Returning to Sydney

RIVERSIDE THEATRES PRESENTS
A PERFORMANCE 4A PRODUCTION

YASUKICHI MURAKAMI –  THROUGH A DISTANT LENS                              by Mayu Kanamori

16 March – 19 March 2016

Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres

Corner Church and Market Streets
Parramatta NSW

Arisa Yura in Yasukichi Murakami - Through a Distant Lens. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Arisa Yura in Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

This is a forgotten story of the Japanese in Australia.

“We take so many photographs. How do we know which ones are important? Which ones matter?”

Inspired by the true story of Yasukichi Murakami, a Japanese-Australian photographer, entrepreneur and inventor who was a remarkable character in northern Australia in the early 1900s, this multi-disciplinary work is a contemporary framing of Murakami’s life through the lens of modern day Japanese-Australian theatre maker Mayu Kanamori.

Along the way she uncovers a fascinating story of unlikely friendships, thwarted ambition and love. The play stirs our collective amnesia about the history of the Japanese in Australia.

Yasukichi Murakami: Through a Distant Lens is a meditation on love, immortality, and in a digital age where cameras proliferate, the nature of photography. Combining live action with photographic projections, video, original music and soundscape, it is an immersive and poetic production, which adds significantly to the slim volume of Japanese Australian work for the stage.

This production will be accompanied by a photo exhibition in the foyer.

A compelling and always absorbing work. Highly recommended.”– Stage Noise

Dates & Times:
Wednesday 16 March 7:30pm
Thursday 17 March 12pm (Plus Q&A) & 7:30pm
Friday 18 March 7:30pm
Saturday 19 March 2:15pm & 7:30pm

Writer/ Original Concept
Mayu Kanamori

Director
Malcolm Blaylock

Dramaturge
Jane Bodie

Composer/ Sound Designer/ Musician
Terumi Narushima

Visual Design
Mic Gruchy

Lighting Design
Benjamin Brockman

Producer
Annette Shun Wah, Performance 4a

With
Arisa Yura
Kuni Hashimoto
Yumi Umiumare (on video)

logosUntitled.jpgVision Image Lab Logo

 

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Art, Advocacy, & Accountability

Recently I was given the opportunity to speak at the 5th Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN) conference “mobilities” (26-27 Nov 2015) at the Immigration Museum, Melbourne as part of a panel entitled “Creative politics, political creations”. Chaired by fellow artist Asian Australian artist  Owen Leong.

The talk was about ethics and social responsibilities of an artist, using examples from my theatre work Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens. I would like to share it with you:

“When you have art, you have a voice. When you have a voice, you have freedom. When you have freedom, you have responsibility.” 

This quote by Indigenous artist, activist and leader Richard Frankland is what inspires my talk today. Using examples from my recent work, Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens, I will discuss some of the issues that an artist may face in regards to our social responsibilities.

Here are some areas of my ethical concerns of late.

Identity, diaspora, imagined borders

  1. Story-telling and its limitations
  2. Historical or factual accuracies and theatrical licences
  3. Archiving and documentation
  4. Audience, stakeholders and authenticity
  5. Publicity, media and advocacy

I will go through each one of them.

  1. Identity, diaspora and imagined borders

I am a migrant artist. I was born in Japan and I’ve been telling stories about Japanese diaspora in Australia for some time. I can’t help but to wonder about the ethics of this.

Are we now not transnational / transcultural / trans everything, transcending those imaginary borders nations, heritage or ethnicity? I know it is my condition that I am of Japanese heritage, but do I need to keep making art about this? My ethics tells me to be inclusive of all people and not to draw borders between you and I, us and the other. To rise above those boundaries that keeps us separate.

Yes, my art is political…. But I actually believe that political leaders shouldn’t be divisive.

How I address this particular question is to believe  – this is a belief – that I am being of service to communities; to perhaps vainly believe that I am making some sort of a contribution. Firstly to the Japanese diasporic community by giving a voice, then to the wider Asian Australian community to speak as loudly as I can. And then contributing to a even the wider community; to tell a part of little known Australian story for all. And then finally, telling the kind of story that would unite humanity in resonance instead of that which would divide us.

