Helen and her Party's Visit to Naoetsu
and the British Commonwealth War Cemetery in Hodogaya

April 13 - April 15, 2001

 The guests and JASJ members under the angels.


What Brought Helen and her Party to Naoetsu
  (Yoshikazu Kondo)
An Impressive Encounter
  (Rieko Odake)
Welcome Party
  (Yoshie Tanabe)
My Impressions of the Japan-Australia Exchange Party
  (Yuki Sato)
Experiencing Homestay for the First Time
  (Fujiko Imai)
Having a Guest at our Home
  iYoko Buto)
My Impressive Experience with the Robertsons
  (Toshiro Abe)
Itinerary to Graveyard in Hodogaya
(Miyoko Uchiyama)
Jennifer's Impression on her Visit
  (Jennifer Gan)


What brought Helen and her Party to Naoetsu

Written and translated into English by Yoshikazu Kondo
Guests facing the Cenotaph.
Guests facing the cenotaph
bearing their grandfather's name

In the Peace Memorial Park, there stands the Australian cenotaph bearing the name, LT./COL. A. ROBERTSON. In early February 2001, his son Mr. John Robertson wrote to Mr. Shoichi Ishizuka, President of Japan Australia Society of Joetsu (JASJ), stating that some people, including the grandchildren of the late Lt./Col. Robertson, would visit Naoetsu. The party was made up of six in all--Ms. Helen Robertson (his granddaughter), Mr. Paul Robertson (his grandson), Ms. Jennifer Gan (his granddaughter), Louis Armais (Helen's husband), Anna Dingley (Helen's cousin), and Stephen Doust (Louis's friend).

To begin with, Helen and Louis from Canberra planned to visit their friend, Stephen, who works in Tokyo. Anna from London joined them, and so did Paul, also from London. Finally Jenny from Singapore decided to accompany them after a long overseas call to her sister.

What led them to add Naoetsu to their itinerary, which already included visits to Tokyo, Kyoto, Bessho, and Matsumoto, might have been the experiences and photos of the Opening Ceremony of the Park, which John, Helen's father, and Marjorie, her aunt, must have told and showed them. Moreover Mr. Masumi Muramatsu, our friend in Yokohama, generously offered to escort them to the British Commonwealth War Cemetery in Hodogaya, where their grandfather was laid to rest.

Email was very convenient in organizing their Naoetsu visit. Our e-correspondence went in this manner: Helen in Canberra added her response to the email message which I had sent from Joetsu, and also Anna in London and MM (a nickname for Masumi Muramatsu) in Yokohama added theirs to it. At the same time, we, the members of JASJ and JASJ English study group, talked on our mailing list to arrange who should be assigned which roles of the welcome events and who would be whose hosts. As a spin-off of our e-discussion, some of us decided to visit Hodogaya together with MM, Helen and her party. We were quite amazed that email makes nothing of leaping across time and distance barriers.

Even though email enables us to communicate easily, it is not at all a match for spending some face time with people we send email to. Until we met each other, I regarded them as our guests; now I regard them as our friends. We have new friends in Australia, Singapore, Canada, and England. I always say that no trips are more enjoyable than the one to visit the country where our friends live, which means that I have added some more to my list of the countries I wish to visit.

This time we had the pleasure of welcoming visitors in the third generation down from the ex-POWs. I sincerely hope that more young people from the world will visit us here in Joetsu and that many of our young people will make friends with them, accept them in their homes, and reciprocate by visiting them in their home countries. The world surely will be a better place when they accomplish things such as these.


An Impressive Encounter

Written and translated into English by Rieko Odake

In Yokohama we had a short but wonderful and fruitful time with MM and Ms Yamasaki, having a lively English talk at China Town and taking a walk to Minato-ga-mieru-oka Park to enjoy its scenic night view. We owe a lot to them and really appreciate everything they did.

I was especially happy to have Helen and her group visit Naoetsu. That's because I have made good friends with her aunt, Marjorie (the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel A. Robertson) since her visit to Naoetsu in 1995 and fortunately I had the chance to stay with her in Sydney twice.

