Yasukichi Murakami Life Story

Yasukichi Murakami (1880−1944)Life Story:Through the photographs sent to his mother at home, an exhibition curated by Professor Mutsumi Tsuda (Photographer / Professor, Seian University of Art and Design) at the Wakayama University’s Institute of Kishu Economic and Cultural History Library was an important milestone in the history of Japanese migration to Australia. The exhibition showcased many original prints from the Yasuko Murakami – Minami Collection, which are Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs from Australia, which he had sent to his mother in Japan.

In 1970 when his daughter Yasuko Pearl Minami Murakami moved to Tanami, Yasukichi’s hometown in Wakayama Prefecture, she gathered these photographs, which were scattered amongst their extended family, and secured them in her care until this day. This exhibition is the first time Murakami’s photographs were exhibited in Japan.

Yasukichi Murakami Life Story, exhibiton curated by Mutsumi Tsuda

Front: Yasukichi Murakami Life Story, exhibiton curated by Mutsumi Tsuda

Yasukichi Murakami Life Story, exhibiton curated by Mutsumi Tsuda

Back: Yasukichi Murakami Life Story, exhibiton curated by Mutsumi Tsuda

Along with the photographs were other highly personal exhibits including Murakami’s children’s school records, letters he had written to his mother and a moving art video filmed by Tsuda of Murakami’s son, Joseph Kisaburo Murakami looking at his father’s photographs, reflecting, and speaking to Tsuda, and in effect, to himself and the viewers of the video.

The opening of the exhibition was  in conjunction with the 2016 Australian Studies Association Conference held at the Wakayama University. Murakami was born in Tanami, Wakayama Prefecture. Included in the program was a seminar by Dr Yuriko Nagata from University of Queensland about Yasukichi Murakami and other Nikkei Australians.

Joseph Kisaburo Murakami on video by Mutsumi Tsuda, Julie Murakami (left) and Ruruka (Reiko) Minami (right) at the exhibition opening. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Joseph Kisaburo Murakami on video by Mutsumi Tsuda, Julie Murakami (left) and Ruruka (Reiko) Minami (right) at the exhibition opening. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visitors at Yasukichi Murakami Life Story, exhibition curated by Mutsumi Tsuda.

Visitors at Yasukichi Murakami Life Story, exhibition curated by Mutsumi Tsuda. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Yasukichi Murakami Life Story, exhibits .

Yasukichi Murakami Life Story, exhibits. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

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Yasukichi Murakami Life Story, exhibits. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

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(Left to Right) Ruruka (Reiko) Minami, Julie Murakami and Mutsumi Tsuda. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Seminar by Dr Yuriko Nagata. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Seminar by Dr Yuriko Nagata. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

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(Left to Right) Ruruka (Reiko) Minami, Julie Murakami, Mutsumi Tsuda, and Mayu Kanamori next to a portrait of Yasukichi Murakami at the Yasukichi Murakami Life Story. Photo by Simon Wearne.

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Yasukichi Murakami’s Diving Suit Part 1

“He was not a man who was taken in by the modern cameras of that time like the Leica or 35mm. He considered that to be toys,” is how Joe Kisaburo Clement Murakami remembers his father’s ways with the camera. I think of the changes in cameras these days with smart phones and apps, and wonder if my carrying around my digital SLR is similar to Yasukichi Murakami’s insistence on being a “ big camera man. Big format”.

I met Joe in his apartment in Tsunashima, a suburb near Yokohama. Joe was born in Australia, and one of the few pre war Japanese allowed to stay in Australia after he was released from internment with his family during WW2 as an enemy alien. He went to Japan in the 1960’s to learn Japanese, and later found work as a translator for a Japanese company and for books such as Letters from the End of the World: A Firsthand Account of the Bombing of Hiroshima.

Joe Murakami as a child in Broome. Photo by Yasukichi Murakami. Joe Murakami today. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Joe Murakami as a child in Broome. Photo by Yasukichi Murakami. Joe Murakami today. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Joe Murakami was born in 1927, around the time when Yasukichi was putting his final improvements to his diving suit design, which he had first patented in 1926. Joe was keen to tell me about his father’s invention.

“I think I used to be a pretty inquisitive boy so I used to ask him all sorts of questions. Even when I was six or seven. And he would give me always some sort of answer. Later I found interest in his diving dress. He told me that the crux of his invention was the regulator that regulated the breathe according to the depth of the diver without the diver having to have to manipulate any valves. That I remember.”

In Broome where Murakami had lived since 1900, many men, including his brother-in-law Masutaro Asari, who travelled with Murakami to Australia in 1897, have died diving for pearls in old-fashioned diving suits. For many years Yasukichi Murakami continued experiments to create a safer diving suit.

Murakami’s improved diving suit design patented the year Joe was born, and he was invited by Heinke, manufacturers of the traditional diving dress to visit London to develop a prototype of his design, but for some reason, did not go. Some say it was because he wanted to stay with his family. Some say it was because his friend and business partner Captain A.C. Gregory did not want Murakami to leave his side.

Murakami’s patent fell due for renewal whist he was interned during the war and he was not able to renew it. In 1943, a French engineer Émile Gagnan patented scuba apparatus with identical mechanisms to that of Murakami’s.

I remember Murakami’s attempt at Australia’s first cultured pearl farm with Captain Gregory and how the authorities had closed it down. Joe said that Johnny Chi Snr in Broome told him that he remembers seeing a successful cultured pearl from Murakami’s failed pearl farm. That makes two inventions in Australia by Yasukichi Murakami, unattributed to his genius due to “course” of history. Perhaps this blog and project can contribute to the flow of history in a fairer way – here and now.

Continued.

-Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Diasporic condition

Every two hours a slow local train stops at Tanami station, a small seaside village near the very southern tip of Honshu Island. This is where photographer Yasukichi Murakami was born, and left at the age of 17 in 1897 to sail to Australia.

The old Tanami port where Yasukichi would have farewelled his family is only a few hundred meters away from where the Murakami family home once stood. Yasukichi would have grown up looking out to sea everyday watching the men of Tanami leave, many who sailed overseas to find work in places like Hawaii and Australia on indentured contracts.

Old Tanami port. The stone wall of the Murakami family home can be seen on the far left. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Old Tanami port. The stone wall of the Murakami family home can be seen on the far left. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Reiko “Ruruka” Minami, Yasukichi Murakami’s grand-daughter met me at Tanami station. Ruruka is about my age, and like me, an artist, a performance maker. She performs in sign language whilst my performances use photographs to communicate.

Ruruka Minami at Tanami station. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Ruruka Minami at Tanami station. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Ruruka took me to her family home to meet her mother, Yasuko Pearl Minami (nee Murakami). Travelling to meet a 89-year-old woman whilst carrying on my iPad a photograph of young Yasukichi induces my mind to play tricks, creating an illusion as if I am meeting Yasukichi’s mother, but this woman is his daughter.

Yasukichi Murakami's photo travelled with me to his hometown in Tanami, Wakayama, Japan. The eucalyptus bark and nuts were found at Yasukichi Murakami's gravesite in Cowra, NSW. Photo by Mayu Kanamaori

Yasukichi Murakami’s photo travelled with me to his hometown in Tanami, Wakayama, Japan. The eucalyptus bark and nuts were found at Yasukichi Murakami’s gravesite in Cowra, NSW. Self portrait photo of Yasukichi Murakami by Yasukichi Murakami, Courtesy of Murakami Family Archives. Photo by Mayu Kanamaori

Yasuko Pearl who was born in Broome, Western Australia and married a man from Tanami whilst they were both interned in Tatura, Victoria during WWII. She is the third born between Yasukichi and his wife Theresa Shigeno.

In her home, Yasuko Pearl showed me many original photographs taken by her father Yasukichi Murakami. In Australia, these photographs were lost when Yasukichi and his family were arrested in Darwin in 1941 for being an enemy alien. But Yasukichi throughout his life had sent his photographs to his mother in Japan, allowing us to see what life was like for Yasukichi during his lifetime.

Ruruka Minami and Pearl Yasuko Minami looking at old photographs. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Ruruka Minami and Pearl Yasuko Minami looking at old photographs. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Whilst looking through these old photographs we came across a family photograph taken in Tanami. It is the only photo I have seen of Yasukichi and his mother Yasu in Japan along with Theresa and 5 five of his 9 children. I am told that this photo was taken in Tanami when Yasukichi returned to his place of birth. I know from his immigration records that this was 1925.

Yasukichi Murakami and family in Tanami, Wakayama Prefecture. 1925.Left to right: Yasu Murakami, Frances Yasunosuke Murakami, Theresa Shigeno Murakami, Bernadette Yoshiko Murakami (baby), Pearl Yasuko Murakami, Kathleen Masuko Murakami (standing), Richard Jukichi Murakami and Yasuichi Murakami. Photo by Yasukichi Murakami. Courtesy, Murakami Family Archives

Yasukichi Murakami and family in Tanami, Wakayama Prefecture. 1925.
Left to right: Yasu Murakami, Frances Yasunosuke Murakami, Theresa Shigeno Murakami, Bernadette Yoshiko Murakami (baby), Pearl Yasuko Murakami, Kathleen Masuko Murakami (standing), Richard Jukichi Murakami and Yasuichi Murakami. Photo by Yasukichi Murakami. Courtesy, Murakami Family Archives

Yasukichi’s father Jubei Murakami was a successful man. Unlike other men from Tanami, Yasukichi did not need to leave home to find work. I imagine Yasukichi left home full of youthful energy, looking forward to his adventures ahead. I too remember when I first left Tokyo to come to Australia in 1981. I too did not need to come to Australia.

His family home was on what would have been the best part of the village, along the main road in the centre of town. There is still a stone fence facing the sea today, which had belonged to the Murakami family. This block is now sub divided into three lots with houses on each end and a vacant block in the middle. This vacant block is now owned by Yasuko Pearl.

When Yasukichi returned to Japan in 1925, he found that the Murakami family had fallen on hard times and their property had been sold to others. With money he had earned in Australia, Yasukichi bought back part it and housed his mother there. This is the vacant block owned by Yasuko Pearl today.

Hearing this story made me a little teary. It was not so much that I was moved by the actions of a faithful son, but that of the diasporic condition.

It is recorded in Yasukichi’s unsuccessful Australian application for naturalization in 1939 that he had returned to Japan for “holidays” in 1925. It is our diasporic condition that touches my heart. Whilst others enjoy their holidays in exotic and fun-filled destinations, when people like Yasukichi, myself and so many of us who have crossed the seas go on our holiday, we mostly go back to where our loved ones live, and we do what we will to reconnect and rekindle that love. And then we move back to another life with other loved ones.

The day I left Tanami, Ruruka decided to perform for her grandfather Yasukichi Murakami on this vacant block of land that she would most probably inherit one day. I videoed her performance to take back to Australia and to play it back by Yasukichi’s grave in Cowra.

Ruruka Minami performing in sign on the stone wall by her family block. Still image from video by Mayu Kanamori

Ruruka Minami performing in sign on the stone wall by her family block. Still image from video by Mayu Kanamori

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

* For Ruruka Minami’s Shuwa Nikki (Sign Language Diary), click here.

* For more on the diasporic condition via a speech transcript for the Japanese on the Move, a project by Ingrid Piller and Kimie Takahashi, click here.