For those who don’t know my recent work Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens, it’s a story about a contemporary Japanese Australian photographer, Mayu, a character based on me, searching for the lost photographs of a historical Japanese Australian photographer, Yasukichi Murakami. It combines narration, documentary photographs and interviews, live music, dramatic action with actors and scripted dialogue between Mayu, Murakami’s ghost and ghost of Murakami’s first wife Eki Nishioka, who taught Murakami how to take photographs.

Murakami is not a fictional character. We know that he came to Australia in 1897, lived in Broome, then in Darwin as a photographer, inventor and entrepreneur. When WWII started, he was interned as an enemy alien, and died in the camp. And because of that, his life time worth of photographs have gone missing.

Before I made Murakami, I worried about telling stories about the war. Actually, I worried even more about not telling stories about the war. Since the year 2000, I had created several performance works to do with the Japanese diaspora in Australia… and so, then, I ask myself…. how could I keep avoiding telling stories about WWII?

When it comes to things Japanese… WWII is a major subject. A subject that cannot be ignored.

It isn’t easy for someone of Japanese diaspora, especially today with the current Japanese government and their ideas on the past  – conservative, divisive and alarming.

Making Murakami was a social responsibility I had to taken on. To be of service to the world I live in, I had to engage with the war without making heroes out of soldiers. Murakami was a civilian, like you and I – his life in the hands of people who wish divide us.

  1. Story-telling and its limitations

I call myself a story-teller…. yet I’m increasingly suspicious of story-telling.

Story-telling has become a major force in our times. You go see a counsellor or read a self-help book or a blog on how to become happy or to be rich or whatever. They all tell you to write your story or rewrite your story. That story-telling is one the main ingredients for positive transformations to occur in our lives. Even the corporate sector now talks of story-telling through its content on social media as the key to successful brand loyalties.

But there is also problem with story-telling. Because although often stories carry moral and ethical codes that appear universal, often they also carry messages that can and should be questioned. Sometimes it carries out-dated and out-moded narratives.

As a woman of Japanese heritage… the story of Madama Butterfly for an example.

And in reality, not everything fits into the format of hero rescues damsel in distress or rags to riches. There is something wrong about trying to fit truth with a capital T into a story format, acceptable and accessible to all.

Having said that, Murakami’s story is a typical quest. Like Homer’s Odyssey, Mayu goes on a search for Murakami’s photographs, meets up with a mentor – the ghost of Murakami and Eki, encounters mysteries and struggles, then returns from her journey having found some of Murakami’s lost photographs, and in the process, learns some valuable life lessons.

All neatly fits into a quest format. But I worry about the ethics of this.

On her quest to find Murakami’s photographs, she found some in Japan.  They were Murakami’s family photographs he had sent to his mother in Japan during his lifetime in Australia.

Thus one of the lessons that Mayu learns from her quest is the importance of family and that family photographs are a key to immortality of his photographs. Family photographs – its heart warming lesson….

But, well, nothing in reality is so clean cut.

What I left out in the play is that Murakami’s most important photographs –  important to him – were not his family photographs, but a set of photographs he took whilst conducting experiments for his ground breaking diving suit design.

He actually had the foresight to take a photo album of his diving suit experiments with him to the internment camp. After the war, one of the family members kept the album, but was lost in Darwin in the 1970’s. Some say it was the cyclone, others tell me that it was lent to a researcher – a some what well known person in Darwin – who I won’t mention the name –never returned it to the family.

But this didn’t fit into our one hour story.

This brings me to my next point of discussion:

  1. Historical or factual accuracies and theatrical licences

I worried a lot about not including what happened to Murakami’s diving suit album in the play . To me it felt unethical.

But then again, its been like this all along – from the beginning – I wrote in the script that Murakami and his family moved to Darwin circa 1935. But of course by the time we had creative development workshops everyone told me that I can’t use the word circa in a script … So in the play, Murakami’s ghost tells the audience, “… in 1935, we all moved to Darwin!”

Who cares about facts… really, I’ve got a ghost in the play!! But I worry about my social responsibility.

So… I actually saw a channeller…. To me…. It somehow felt more ethical to hear Murakami speak through a channeller than to put words in a dead man’s mouth.

So I guess it makes my feel better that I’m telling you all this today. And I’m hoping to put today’s talk up on my About Murakami process blog so its all on record.