The first time was in 1996 when I visited Sydney with other JASJ members and the second one was in the spring of last year when I visited her again to cheer her up because she had difficulties due to meningitis.

Marjorie was a very good correspondent and her writing was so elegant that it could not be imagined that it was written by an arthritic hand and her letters were good examples of English for me. In 1999 when I had been out of touch with her and I worried about her, an e-mail reached me from her daughter, Julie (Helen's cousin), informing me of Marjorie's serious illness.

It said that her disease was so serious that it once threatened her life. What a coincidence that she suffered from the same disease as that of her father! That's meningitis. However the situation is completely different thanks to a great deal of medical improvement. Since then I have often exchanged e-mail with Julie concerning her mother's condition.

Marjorie is a good wife and a wise mother herself who always minds her family, and is good at cooking and embroidering. So it is understandable that her difficulties in looking, listening and moving made a person like her irritated because she could not act as she wanted. On top of that her slow recovery depressed her. When I learned of her condition, I felt she needed to be cheered up and I sent an e-mail saying, "I am going to see her in spring."

At Kakushin-ji Temple.
At Kakushin-ji Temple

After that she recovered little by little enough to be able to write a letter. Though this was my first time to see Helen and her group, I didn't feel it was the first because Marjorie had referred to them in her letters occasionally.

For example;
Helen took a chance to study law at Cambridge,
Last spring she married Louis, a Canadian and they lived in Canada.
Thanks to Louis' transfer, he works for Canadian Embassy, they can live in Canberra for three years, which pleased her.
Last Christmas, they visited her after joining the Harbour Bridge Tour on Boxing Day, etc.

I met Helen's father, John twice and her mother, Jill once. When LT./COL. Robertson died at Naoetsu P.O.W. Camp, John was still one and a half years old. Growing up to be an excellent young man, he studied at Oxford, which his family was proud of, according to Marjorie.

Since I have wanted to visit the British Commonwealth War Cemetery at Hodogaya, this was a good opportunity for me. Different from the Foreign Cemetery in Yokohama, it was spacious, bright and peaceful and reminded me of the one in Cawra. The Australian section has a tall gum tree, and the place was incredibly quiet in the midst of the busy city.

It is quite memorable that the third generation of ex P.O.W.'s at Naoetsu camp visited both Naoetsu and Hodogaya for the first time, considering that the spirit has been succeeded to a younger generation.

I immediately sent an e-mail to Julie telling her about the first half of Helen and her group's visit and how the welcome party was. Julie responded quickly and told me that as soon as she received my e-mail, she made a telephone call to Marjorie and read it to her.


Welcome Party

Written and translated into English by Yoshie Tanabe

A welcome party for our guests from Australia was held at Ikaya Hotel on April 13th. They are grandchildren of the late Lt-Col. Robertson--Helen, Paul and Jennifer, and their cousin Anna, Helen's husband Louis and Louis' friend Steve. Almost 40 members of JASJ took part in the party which made our guests surprised and happy.

at welcome party

At the Welcom party

First of all, Miyoko, emcee of the party, made an opening address in fluent English. Next President Ishizuka bade welcome to them and his wife Yoko acted as his interpreter as usual. Yuki who is a university student said after listening to Yoko's English for the first time, "Even though she is in her seventies, her English is wonderful!" Paul and Yoshikazu proposed a toast to bless our relationship which has continued for three generations.

Following speeches by host families whom they were staying with, Hiromu told us what Lt-Col. Robertson was like. And his grandchild Helen recited a poem made by Mr. Mudie, "Vale Lt-Col. Andrew E Robertson." During her recitation, she shed tears. I thought that was because she was proud of her grandfather's fine reputation rather than because she grieved over his sad death.

At the end of the party, we sang "Waltzing Matilda" and "Sakura Sakura" accompanied on a harmonica by Secretary General Yamaga and on a violin by Kazuyo. Just like these songs, our hearts mixed together and made a beautiful harmony.

Finally I would like to express my appreciation for Miyoko and Kazuyo's efforts to make this party successful.


