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

Introduction to Topic

The Second World War ended after the disastrous nuclear bombing on Hiroshima, Japan. As a result, Japan lost the war and 2.7 million Japanese civilians and soldiers went into Soviet captivity. 600.000 men of the Japanese army were sent to the Soviet Union as forced laborers. Most soldiers were released by the end of the 1940s, but the last were only allowed to return in 1956. Of the 609.448 Japanese soldiers captured in August 1945, about 548.380 returned to their homeland. After returning to Japan, some of them wrote about their lives in the Soviet Union, drew pictures about their experiences, or wrote about their favorite songs they sung during their imprisonment.

The intensive study of various reports of Japanese prisoners of war (POWs) after the Second World War showed, surprisingly, that not only exclusively traumatic conditions during the forced labor were documented, but also social interactions in the form of joint artistic activities (music making, theater productions, staging sports competitions) that have often been described as strikingly positive events during their years of internment in the Soviet Union. Through these activities, the Japanese developed a sense of friendship not merely among each other, but also with POWs of other nations, and, in some instances, with the Soviet camp commanders. In my MA thesis I will analyze a total of 34 songs of Japanese POWs, which were sung during captivity, on a lyrical level (text analysis) and musical level (harmony and melody structure) as a new approach to understanding the social conditions during the imprisonment of Japanese soldiers in the Soviet Union.


The primary material of this study consists of 34 songs of Japanese POWs, which were composed during captivity. These songs were published in the songbook Selection of Songs from Siberia: songs written during the captivity. [Shiberia kakyokusen: Yokuryūchū ni tsukurareta kakyoku] シベリア歌曲選 ― 抑留中に作られた歌曲 (1998), written by Takahashi Daisō and Yamauchi Isao. This book was edited by Eguchi Toyoichi who is the director of the network “Union that records memoires of Japanese prisoners of war in the Soviet Union“ in Japan. Memoires of Japanese prisoners are also used as additional material.

Research Questions

  • Which topics appear in the lyrics of the songs of Japanese POWs?
  • What desires of prisoners of war are described and how are they portrayed?
  • Which political attitudes are expressed and how are they presented?
  • What role did Japanese and Soviet music play during World War II?

Example: My mother's song

Daisō & Isao (1998): Shiberia kakyokusen: Yokuryūchū ni tsukurareta kakyoku, p.38

Method I: Analysis of song lyrics and memoires

  • Songs of Japanese POWs
    Wide reading of song lyrics (Japanese and Russian)
  • Biographies of Japanese POWs
    Analysis of memoirs to reconstruct the role of music during captivity in Soviet war camps (lagers)

Method II: Fieldwork

  • Research in Almaty/Karaganda (Kazakhstan), searching for documents in libraries and archives
  • Interview with field expert Richard Dähler in Zurich (Switzerland)


Daisō, Takahashi and Yamauchi Isao (1998):
Selection of songs from Siberia: Songs that were written during captivity. [Shiberia kakyokusen: Yokuryūchū ni tsukurareta kakyoku] シベリア歌曲選: 抑留中に作られた歌曲. Tōkyō: Heibunsha.

Topics in the Songs of Japanese Prisoners of War