Which brings me to my next point of discussion:

  1. Archiving and documentation

My process blog is where I write things that get sieved out of the actual artwork outcome. It includes process videos, photos and written thoughts during the entire process of the project. It also includes a full bibliography for future researchers.

I am also now preparing captions for the 200 or so photographs I found for archiving by the State Library of WA. If I don’t do this, Murakami’s photographs will be lost again.

My sense of social responsibility says I’ve got to do these things in service and contribution for the good of wider communities.

  1. Audience, stakeholders and authenticity

Social responsibility includes the audience. This means certain decisions need to be made which takes the audience into consideration… whether it be entertaining or inspiring or educational, I feel that audience needs to get something out of my show.

I also think that my creative collaborators need to get something out of it. As well as the Murakami Family – the descendants need to get something out of my arts practice.

So I think about what this something may be – but of course, it means for different things for different people.

The result is that best I keep good for all in mind, and that means that as long as universal values – what I believe are universal – of that which is to be human being are strong and constant enough – then the specifics should takes care of itself. And that means universals values throughout – not just in the art work itself, but in the process of creation and all other work I do, creative or other wise, that pertains to this project – and not just this project – but to live authentically in all that I do.

I know this sounds all airy fairy and unrealistic – nor am I perfect. And when conflicts arise, which inevitably it always does at some point, the only way to be is to refocus on higher ground, then let go.

  1. Publicity, media and advocacy

As artists we have a chance to talk to the wider world with help of media, traditional or through social media. Although often the immediate reason behind this is to publicise a show, I see it as a chance express higher thoughts and ways of being for the betterment of the whole.

To advocate being in service for humanity.

I’m just an independent artist. I’m not even a scholar…. But with my tiny tiny tiny being as an artist, I’m going to be the political leader – starting with my constituency, then extending wider – I am going to be the political leader I want all our politicians to be.

Thank you!

Mayu Kanamori Nov, 2015

More info: mobilities conference: https://aai5conference.wordpress.com/

More info: AASRN https://aasrn.wordpress.com/

 

Sydney season at Stables Theatre with the Griffin Theatre Company

Thank you to everyone who came to Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens at the Stables Theatre / Griffin Theatre Company and produced by Performance 4a.

Thank you also to everyone at Griffin Theatre Company for having us as part of your 2015 season. It was great to work with you!

Here is a short excerpt from our season!

Video by Michael Park

Written by Mayu Kanamori
Directed by Malcolm Blaylock
Music and sound design by Terumi Narushima
Dramaturgy by Jane Bodie
Visual Design by Mic Gruchy
Lighting Design by Luiz Pampolha
Dramturgic Consultant Yuji Sone
Performed by Arisa Yura & Kuni Hashimoto with Yumi Umiumare
Produced by Annette Shun Wah, Performance 4a

 

 

OzAsia Festival – Adelaide

9 & 10 September 2014 7:30pm Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

My date on Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens was beautiful Jacinta Thompson, former Artistic Director of OzAsia Festival. We met in the Space Theatre foyer with a heartfelt embrace. Many Asian Australian artists have developed their careers because of Jacinta’s vision and long-term curatorial commitment in nurturing the growth of an artist like myself. OzAsia Festival not only brings to Australian audiences art from Asia, but has actively invested in the Asian stories within Australia. The importance of their longer term curatorial vision must be congratulated and held in reverence.

Working with the professional people and facility at the Adelaide Festival Centre along with the excellent OzAsia team with current Artistic Director Joe Mitchell, our show excelled, bringing in many favourable reviews. We were blessed with great publicists throughout our Darwin, Broome and Adelaide tours, and have received much publicity, which is of course excellent for the show itself, but in the wider sense, we have been able to add to the legacy of Yasukichi Murakami and to rekindle the memory of the pre war Japanese contribution to Australia.