My Impressions of the Japan-Australia Exchange Party

Witten by Yuki Sato
Translated into English by Miyoko Uchiyama

There is a saying, "Think globally, Act Locally." It's easy to say but difficult to act upon. When I attended this party, I saw the JASJ's members make this saying come true. This was my first opportunity to see what exchanges have been done between Japan and Australia.

Why does the JASJ set up exchanges with Australia? What did the POWs in the Naoetsu camp think when they were imprisoned there? Why did many of them die? I did not know the answers to these questions, although I live in Joetsu city.

When I met six visitors to Japan, including Mr. Robertsonfs grandchildren from Australia, l had a friendly feeling towards Australia. So, as a fellow human-being I sympathized with those who lost their lives both in battle, and while imprisoned as POWs, deprived of their freedom.

Without any doubt, we live peacefully now in Japan. 1'd like to do my best to keep this peace forever. To make this come true, first of all I'll start learning English so I will be able to communicate with foreign people. I am also going to tell my friends at university what I've experienced this time.
Thank you.


Experiencing Homestay for the First Time

Written by Fujiko Imai
Translated into English by Yoshikazu Kondo

To accept a foreigner at our home was the biggest news our family had ever had!
"Are you sure you can?" said our children. I had always wanted to experience homestay, which I thought was only a longed-for wish. However it wasn't.

As the day of my first homestay drew nearer, I gradually became worried about things like these: "What food should I prepare for her? Will she sleep in futon bedding on tatami-mats or in a bed at a Western-style room?" Though I counted heavily on my daughter to help me, it turned out that she couldn't make it home. Instead I asked Yoko to stay with us, and Kikuno promised she would come over to my home at five o'clock on the morning of the day.

They watch the video of JASJ at the Museum.
They watch the video of JASJ
at the Museum.

On the afternoon of 13th April, I nervously waited for and met Anna at Naoetsu Station. She spoke Japanese fluently and was such a nice friendly person that I felt relieved. We took our guests to the Peace Park and other places, and had dinner at Century Ikaya Hotel. After going around Takada Park for cherry blossom viewing on the way, I drove her to our home.

Anna, having left Awaji Island that morning, looked so tired, and after a cup of tea, she soon crept into futon bedding.

I got up at five o'clock in the morning, and so did Yoko. Soon Kikuno arrived on her bike. The three of us got together ready to fix breakfast.

Those who had experienced homestay abroad would often say, "Cornflakes and milk are enough for breakfast." However since that was the only meal, I wanted to fix her the best one I could. Unfortunately I was not good at cooking dishes for young people and, what was worse, I didn't know anything about what English people would like. I talked with my friends who cooked really well and decided the menu for her. I baked bread and fixed salad with fruits and lettuce from our garden. Kikuno cooked pumpkin soup, while Yoko dealt with cucumber sticks and cheese wrapped in raw ham. Also our friend served apple boiled in wine as dessert. We finally made the breakfast ready.

We woke up Anna, who overslept. The four women enjoyed the delicious breakfast. My husband, who returned home late from work, had gone away, since he was at a loss what to talk with the foreigner. Anna seemed to enjoy being with us. To my disappointment, when our conversation became lively, the time came for her to leave.

I'd like to express my gratitude to those who gave me such a valuable experience.


Having a Guest at our Home

 Written by Yoko Buto
Translated into English by Yoshikazu Kondo

"How would you like to do a homestay, Yoko?" asked Kondo-san, and at first I thought I would be going to Australia. On the contrary, I was to be the one to host a homestay guest.

With the Japanese greeting "Kon-nichiwa," the man whose accent and way of speaking was not like that of other foreigners entered our home. Even more surprising to us was that when he handed us jars of maple syrup, he even went to the length of saying in Japanese: "Okuchi ni aukadoka wakarimasen ga" (I wonder whether these suit your taste or not). His Japanese was much better than our son's. He was a brilliant young man who said sitting in the living room of our wooden house reminded him of his home country, Canada, and that he was happy since he liked futon bedding on tatami-mats, which he felt was more Japanese than a bed.

