it interesting that there was contact between the POWs and Japanese people, although the two nations were fighting each other during the war," said Masayuki Hoshi, an official of the Narashino Board of Education, sponsor of the exhibition.

The former POWs who opted to live in Japan played a significant role in promoting ties between Germany and Japan in such fields as business, education and politics. Johannes Ueberschaar and Carl von Weegmann, for example, taught German affairs and language at Kobe's Konan University and Tokyo's Seikei University, respectively.

Ueberschaar established the Institute for Japanese Culture in Leipzig after he made a visit there in 1932. He also helped introduce Japanese culture abroad by translating into German poems by Matsuo Basho, who in addition to being a haiku (17-syllable verse form of traditional Japanese poetry) poet, was an essayist and writer of travel sketches in the early Edo period.

"The exhibition shows us one chapter of virtually unknown history of Japanese-German relations. Japan and Germany were enemies during World War I, but we overcame such history and have become friends," Ketel said.

"I hope more people in Japan and Germany and other parts of the world will have the opportunity to learn about the contact between Japanese and Germans that took place during and after the war."
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Date:Jan 31, 2000
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