The Moon and the Lustre

The day before the full moon lunar eclipse in September 2015, Melissa Murakami and I visited the Maritime Museum in Fremantle to see the Lustre exhibition. Melissa’s great great grandfather Yasukichi Murakami lived in Broome during the hey-day of the Australian pearl shell industry, and had made a quiet, yet significant contributions to the industry. Quiet, because until this exhibition, the stories of Australian pearling had not been told through the vision of curator Sarah Yu and her team Bart Pigram and Maya Shioji at Nyamba Buru Yawuru with the WA Museum team who had included individual narratives of lessor known black and yellow fellas who were part of the Australian pearling community.

Melissa Murakami and projected self portrait of Yasukichi Murakami at the Lustre: Pearling & Australia exhibition. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Melissa Murakami and projected self-portrait of Yasukichi Murakami at the Lustre: Pearling & Australia exhibition. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Murakami and his business partner Captain A.C. Gregory started Australia’s first cultured pearl farm, although the authorities had closed it down because of the local fear of ruining the natural pearl market, which in effect had set Australia’s cultured pearl industry back by 30 years. Murakami had invented a safer diving suit, which was the forerunner for the modern-day scuba gear, and although he had patented his design, its renewal fell due whilst he was interned as an enemy alien during WWII, allowing a French inventor to patent one of a very similar design. Significant contributions dwarfed by the course of history, and the way what stories are told by whom.

I had created short audio stories for this exhibition by using oral history interviews of people who were part of the cultured pearling industry for this exhibition. They included not only pearling masters and Japanese pearl divers, but lesser known stories of Indigenous pearl shell carvers, deck hands, boat builders, and shell graders, among many others.

Although my involvement had been small compared to all the work that had gone into preparing the exhibition, being in constant communication with Sarah Yu, who had put me up in her home whilst I was researching Yasukichi Murakami’s story for Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens, gave me the opportunity to contribute some of Murakami’s story and photographs found in Tanami and Darwin for the exhibition

From the exhibition Lustre: Pearling & Australia. The photograph displayed of the boy on the left centre was taken by Yasukichi Murakami of his son Francis Yasunosuke Murakami at the Japanese Cemetery in Cossak. The x marking on the photo indicated the grave of Chiyo Araki, mother of Theresa Shigeno Murakami. The video display on the right was part of project In Repose by Wakako Asano, Satsuki Odamura, Vic McEwan and Mayu Kanamori. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

From the exhibition Lustre: Pearling & Australia. The photograph displayed of the boy on the left centre was taken by Yasukichi Murakami of his son Francis Yasunosuke Murakami at the Japanese Cemetery in Cossack. The x marking on the photo indicated the grave of Chiyo Araki, mother of Theresa Shigeno Murakami. The video display on the right was part of project In Repose by Wakako Asano, Satsuki Odamura, Vic McEwan and Mayu Kanamori.
Photo by Mayu Kanamori

I darted around the exhibition looking for images and stories pertaining to Murakami, making sure we did not miss any of them, pointing them out to Melissa with excitement, as if they were my own photographs on display. Melissa’s partner found the copy of a certificate exempting Murakami from a dictation test, issued by the Commonwealth of Australia as part of the Immigration Act 1901-1920. Displayed in one of the glass cabinets, the second page of the certificate was of his left palm, stamped by the customs and excise office in 1925.

There is something powerful about a hand print of someone who had once lived. Its proof of having-once-lived-ness enters our awareness vividly in rawness; much more so than a photograph of the deceased, perhaps because of our digital age and the proliferation of photographs.

Melissa studied the lines on her ancestor’s palm, then her own in comparison. It is often said in palmistry that the left hand shows traits a person was born with, and the right hand, the kind of a person they had become; and perhaps because of this, she found the shape of his palm and the lines similar to her own. She later told me of feeling a strong connection with this particular exhibit, as if “the only separation between was an ink pad, and not time.”

Melissa Murakami comparing her left palm to that of her ancestor Yasukichi Murakami. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Melissa Murakami comparing her left palm to that of her ancestor Yasukichi Murakami. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Before we left the museum, we took photos of each other, separately and together in groups at the entrance of the exhibition. Seen from the entrance was a screen hoisted from the ceiling, its shape round, probably because it emulated the shape of a pearl. Black and white images of people who worked in the Australian pearling industry were projected on to the screen, one by one. When it was Melissa’s turn to be photographed on her own, one of Murakami’s self portraits taken at Captain Gregory’s home appeared on the screen.