We went to cherry-blossom viewing as the season was just right. "Cherry blossoms, bonbori (paper lanterns), yatai (food stalls), shiro (castle)-- they're all wonderful. I've never seen such things." He seemed to enjoy viewing the blossoms with a can of beer and yakitori (grilled chicken). He said he would try ramen (noodles in broth), but he didn't have a chance.

After his shower, we talked on and on till the day changed into the next, all the while speaking fluently in my language, Japanese.

He said that anything, with the exception of natto (fermented soybeans), would be all right for breakfast, and that tamago dofu (egg cooked in the form of bean curd) is like chawan mushi (pot-steamed hotchpotch). He ate his rice using chopsticks with ease.

Rice paddies surrounding our house assures us tranquility. It was a lovely day, and he enjoyed the mountain view from our home. He was happy and said that nature let us feel at peace.

We shared only twelve hours together, including time spent sleeping. He talked about Vancouver and the everyday life of people there, and I came to feel an affinity for his home country. I remembered the time when I had stayed with an Australian family before. My host said: "Thanks to Yoko coming all the way from Japan, we can learn about her country even here in Australia." I was glad to see that similarly this time, we could learn about Vancouver from him.

It is a pity that though I have been studying English at JASJ English Class for four years, I want still to accept someone who speaks Japanese. However I was able to participate in the homestay program in the way that fits my level.


My Impressive Experience with the Robertsons

Witten and translated into English by Toshiro Abe

My experiences from April 13, 2001, when I met Helen Robertson and her group at Naoetsu Railroad Station, to April 15 when I parted from them at Hodogaya, Yokohama, are filled with impressive memories.

On the afternoon of April 13, they visited the Peace Memorial Park, where they prayed for their grandfather, Lt. Col A. E. Robertson, and 59 soldiers who died in the POW Camp. We were very much moved to see Jennifer dissolve into tears before the plaque which was engraved with her grandfather's name, and to see her sister Helen holding her. We can never forget the time at the welcome party in the evening, when Helen read aloud Mr. Jack Mudie's poem for her grandfather with tears, supported by her husband Louis.

We are a family of three, my wife and son, and myself. We live in a two-storied Japanese-style house in the suburbs of Joetsu City. Around the beginning of April, when I was informed that Helen and her group wanted to stay overnight at Japanese houses, my wife and I decided to put up Helen and Louis for the night.

On the evening of April 13, after the party was over, I took Helen and Louis to my house by car. The cherry blossoms in Takada Park were in full bloom and very beautiful. I drove the car slowly around the park. Helen and Louis were very pleased to see the beautiful night view of cherry blossoms, small lanterns in the cherry trees, and lots of happy people walking in the park.

It was nearly 9 o'clock when we got home. Helen and Louis seemed very pleased to stay at a Japanese-style house. We had a very pleasant time talking together about many things over coffee and delicious Japanese cake.

Six years ago, in October 1995, their father and aunt, Dr. John Robertson and Mrs. Marjorie Anderson, Lt.Col. Robertson's children, visited Naoetsu to attend the memorial service at the Peace Memorial Park. At the welcome party I happened to sit next to John and Marjorie and we had a pleasant talk for a while. I showed Helen and Louis a Japanese colored paper, on which John and Marjorie had written their names and messages for me at that time. Helen and her husband were surprised and glad to see the colored paper. I asked them to add their names some words for my wife and me on the same paper. This colored paper is my most cherished possession.

The couple seemed to be quite tired, and went to bed early. They had a good sleep in Japanese futon, which, my wife and I were afraid, was a little small for them.

The next morning they had to leave our house at eight o'clock in order to catch the 8:41 train from Naoetsu Station. They got up at seven, ate breakfast in a hurry, and left my house at eight. I felt relieved when we arrived at Naoetsu Station just on time for the train.

After I saw Helen and her group off at Naoetsu, I came back home. In the afternoon I went up to Tokyo by Shinkansen. About 6 o'clock in the evening, at the lobby of Holiday Inn Yokohama, I met four JASJ members, Mr. Kondo, Ms. Ohdake, Ms. Uchiyama, and Ms. Nakagawa. Mr. Muramatsu and Ms.Yamasaki were also present.

We enjoyed the delicious Chinese dishes at a Chinese Restaurant, chatting, laughing, and listening to Mr. Muramatsu's interesting and humorous stories.

After dinner we enjoyed walking in the beautiful Yamashita Park in Yokohama.

The next day, on April 15, Sunday, we went to Hodogaya Station in the afternoon. Helen, Louis, Paul, Jennifer and Mr. Muramatsu had already arrived there. The British Commonwealth War Cemetery was only ten minutes ride by taxi from the station. The cemetery was very spacious, beautiful and peaceful with trees and flowers all around. Mr. Muramatsu showed us to the grave of Lt.Col A.E. Robertson. We dedicated the flowers to his grave and prayed for him with our whole heart. 

before their Grandfather's grave
Before their Grandfather's
MM explains to us all.
MM explains to us all.

Mr. Muramatsu explained to Helen and her group in English about the cemetery and the memorial ceremony held here on Anzac Day every year. His explanation was very impressive and we all appreciate his kindness and hospitality very much. Helen, Louis, Paul and Jennifer will never forget their visit to their grandfather's grave in Hodogaya. If their grandfather were still alive, he would be ninety-three or four years old now. I was nearly in tears when I imagined how glad their grandfather would be if he could see his grandchildren here.

We went back to Hodogaya Station and dropped in a coffee shop. We enjoyed talking for a while over light meals. I heard that Paul was going back to London on Monday, Jennifer to Singapore on Tuesday, and Helen and Louis to Canberra on Wednesday. Wishing their good health and happiness, we said good bye to them at Hodogaya Station.


Itinerary to Graveyard in Hodogaya

 Written and translated into English by Miyoko Uchiyama

On 14th April, in the morning Ms. Odake, Ms Nakagawa and I joined the the group of Robertsons at Takada station and went up to Nagano by local train.

In the corner of the train we had a good time for international exchange. We spoke Australian English, British English, American English, Canadian English and Japanese. Japanese women were caught in the midest of this language shower. They looked very shy because it was probably very rare thing to happen to them.

We were very enthusiastic to talk and chat each other because we didn't have enough time to talk during their stay in Joetsu. Ms. Odake presented them with stamp sheets which were on sale only during cherry blossom festival season. This convinced us that she was an expert in international exchange.

Japan-Australia friendship exchange
On the local train
Oh! cherry blossom season!

While I talked with Helen, I looked up and found Paul and Louis talking to each other. Paul graduated from Harvard and Louis graduated from Cambridge so they were blowing their own trumpets at each other. Paul said, "We won soccer final this year. How are the guys of Cambridge doing?"
In the seats in front of me, Ms. Nakagawa and Steve were chatting which impressed me as very bright because they are younger and more energetic.

Then we arrived at Nagano station. We separated there. The group of Robertsons went to Matsumoto to do some sightseeing. We three women got on the Shinkansen bound for Tokyo.

In Tokyo we were planning to go to see the pictures of impressionism at Bridgestone Museum following Mr. Abe's recommendation. But as there was a long queue, which meant we would have had to wait for a couple of hours, we changed our itenerary. We went for Motomachi to do some shopping. We were enchanted by the exotic atmosphere of this town.

There are stores and stores of jewelry, dresses, shoes, accessories, etc. which women like very much to see. We just window-shopped, ate ice-cream and then got what we wanted to buy. Ms. Nakagawa was the queen of shopping. She made two of us wait for a long time while she bought tens of dresses at the store for young adults named "GAP" What a great generation "GAP" this is!

Motomachi on a spring afternoon
Window shopped at Plada

After we enjoyed shopping, we went to Yamashita Park. On the way we called Mr. Kondo and he said he was at Yamashita Park. I knew by intuition that we could fine him there.

At last we found Mr. Kondo watching street performance with his arms across his chest. He was so enthusiastic that looked like an innocent young boy. He wasn't aware us at all. So we agreed to surprise him. We snuck up toward his back and surprised him saying, "Whoopee" all at once.

On the surface he disguised his surprise well and just replied, "Hi!" I think a trip brings out our true personality.

Foreign street performer
Training the Japanese

at a Chinese restaurant with MM & Tomoko

at a Chinese restaurant with MM & Tomoko

The time to have dinner with MM arrived. The place we promised to get together was the lobby of Holiday Inn. Tonight's guide was Ms. Yamasaki. She introduced us to the stores which sell delicious Yamucha or Buta-man and the store run by Shu Tomitoku. Then we went to the Chinese restaurant selected by her. It was so crowded with people who were going to enjoy their Suturday night. But she used her influence and we were soon guided to the Ozashiki room. She told us the way to order the food which we liked, one by one, we could enjoy tasting not only our own favorite Yamucha but other's favorite ones as well. All through the party we enjoyed MM's intelligent and humorous talk.

MM's unique talk
Night went on
In China town

After dinner we went for a walk to "Minatono mieru ga oka Park." We were surrounded by a romantic atmosphere in the night harbor park.

It's a sudden change of topic but I'd like to introduce you MM's vocabulary.
"How do we say "Monkiri gata" in English?" someone asked. Instantly MM answered, "It's cookie-cutter," and uses like "cookie-cuter dipromacy." It's sounds like "Kintaro Ame " in Japanese. We enjoyed this kind of inteligent and humorous conversation that night.

In sweet heart's eyes
Spring light is reflected

On the second day, we were going to visit the graveyard in Hodogaya where Mr. Robertson is berried. The group of Robertsons were going to attend church for the Easter service in the morning. So we promised to meet up with each other at 2:00 at Hodogaya station.

at MM21 without MM

at MM21 without MM
Whose kid are you holding, Tomoko?

Until that time Ms. Yamasaki guided us to MM 21 without MM. We went to see the warehouse made of red brick where silk used to be stored, Yokohama Inter-continental Hotel and got on a ferris wheel. We really enjoyed the exotic atmosphere of the port town. Ms. Yamasaki looked after us very well. when someone said he was thirsty, she took out a bottle of tea from her bag, when she bought tickets for ferris wheels, she bought more than she needed and gave it to those waiting to buy tickets and when we were hungry, she tried to find out a restaurant for us. She did these things as smoothly and as fast as she could. Was she a born logistics? We enjoyed this sightseeing very much thanks to her excellent guidence.

We met each other again at Hodogaya station at 2:30. We bought a bunch of flowers to dedicate to Mr. Robertson's grave. We went to the graveyard by taxi. It is very beautiful place where many flowers are planted. We had to search Mr. Robertson's grave because the graveyard is vast. Then I realized that graveyard is divided according to country and there are people from many different countries berried. I felt pain in my heart to recognize the cruelty of the war. At last we found it. The grave is much different from Japanese ones. Every grave has a message from his family members. When it came to Mr. Robertson's grave, as it was completed before his death was informed to his family, the sentence of "Duty Nobly Done" was curved on the grave instead of a family message. This short sentence impressed me very much to imagine what Mr. Robertson was like. We dedicated flowers to his grave and prayed silently for a while. We could see tears in his grand children's eyes. MM explained about the situation during war time, something that we don't know very well.

This experience made us feel as if we were back in that time. There's a big gum tree besides his grave, looking like it is there to give him shade while he sleeps. The breeze seems to blow from Australia.

Under the shade of the big gum tree
Mr. Robetson is sleeping
Sending us message of "Peace"


Jennifer's Impression on her Visit

Written by Jennifer Gan

I feel very fortunate to have been able to visit the Peace Park at Naoetsu in April 2001. I am one of the grandchildren of Lt-Col Andrew Robertson, who was the commanding officer of the Australian soldiers and the first man to die at the camp.