Reviews

Realtime: 8th OzAsia Festival 2014 Culture’s haunted houses by Ben Brooker

Realtime: 2014 Darwin Festival, Cultural syntheses: north-south, east-west by Nicola Fearn

BWW Review: OzAsia Festival 2014; Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens Captivates and Informs by Barry Lenny 

The Clothesline: Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens: An Enchanting Photographic Journey Betwden Past and Present by Michael Coghlan

The Advertiser: OzAsia migration lay Through a Distant Lens puts Japan in focus by Louise Nunn

In Daily: Murakami: a life lost and rediscovered by Gregg Elliott

Glamadelaide: OzAsia Theatre Review: Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens

Selected Media Links

ABC Radio National Arts & Books Daily: Yasukichi Murakami: the photographer who captured Darwin by Georgia Moodie. Presented by Michael Cathcart

ABC Radio National Music Show: Yasukichi Murakami. Presented by Andrew Ford. Produced by Maureen Cooney / Jennifer Mills

ABC Radio National Drive: A Japanese-Australian photographer in pre-WW2 Darwin. Presented by Waleed Aly. Produced by Hélène Hofman

ABC News: Japanese photographer, pearling pioneer Yasukichi Murakami honoured in Broome

-Posted by Mayu Kanamori

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Darwin Festival

19  August 2014 8:15pm & 20 August 2014 6pm & 8:15pm Brown’s Mart Theatre

Sitting at the very back of the packed-out Brown’s Mart Theatre on the world premier of Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens, I thought I could hear every murmur, each gasp, laughter and finally, sniffle by the group of dozen Murakami family members who sat in the front row.

In making this work, listening became the most important thing to do. To listen carefully to the voice of Yasukichi Murakami’s spirit, the voices of the creative collaborators, and to my own inner voice of truth. This active listening required more effort than to speak out loud. For many years I had thought it a vital process of becoming an artist to express, and out loudly, but through this project,  I have learned expressive less, more receptive, let go, and allow the creative to emerge as it naturally flowed outwards.

Although those Murakami family members who had received a copy of the script gave their blessing, I was still very worried whether the family members would like how their ancestor was portrayed on stage. To my relief, when we met at the theatre forecourt after the show, it was obvious that they were pleased with the results.

Phew.

Cast and crew wht Murakami family members after the premier of Yasukichi Murakami Through a Distant Lens photo by Greg Aitkin

Cast and crew with Murakami family members after the premier of Yasukichi Murakami Through a Distant Lens photo by Greg Aitkin. Front row L to R – Veronica McLennan, Arisa Yura, Mayu Kanamori, Julie Murakami, Jacqueline Murakami, Annette Shun Wah, David Murakami, Terumi Narushima. Back row L to R -Malcolm Blaylock, Calvin Murakami, Maius Lai, Kevin Murakami, Peter Murakami, Yvonne Wood, Benjamin Brockman.

It was important to premier this work as part of Darwin Festival, Darwin’s most prestigious and recognised art festival, because this is where Yasukichi Murakami and his family were arrested as an enemy alien and it is where most of his descendants live today. Because of  this, Darwin is where the honour of his name and work need to be remembered, acknowledged and celebrated the most.

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

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References: Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens

Yasukichi Murakami

Bain, M. (1982). Full Fathom Five. 1st ed. Perth: Artlook Books.

Beaumont, J., O’Brien, I. and Trinca, M. (2008). Under suspicion. 1st ed. Canberra, A.C.T.: National Museum of Australia Press.

Caudle, R. (1979). Caudle, Rex Oral History Transcript. [Manuscript] NTRS 226 TS  26. 1979. Northern Territory Archives Service, Darwin, NT, Australia.

City of Darwin, (2001). A Secondary School Resource on the Bombing of Darwin. Darwin: Federation Frontline, pp.54 – 55.

Hamaguchi, P. (2013). Interview with Pearl Hamaguchi. Broome.

Jones, N. (2002). Number Two Home: A story of Japanese Pioneers in Australia 1st ed. Fremantle, W.A.: Fremantle Arts Centre Press.

Kaino, L. (2011). ˜Broome culture” and its historical links to the Japanese in the pearling industry. Continuum, 25(4), pp.479–490.

Kaino, L. (2013). On-Board train Australia: Some contest of the works of Kanamori and Murakami. Zeistschrift fur Australierstudien, (Issue 27), pp.pp 105 – 125.

Kilgariff, F. and Carment, D. et al (2008). MURAKAMI, YASUKICHI (1880-1944). In: Northern Territory Dictionary of Biographies, 2nd ed. Darwin: Charles Darwin University Press.

Lance, K. (2004). Redbill: From Pearls to Peace – Life in Times of A Remarkable Lugger 1st ed. North Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press.

Minami, Y. (2013). Interview with Yasuko Pearl Murakami Minami. Tanami.

Murakami Shigeno Theresa (and Yasukichi). (2014). [Manuscripts, letters, historical documents. Electronic document] A367 – c68988 National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Murakami, J. (Dec 2011, Aug 2012 and Feb 2013). Interviews with Joseph Murakami. Tsunashima.

Murakami, J. (April 2012 and April 2013). Interviews with Julie Murakami. Darwin.

Murakami, K. (1979). Kathleen Murakami Oral History Transcript. [Manuscript] NTRS 226 TS  95. Northern Territory Archives Service. Darwin.

Murakami, P. (1979). Peter Murakami Oral History Transcript. [Manuscript] NTRS 226 TS 96 Northern Territory Archives Service. Darwin.

Murakami, Y. (1926). Application for Letters Patent for an invention, Improved diving dress. [Manuscript and diagrams] A627 – 4150944 National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Murakami, Y. (1926). Application for Letters Patent for an invention, Improved diving dress. [Documents and diagrams. Electronic document] A267 – 1525/1926 National Archives of Australia , Canberra.

Murakami, Y. (1926). Application for Letters Patent for an invention, Improvements in diving dress. [Manuscript and diagrams] A627 – 4215206  National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Murakami, Y. (1926-7). Application for Letters Patent for an invention, Improved diving dress [Manuscript and diagrams] A627 – 4216044 National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Murakami, Y. (1927). Application for Letters Patent for an invention, Improvements in and relating to diving dresses. [Manuscript and diagrams] A627 – 4215757 National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Murakami, Y. (circa 1988 – 1944). Handwritten text on back of original photographic prints, various. [Photographic prints, back].

Nagata, Y. (1996). Unwanted Aliens: Japanese Internment in Australia During WWII. 1st ed. St. Lucia, Qld.: University of Queensland Press.

No 10 of 1918, Yasukichi Murakami [bankruptcy]. (1918). [Manuscripts, transcripts, letters, ledgers. Electronic document] PP92/1 – 12038022 Australian National Archives . Perth.

Norman, J. (May 2013). Interview with John Norman. Broome.

Prisoner of War/Internee: Murakami, Yasukichi; Date of birth – 19 December 1880; Nationality – Japanese. (n.d.). [Electronic document] MP1103/1 DJ18100 National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Prisoner of War/Internee; Murakami, Yasukichi; Year of birth – 1880; Nationality – Japanese. (n.d.).[Electronic document] MP1103/2 DJ18100 National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Sack, E. (1979). Eve Sack Oral History Transcript. [Manuscript] NTRS 226 TS 114 Northern Territory Archives Service. Darwin.

Scott, T. (1979). Thomas Connor Scott Oral History Transcript. [Manuscript] NTRS 226 TS 616 Northern Territory Archives Service. Darwin.

Shigematsu, S. (2007). Research Note on Pearling and Japanese Contribution to Local Society in early 20th century Australia. The Otemon Journal of Australian Studies, 33, pp.91- 100

Sissons, D. (2014). Murakami, Yasukichi (1880 – 1944). In: Australian Dictionary of Biographies, 18th ed. [online] Carlton: Melbourne University Press.

Photography

Barthes, R. (1981). Camera Lucida. 1st ed. New York: Hill and Wang.

McAuley, G. (2008). Photography and Live Performance: Introduction. Still / Moving: Photography and Live Performance, About Performance, No 8, pp.7-13.

Benjamin, Walter (1936). 1999.  The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Illuminations. London: Random House

Nietzsche, F. (1872).  1995. The Birth of Tragedy. New York: Dover Publications.

Ritchin, F. (2009). After Photography. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton.

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. 1979. Middlesex: Penguin Books.

Photographs used in the production of Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens are a courtesy of:

Australian War Memorial – ID 052384 & 052460 Photo by James Tait, Tatura Victoria

Bielby, Margo Photographic Archive

Broome Historical Society of Joseph Kisaburo Murakami Photographic Archives

Darwin Rondalla Archives

Gruchy, Mic Photography and Archives

Hamaguchi, Pearl Family Archives

Hang, Ted and Eunice Family Archives

Jones, Noreen Photographic Collection of Mise & Yamamoto Photographic Archives

Kanamori, Mayu Photography and Archives

Lance, Kate Photographic Collection

Murakami, Joseph Kisaburo Family Archives

Murakami, Julie Family Archives

Murakami, Yasuko Pearl Family Archives

National Archives of Australia –  A446  – 7648980 Kathleen Murakami

National Museum of Australia –  Book cover of Under Suspicion: Citizenship and Internment in Australia during the Second World War,  ISBN 9781876944605 

Northern Territory Library – Commemoration PH0200/0380 Mayse Young Collection; Cavenagh Street in the 1930’s / V. Fletcher, Harold Snell Collection; Bi-plane PH0282/0039 Unknown Collection; Rally PH0283/0012 Bill Allcorn Collection; Group PH0323/0014 D. Smith Collection; Float in street parade, Darwin circa late 1930s PH0340/0038 Jarvis Collection; Old Town Hall on Smith Street PH0386/0150 Bill Littlejohn Collection; Afternoon drink PH0444/0006 Bill & Betty Eacott Collection; Couple PH0375/0008 Marella Collection; The Residency PH0223/0005 J. Towers Collection; Serviceman PH0285/0053 Photo by Y. Murakami, Frank Blackwell Collection; and Divers on pearling lugger D36 PH0238/0174 Peter Spillett Collection

Other photographs from Northern Territory Library duplicate and supplied from Murakami family archives directly – Five men and a lady sitting in a car PH0096/0026 Fay Kilgariff Collection; Dampier Hotel PH0096/0024 Fay Kilgariff Collection; Mrs Theresa Murakami and Mr Yasukichi Murakami PH0096/0020 Fay Kilgariff Collection; Family PH0096/0019 Fay Kilgariff Collection; Man sitting in drivers seat of a car PH0096/0025 Fay Kilgariff Collection;  and A Japanese woman in Japanese dress PH0096/0017 Fay Kilgariff Collection.

Tsuda, Mutsumi Photography, Photographic Collection and Archives

Puertollano / Masuda, Cauline Family Archives

Sisters of St John of God Photographic Collection of Jones, Noreen Photographic Collection of Mise & Yamamoto Photographic Archives

All appropriate documents and photographs found for the research pertaining to Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens, used or other wise in the final production have been donated to Julie Murakami (Yasukichi’s great grand daughter / Murakami family historian) and Broome Historical Society / Museum.

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Murakami for recognition and rememberance for all

Unlike my usual visits to Yasukichi Murakami’s grave at the Japanese War Cemetery in Cowra,  on 9th of March 2014, I heard many voices of those alive today, and not just the dead and buried.

(L to R) Melissa Yoko Murakami (Perth), Julie Murakami (Darwin), Reiko Ruruka Minami Murakami (Japan) , Calvin Murakami (Darwin) and Sandra Seiko Murakami (Perth). Photo by Mayu Kanamori

(L to R) Melissa Yoko Murakami (Perth), Julie Murakami (Darwin), Reiko Ruruka Minami Murakami (Japan) , Calvin Murakami (Darwin) and Sandra Seiko Murakami (Perth). Photo by Mayu Kanamori

For sometime now I have entertained an irrational thought that Yasukichi Murakami’s ghost was calling to me to fulfill his wishes, and on this day, at least part of my irrational belief  as to his wishes came to be. Not only was his grave visited by 6 of his family members, but nearly 200 people gathered to commemorate the civilian internees who died in internment camps across Australia during World War II .

The commemoration was part of a series of events held in Cowra, NSW including a symposium, Civilian Internment in Australia during WWII: history, memories and community heritage, its related arts program, the Cowra Canowindra Civilian Internment Arts Program and an unveiling of an interpretive board with information about Japanese civilian internment in Australia during WWII at the entrance of the cemetery. This is the first time Japanese civilian internees and their families were publicly acknowledged in Australia.

