ONO, Hyogo Pref. — A local historical committee has recently confirmed that wooden structures in a neighborhood here were once part of a World War I prisoner-of-war camp that housed nearly 500 German and Austrian prisoners.

The surviving structures include a section of former barracks and a prisoners’ outhouse, as well as an outhouse used by Japanese guards.

All are now located within a modern neighborhood on the edge of a Ground Self-Defense Force training base bordering the cities of Ono and Kasai in central Hyogo Prefecture.

The building that was once part of the barracks is now used as a garage by Isomu Manabe, who moved to the area after World War II.

“When I was a kid, my father once told me that German soldiers had lived in the garage, but I didn’t understand what he meant,” Manabe said.

“I only knew that, during World War II, the Japanese military had facilities on the property.”

Manabe’s father had bought the property, with a portion of the camp still in place, and turned the remaining structure into a makeshift garage.

As an adult, Manabe said he had little interest in the structure’s origins. Until he told Ono officials his father’s story about the POWs, it had been assumed that the property had simply housed former Japanese army barracks.

Following Manabe’s revelation, Ono officials and historians from Kobe University discovered old maps and diaries of German POWs. Last month, they confirmed that the remaining structures were originally part of the Japanese army’s Camp Aonohara.

In addition to the garage on Manabe’s property, a similar wooden building, now a toolshed for neighbor Kazutoshi Asada, was identified as part of the POW camp.

Meanwhile, an old well and outhouse that historians believe were used by the Japanese guards sit in a small field belonging to other local residents, about 100 meters away from Manabe’s house.

According to diaries kept by German POWs and old maps found in a document on the history of Ono city, Manabe’s garage constitutes about a quarter of what was once a nearly 60-meter-long barracks compound. It was one of five similar wooden structures within the camp, and held 251 German and 226 Austrian POWs.

The POWs were brought to the camp in September 1915, some 10 months after they had been captured in a joint Japanese-British attack on the German colony of Tsingtao, China.

It was just more than a year after Japan joined the alliance of Great Britain, France and Italy in the war against Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey.

Initially, the prisoners were brought to Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture. They were moved to Aonohara after it opened in mid-September 1915 and remained in captivity until April 1, 1920, when the Treaty of Versailles went into effect and all German and Austrian POWs at six camps in Japan were released.

“During their captivity, the prisoners lived in relative comfort. Remaining records indicate they were allowed to grow their own gardens, celebrate Christmas, perform plays and musicals, and even interact with local Japanese,” said Shigemi Ishino, a city official whose research into the origins of Manabe’s property helped confirm it as part of a World War I camp.

In fact, the liberal treatment of the prisoners led several of them to stay in Japan rather than return to a defeated Germany.

Ishino said some prisoners are believed to have moved to Kobe and Yokohama, and the city hopes to track down any descendants who may either still be in Japan or have returned to Germany.

Now that the structures have been identified as part of a World War I POW camp, Ishino said the city of Ono is in talks with Manabe and Kasai officials over how they should be preserved.

“Since the structures are located on privately owned residential land, restoring them to their original condition would be impossible. Hopefully, though, some sort of a museum dedicated to the camp, and the POWs who lived there, will eventually be built in Ono itself,” Ishino said.

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