Nissan Seminar: Eleven Winters of Discontent: The Siberian Internment and the Making of a New Japan

Convener(s): Dr Juliana Buriticá Alzate, Dr Chinami Oka, Dr Alice Baldock, and Dr Olga Khomenko

Speaker(s): Professor Sherzod Muminov 


In this presentation, Sherzod Muminov will talk about the odyssey of 600,000 imperial Japanese soldiers incarcerated in Soviet labour camps after World War II and their fraught repatriation to postwar Japan. 

In August 1945 the Soviet Union seized the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo and the colony of Southern Sakhalin, capturing more than 600,000 Japanese soldiers, who were transported to labour camps across the Soviet Union but primarily concentrated in Siberia and the Far East. Imprisonment came as a surprise to the soldiers, who thought they were being shipped home. 

The Japanese prisoners became a workforce for the rebuilding Soviets, as well as pawns in the Cold War. Alongside other Axis POWs, they did backbreaking jobs, from mining and logging to agriculture and construction. They were routinely subjected to “re-education” glorifying the Soviet system and urging them to support the newly legalized Japanese Communist Party and to resist American influence in Japan upon repatriation. About 60,000 Japanese didn’t survive Siberia. The rest were sent home in waves, the last lingering in the camps until 1956. Already laid low by war and years of hard labour, returnees faced the final shock and alienation of an unrecognizable homeland, transformed after the demise of the imperial state. 

Eleven Winters of Discontent draws on extensive Japanese, Russian, and English archives, memoirs, and interviews, to piece together a portrait of life in Siberia and in Japan afterward, and to reveal the real people underneath facile Cold War tropes. 


Sherzod Muminov is Associate Professor in Japanese History at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. His research dwells at the intersections of eras, empires, and ideologies, and draws from archives in Japanese, Russian, and English. Sherzod’s first book, Eleven Winters of Discontent: The Siberian Internment and the Making of a New Japan, was published by Harvard University Press in January 2022 and was finalist for the American Association of Publishers PROSE Awards. He has also co-edited (with Barak Kushner) two volumes on the dismantling of Japan’s imperial edifice in Asia, and published articles in journals such as the Journal of Cold War Studies, Cold War History and Situations: Cultural Studies in the Asian Context.