This delightful story was submitted by Aya Murakami.  Aya, from Japan, is undertaking studies for a Masters in Law at the University of NSW under the Rotary International Global Scholars Program.  The focus of her studies is peace and conflict resolution, and she is jointly sponsored by the Rotary Clubs of Nara, in Japan, and our Club, Botany Randwick.

About 3 to 4 hours drive from Sydney, after beautiful scenery of the Blue Mountains, there is a small but delightful town called Cowra. I came to know about the town before coming to Sydney, when a person, a chief priest of a temple and a member of Rotary Club of Nara, told me about the town. He suggested that I should make a visit to the Japanese War Cemetery during my stay, saying that it is a very special place. I was not aware of the details of the history and its significance until I made the visit over the weekend in September, 2022.

Cowra symbolizes peace and friendship between Australia and Japan, but there is also a bitter history behind it. There were prison camps in Cowra during the Second World War in which over 2,000 Japanese were held among other prisoners from different countries.

On 5 August 1944, 231 Japanese died after attempting to escape. They rest at the Japanese War Cemetery which lies next to the cemetery of Australians who lost their lives in the town during the War. The Cemetery is simple, yet tells us a lot about the history. Each grave has their name, age, sometimes a short description of how the person died. Mostly young men, some were kids, some were old. As we walked through the Cemetery, we imagined the faces of those who lived and died during that time.

Cowra, however, evolved from such tragedy. It has developed a positive relationship and message to the world. Europa Park, which is located at the entrance of Cowra, welcomes you with flags of different countries, showcases the diversity and pays respect to those who resided in the town in the past. The Rotary Club of Cowra played a major role in the development of the park and now it has become a place where locals come to gather. It is a nice place to have a walk, do some exercise, or enjoy BBQ.

There is also a World Peace Bell in the town, which represents world peace. Now, there are 5 Bells in Japan and 22 in other places across the globe. The Bell was established with a strong wish of one Japanese man in 1951: “war should never be fought again”.

Last but not least, there is a Japanese Garden, known as the most beautiful Japanese garden, well, outside of Japan. I was fortunate to make a visit during the Sakura Matsuri (cherry blossom festival). The Garden was so vibrant with people, stalls, and different performances. Rotary Club of Cowra also had the most popular stall where they sold Yakisoba (Japanese fried noodle) and Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) in cooperation with a local high school. (The Rotary Club of Cowra has supported high school exchange programmes between high schools in Japan and Cowra for 52 years!) The Garden was beautifully designed with cherry blossoms in full bloom. It felt like I was back in Japan.

I attended a cocktail party in the evening, where I was able to meet so many people, among which are the Japanese ambassador in Australia, a famous Japanese magician, a former exchange student to Tokyo from Cowra, the current exchange student from Tokyo, a researcher from Kyoto. It was wonderful to meet everyone and share some experience and talk about history and friendship between two countries. The town of Cowra represents peace and friendship among two countries. It teaches us the importance of learning from painful experiences, sharing the grief, overcoming the challenges, and building friendships together.

This trip would not have been possible without the support of many people, especially the Rotarians. First and most of all, I would like to say thank you to Richard, who proposed a trip. I would like to pay gratitude to people in Cowra as well, especially Bob, the president of Rotary Club of Cowra, who coordinated my trip in Cowra. I appreciate Kylie and Ian, also the members of Rotary Club of Cowra, as well as Jewels and Zimba (their adorable dogs) for hosting me during my stay. My appreciation extends to Graham Apthorpe, a researcher and author, who explained the history at the War Cemetery, and Peter Chivers, a former District Governor, who showed us around Europa Park. Everyone who welcomed me with their warmth, showed me around with kindness, and explained the histories with their knowledge, thank you.