(Back row L to R) Reiko (Ruruka) Minami Murakami, Calvin Murakami, Mayu Kanamori (Front row - L to R) Jacqueline Murakami and Julie Murakami. Photo by Mutsumi Tsuda

(Back row L to R) Reiko (Ruruka) Minami Murakami, Calvin Murakami, Mayu Kanamori (Front row – L to R) Jacqueline Murakami and Julie Murakami. Photo by Mutsumi Tsuda

Couple of years earlier, when I first visited Murakami’s grave with Dr Lorna Kaino, we met with Dr Keiko Tamura, a historian from the Australian National University there. By Murakami’s grave, the three of us discussed how the Japanese War Cemetery in Cowra needed an interpretive board to explain to visitors that many of the people buried there were civilians like Murakami. In fact many visitors to Cowra also visit the former Cowra Prisoner of War (POW) camp site, and have heard about the Cowra Breakout, and assuming all buried at the this cemetery were Japanese POWs who died during this mass breakout. The visitors walk into the cemetery, and after seeing the graves, wonder why there are babies and children buried there.

Former civilian internee Evelyn Suzuki and Cowra Mayor Bill West unveils the civilian internment interpretive board at Cowra Japanese War Cemetery. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Former civilian internee Evelyn Suzuki and Cowra Mayor Bill West unveils the civilian internment interpretive board at Cowra Japanese War Cemetery. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

The three of us agreed there and then to contact our mutual friend Dr Yuriko Nagata from Queensland University (UQ), the author of Unwanted Aliens: Japanese Internment in Australia During WWII (1996, UQ Press), the definitive book on this subject with the view to  bring about change. The four of us formed a group  Nikkei Australia, and with Dr Nagata as our team leader, for the next two years, worked together with the Cowra Breakout Association and other dedicated organisations and peoples to realise  these series of events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps it was  Yasukichi Murakami’s ghost that inspired us to work to facilitate this social change. After all, in his lifetime, Murakami was not only a photographer and artist, but also a leader in the Japanese communities in places  he once lived: Broome, Darwin and in Tatura Internment Camp in Victoria. Not only would he want his descendants to visit his grave – his wife and his deceased children are buried in Darwin – but would like his fellow community members who are buried in this cemetery to be remembered by their descendants, and for all of us to recognise and acknowledge their history.

Having said that, one of the most outstanding aspects of Murakami’s life was that he was not only part of the Japanese community. Historians such as Dr Lorna Kaino and Kate Lance, author of Redbill  tells us that Murakami and his friend and business partner Captain A.C. Gregory have acted as mediators during series of race riots in Broome (1907. 1914 and 1920), and their lifelong friendship “calmly flout(ed) every racial barrier of Broome society.” (Lance). And as such, our symposium consisted of  internment stories from those of Japanese, Italian, German and New Caledonian backgrounds as well as of regional museum curators from Tatura, Hay and Loveday, where the internment camps once were, academic researchers, artists and creative writers who’s work deal with WWII civilian internment in Australia.

Aoyama Temple, Sydney based Buddhist monks with Murakami family chanting sutra by Yasukichi Murakami's grave. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Seianji Temple, Sydney based Buddhist monks with Murakami family chanting sutra by Yasukichi Murakami’s grave. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

And  9 March was about  remembering those civilians who are buried in Cowra, regardless of their backgrounds. The ceremony began with a ceremony for Australians who died during WWII at the Australian section of Cowra’s War Cemetery, next for those buried in the Japanese section, which not only includes Japanese and Nikkei civilians, but Chinese, Indonesian and New Caledonian peoples who were interned with the Japanese. We then moved to the Cowra General Cemetery to commemorate the Javanese Indonesian political prisoners who were interned and died in Cowra.

Artists Weizen Ho and Ria Soemardjo leading the attendees through the Cowra General Cemetery from the Indonesian graves to the Japanese War Cemetery as part of a Ceremonial Performance. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Artists Weizen Ho and Ria Soemardjo leading the attendees through the Cowra General Cemetery from the Indonesian graves to the Japanese War Cemetery as part of a Ceremonial Performance. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Ria Soemardjo, an Indonesian Australian performer sang by the Indonesian graves, then Weizen Ho, a Chinese Malaysian Australian performer  lead the attendees  back to the Japanese section, where local youth artists Bianca Reggio and Lauren Townsend and Shigeki Sano, a Japanese  Shinto musician residing in Cowra, and Alan Schacher, an Australian performer of Jewish background performed in ceremony along with a group of Sydney based Buddhist monks from Seizanji-ji

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Such were the events in Cowra.

Such were the wishes of Yasukichi Murakami – I believe.

-Posted by Mayu Kanamori