My sister (Helen Robertson) and her husband (Louis-Martin Aumais) had decided to visit Japan some time ago, to visit Naoetsu and to see their friend Stephen Doust. My brother (Paul Robertson) and cousin (Anna Dingley) decided to join them, but at first I thought I would not be able to go. In the end I was able to join them at the last minute, and I am so glad now that I could.

Before preparing to go to Japan, I did not know much about my grandfather. My grandmother found it too painful to talk about him and so I grew up never really thinking about him. When I decided to go to Japan, I asked my father about my grandfather and what he was like. As my grandfather died when my father was only two years old, Dad does not remember him. However, he was able to tell me stories that other people had told him.

I read the published diaries of some of the Australian soldiers who survived the camp. It was difficult to think about what the men went through. I also began to be very upset about the loss my grandmother and her children had suffered, and the fact that I was never able to know my grandfather myself.

So by the time we were all on the train on the way to Naoetsu, I was feeling very apprehensive. At one level I was worried about how I would feel at the Peace Park, but at another level I was very concerned about practical things like how I would communicate with my host and the other Japanese people. I only know how to say "Thank you" and "Hello" in Japanese!

However, I need not have worried, because at the train station we were met by a whole group of JASJ members who all spoke wonderful English! They were all very friendly to us and gave us an extremely warm welcome to Naoetsu. We had a lovely afternoon tea together and then were taken to the museum at the Peace Park. We watched a video about the making of the Peace Park, which was translated into English for us by Anna.

around the Australian Cenotaph
around the Australian Cenotaph

Then we toured the museum, which was a very moving experience. I was particularly touched by the two paintings by Koichi Inomata which hang on the walls of the upper level. Next we went to the dedication plaques. Again our hosts showed how considerate they were by providing us with flowers to lay at the plaque in honour of our grandfather. This was a very moving moment for us all and I was glad to have the flower to lay at the site.

The statues of peace and friendship rose high above us and were a powerful reminder of the need to make new friendships between Australia and Japan so that the mistakes of the past will never be repeated again. Our hosts also took us to the temple where the POWs' ashes were kept by one monk until the Commonwealth War Graves site was created in Yokohama years later. I was very pleased that their ashes had somewhere so peaceful to rest.

Our hosts had organised a wonderful dinner reception for us with a range of Japanese and Western food. We had speeches and toasts which made it a memorable night. Again we were amazed by the generosity of the JASJ people as they not only hosted us to dinner but also gave us gifts to help us remember our stay!

We were able to stay with various JASJ members overnight, which was a unique opportunity for us to visit a Japanese home. Our hosts were all very thoughtful and welcoming and I had a lovely evening with my host, Tanabe Yoshie, and several other JASJ members. I was worried that my thank-you gift was not enough to thank her for all she did for me!

at their grandfather's grave
at their grandfather's grave in Hodogaya

We left Naoetsu the next morning but several days later we visited the Commonwealth War Graves site in Yokohama. A group of JASJ members joined us there, so many miles from Naoetsu, and we were able to stand together in friendship at the final resting place of Lt-Col Robertson. The War Graves site is very beautiful and peaceful, and I finally felt peace in my heart about my grandfather.

To know that he lies in such a lovely place is a comfort to me. However, it is far more comforting to know that Japanese people such as the members of JASJ are making such great efforts to reach out in friendship to Australians. Looking around the war graves made me think that for every grave, there was a story like ours of someone who died too soon because of war. In Cowra there is a similar site of hundreds of Japanese graves, each with their own story. War is so wasteful, and we must all do whatever we can to prevent it ever happening again.

We have talked about our experiences between ourselves a great deal since returning home. More and more I realise how much effort the JASJ has put into setting up the park, and continuing to build ties of friendship and understanding between Japan and Australia. This is very important and impressive work and I have a great respect for all the people who are involved in it.

Although I am living in Singapore for the next few years, I hope that sometime in the future I will be able to welcome some Japanese visitors to Australia. Hopefully by then I will be able to say more than just "Hello" and "Thank you" in their language! However, friendship and respect is a universal language and I think that we all understand that language much better since our trip to Naoetsu.

Jennifer Gan
May 2001