That afternoon on my way back to Perth, I saw a daytime super moon, full, just above the horizon in the clear blue sky, perfectly round like a cultured pearl. Was it my own little ego that made me see Yasukichi Murakami sitting in Gregory’s cane chair, on the moon, acknowledging my small contribution for his descendants and wider world to recognise his? Perhaps it was time to return to humility, and remember that as people, we all have a part to play, a small but significant purpose to fulfil as part of the whole.

Lustre: Australian Pearling will be on at the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle from 20 June to 25 Oct 2015 travelling to other locations.

More info:

Lustre by Sarah Yu, Bart Pigram and Maya Shioji on the Griffith Review

Lustre on-line text panels by WA Museum

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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

In Cowra finding Murakami’s grave

My collaborator Dr Lorna Kaino and I drove through the Blue Mountains, past Bathurst and arrived in Cowra in search for Yasukichi Murakami’s grave.

My first visit to Cowra was in 1997 when I arrived at the Japanese Gardens to install fifty photographs from my exhibition Unseen Faces of Japan which had been exhibited at the Japan Cultural Centre Sydney (Japan Foundation) six months earlier. Since then I have been here a dozen times, and as years pass and my understanding of history, war, peace, and people have deepened, so has my understanding of Cowra.

Yasukichi Murakami is buried in the Japanese War Cemetery in Cowra. All Japanese people who died in Australia during WWII are buried here. Unknown airmen, POWs and civilian internees, like Murakami.

His grave somehow feels out of place.

Lorna commented that she somehow had been expecting a monument more outstanding as he was an outstanding figure in our minds. Yet like all graves around the world associated with war, his grave looks identical to everyone else’s, all neatly in a row one after another. Even with all his achievements and leadership, friendships with people in high places along with his 47 years in this country, none of it made any difference in the end.

But then again, every single person here buried would have a story to tell, a mother and a father, people they loved and people who loved them, even the 3 day old baby and the unknown airman who air raided Darwin. When I remember this I realise that Murakami, although may have a common grave like everyone, else has earned his name. He is in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. And here we are, Lorna and I, searching and finding his grave 67 years after his death.

Yasukichi Murakami’s grave at Japanese War Cemetery, Cowra. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Visual collaboration in the cemetery part 2

As promised, Tomoko Yamada directed the photo shoot that took place at the Japanese Cemetery in Broome.

Emulating the historical photograph of Yasukichi Murakami and his friends taken on the eve of the Bon celebrations sometime in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s, Tomoko stood in place of the buddhist priest who was present, myself in place of Murakami, my friend Cauline Masuda, the oldest daughter of the oldest Japanese former pearl diver in Broome Akira Masuda, Tomoko’s friends Yurie Tamagawa, Mia Tucker and Michiyo Tucker stood by Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka’s grave.

Strange how one thing leads to another unexpected turn of events. In search of Murakami has lead me to collaborate with Tomoko to create this contemporary photograph of Japanese diasporic women in Broome.

Then as a result of this photo shoot I have decided to organise a fundraising event at my friends’ Yuga Cafe & Gallery in Glebe, Sydney so that a Japanese buddhist priest could travel to Broome to read a sutra and hold a kuyo ceremony during the next Bon season.

The Japanese Cemetery in Broome is in need of a buddhist priest.

Tomoko Yamada, Yurie Tamagawa, Cauline Masuda, Mayu Kanamori, Mia Tucker and Michiyo Tucker by Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka’s grave at Japanese Cemetery, Broome. Photo directed by Tomoko Yamada, taken with timer & tripod.

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Visual collaboration in the cemetery

There is a photograph kept in the Broome Museum of a group of Japanese men dressed in formal looking clothes (white, much like the pearling masters) with one boy and a a man dressed like a Japanese Buddhist priest in front of Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka’s grave. The caption on the photograph reads:

Japanese Men at Cemetery on eve of annual Bon Matsuri Festival. Boy standing in front of Yasukichi Murakami. Grave of T. Nishioka died 9/03/1901.

