The Scene of the Mouth of the Ara-kawa River
Where Naoetsu Harbour Was Located during the Pacific War

-- the oil painting that Mr. Kohichi Inomata presented to
Mr. John Cook, an Australian ex-POW at the Naoetsu Camp

Written and translated into English by Hiromu Yagi

The Scene of the Mouth of the Ara-kawa River
Where Naoetsu Harbour Was Located during the Pacific War
Koichi Inomata, the painter
Koichi Inomata,
the painter

Early in August of this year (2002), Inomata, an executive committee member of the Japan-Australia Society, sent an old unfinished oil painting (size 4) to Cook, an ex-POW living in the suburbs of Sydney. The letter e-mailed on the same day reads as follows:

Dear John,
This is a picture I exhibited at the 1944 Takada Normal School Students' Exhibition that was held at the Stainless Steel Mill in October. I was working there as a member of the school labour service corps. I was 19 years old then, which means that I painted this picture 58 years ago. . . . .

Painted with scanty paint, it is quite natural for you to think that this picture was left unfinished. Paint was very scarce and difficult to obtain in those days. The picture shows the Sea of Japan as seen from Arakawabashi Bridge, which crossed the Arakawa River near the Naoetsu POW Camp. Actually, there was a munitions plant located on the far right side of the scene. I omitted it on purpose since we were prohibited by the military police to sketch or take pictures of such installations.

On 10th December 1942, those 300 Australian POWs from Singapore, including you, were crossing this bridge with much anxiety and little hope. It was winter and the scene must have been all white with the snow on the bridge and banks. There would have been raging waves from the Sea of Japan washing up angrily on the beaches. During that winter, severe cold spells and hunger spread illness among the prisoners. Besides, during the period between March 1943 and February 1944, constant overwork and inhuman treatment caused the death of 60 Australian soldiers. . . . .

When the war came to an end on 15th August 1945, I was not working at the Stainless Steel Mill any more. On 7th May 1945, two days after the bombardment of Kuroi Station, which was located near the factory, I was drafted into the army, leaving my farewell note behind. For three months after that I was being trained in suicidal attack against the invading Allied tanks that would land on the beaches of Tokyo Bay.

This picture would have been my posthumous work if the war had lasted only a few more weeks. Therefore, the scene depicted in it is a most unforgettable one to me. You might have ambivalent feelings about this scene since you had a hard time as a POW near here. I am sure, however, that you and I can share the same feeling as victims of war. The picture, I hope, will remind us, who belong to the same wartime generation, of our common experience of hard work at Naoetsu. It is impossible, however, to share one picture between you and me, who live so far away. I think it better to leave it with you. I presume the picture, though painted unskillfully and unfinished, makes a very suitable present to you. I hope your children and grandchildren will learn from this picture a lesson in the importance of peace.

Inomata's association with Cook developed when 22 members of the Japan-Australia Society of Joetsu went on a goodwill tour of Australia in October 1996. Inomata sketched Mr. and Mrs. Cook while they were on a Sydney Bay cruise. Their son John acted as a guide for the painter, taking him around the city so he could draw the old buildings in town. When the ex-POW said goodbye to the visitors from Naoetsu at the airport, he promised the artist that he would try to write a report on his bitter experiences during the war.

Five years after saying goodbye, in the month of Jauary 2002, Cook's experiences as a prisoner of war arrived. That started their correspondence. In the process, Inomata promised to present one of his paintings to his friend in Sydney. Before he could decide which picture to present, he sent a photo of his oil painting titled Merry Christmas and a picture booklet including his pastel The Prison Camp. (Both pictures are exhibited at the Peace Park Museum.) In return, Cook sent an art book for Inomata to enjoy.

Then Inomata thought of sending the unfinished picture that he painted 58 years ago. After exhibiting it at a gallery in town, he presented it to his Australian friend.

His letter from above ends with the following passage:

Since I exhibited this picture at the Easel Society Exhibition that was held in the middle of July and took photos of it, I do not feel attached to it any more. It is regrettable, however, that both you and I are too old to meet with each other.

Your Japanese friend,

Cook's letter of thanks begins as follows:

I received that wonderful painting today. I am amazed that you could part with such an article that must always be so close to your heart. Your picture,The Scene of the Mouth of the Ara-kawa River, is now hanging in our lounge room. Also your letter is close by for my family and visitors to read. I have never seen a paining framed like that. It has everyone thinking about it and they all want to know how I came to know such a talented artist. . . . .

A picture that Inomata painted 58 years ago has connected Naoetsu with Sydney beyond space and time.