Murakami is the only one identified in this photograph, reminding me that he is one of the very few among thousands of Japanese who had been in Broome to have left his mark in history as an individual remembered by name. Someone in the community, perhaps many years after the war, remembered and identified him in this photograph.

I showed a copy of this photograph to Tomoko Yamada, a Japanese fiber and millinery artist who recently migrated from Osaka to Broome to live with her partner, and requested her collaboration. Together during the Shinju Festival this year, Tomoko and I will create a photograph at the Japanese Cemetery. I asked her to bring with herself, four other women and a girl of her choice and then to let me know the processes of the choice of people she brings to take part in this collaboration. They need not be Japanese necessarily. I requested women – simply because there are only men in this original photo. We will put up a tripod and I will stand in place of Murakami. She will be whoever she would like to be.

Tomoko noticed from the photograph and its caption that the men were dressed formally because of Bon. Bon in Japan is an annual celebration during the full moon in August when spirits of the dead is said to return to this world. People return to their homelands, visit their ancestral graves and enjoy festivities with food, sake and dance. The annual Shinju Festival (Matsuri) in Broome have their origins in Bon, when the Japanese in town held festivities at Broome’s Japanese Cemetery.

Artist Tomoko Yamada at her home. Photograph by Mayu Kanamori

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Calling of names

Finding Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka’s grave was not as difficult as imagined. Nishioka was the shop owner who Murakami worked for as a young man in Cossack. Together they moved to Broome and opened an emporium in China Town, which doubled as a photographic studio.

Walking slowly through the morning cemetery, calling out the names carved on every tombstone is one way of not missing a single soul. About quarter of the way in on the northern side of the cemetery stands Takazo Nishioka’s grave. Erected by his wife Eki, tall in stature, and proud of his contribution to this town. After photographing Nishioka’s grave, it felt somehow unfair to stop calling out their names. So with the intention of finding clues about H. Wada, I walked through the rest of the cemetery, calling each name out loud.

There were three tombstones with the name Wada inscribed, but none with the name corresponding to the initial H. By the time I finished calling out all 900 plus names, the morning sun was beating down a little too strong for comfort. I made my way to the Old Convent to search the photographic archives of St John of God.

Takazo Nishioka's tomb, Japanese Cemetery, Broome. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Talking with Senpai (s) (先輩)

For sometime now, it has been customary for me to visit the Japanese Cemetery in Broome almost immediately after my arrival. I do not feel settled into the community and feel superstitious about starting a project here until I pay my respects to my senpai(s) (先輩), at the cemetery.

When I walk through the gates, I feel the burden on my shoulders lift. Walking down the central pathway leading to the back of the cemetery adjacent to the Catholic Cemetery, I find myself talking with the dead.

I am back again, I let them know, and ask them how things have been since my last visit.

When I near the injured tombstone, vandalized only couple of years ago, I feel a sharp pain to see the once handsome tombstone so violently reduced to third of its original size. I say hello, let him know that I am back, and assure him I have a photograph of his tombstone before the attack.

It does not matter after all: everyone’s tombstones weather and disappear eventually. It is beautiful that it disappears and that once we are forgotten, we are finally free.

I know this.

But I am a photographer.

Like Murakami.

I cannot stop documenting, trying to preserve, trying to capture a moment in the flow of time. Something about my wish to document for posterity feels very human and a very sad part of being human at that.

In the north east section of the cemetery are the newer burials. I spend more time in this corner, letting each person know that I am back. I spend most of the time by Uncle Hama’s grave. I remember our first meeting, when he told me he was disgusted by young Japanese women these days, dying and perming their naturally jet black straight hair. A the time my hair was permed and was dyed slightly brown. I remember being embarrassed.

No one is in the cemetery other than couple of tourists a good twenty meters away. There is a gentle afternoon breeze. Out loud, I let Uncle Hama know I am back and explain to him my two reasons for being back.

I am back in Broome.

I am here to work with young people, passing on my skills as a photographer and story-teller as part of a project called Broome: You Are Here.

I am here to find about my photographic senpai (先輩), Yasuskichi Murakami as part of a project called 3 Japanese Photographers.

As I leave the cemetery, I let everyone there know that I will be back again.

Detail, Uncle Hama’s grave, Japanese Cemetery, Broome, West Australia Photo: Mayu Kanamori

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori