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.

Somehow, of love and immortality

Upon returning from photographing a wedding on Pearl Beach last weekend, I found a message from a man named Greg Leon in Melbourne:

I have just seen a news article at ABC Online… regarding Yasukichi Murakami and your biographical work on him. The article mentioned the scarcity of his photographs from his Darwin years. I have a set of 15 photographs that Mr Murakami may have taken of my parents when they were married in Darwin in May 1940. If you are interested please let me know… Regards, Greg

Interested?! This is what I’ve been doing for nearly 3 years: Looking for Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs, especially from Darwin.

I telephoned Greg immediately.

Back of the envelope

Back of the envelope found by Greg Leon.

Dear Mayu,

I was surprised and delighted to receive your call today. The timing was something of a coincidence as I was scheduled this afternoon to perform (inter alia) a song I wrote that refers to Murakami-san’s photos of my parents’ wedding in Darwin in 1940. For info, I am a part-time singer-songwriter (and a semi-retired IT Consultant, Project Manager, Business Analyst).

I have attached scans of the envelope in which I found the photos (as film negatives). I have also attached one of the images revealing the shadow of the photographer!

Imelda (nee Leahy) and Tony Leon on their wedding day in Darwin, 1940. Photo probably by Yasukichi Murakami

Imelda (nee Leahy) and Tony Leon on their wedding day in Darwin, 1940. Photo probably by Yasukichi Murakami

When I was a younger photographer working for Fairfax Media, many of my colleagues said wedding photography was not a path to pursue for a serious photojournalist. Yet I enjoyed enjoy being of service as a photographer who endeavours to leave memories of love.

Photographing a wedding gives a photographer a great chance for his / her work to serve for generations to come. In a sense, it is our best shot at immortality.

Greg added:

My parents were Imelda (nee Leahy) and Tony Leon. Both were born in Adelaide, but my father’s family were from Melbourne. I understand that they met in Darwin just three weeks prior to their wedding. I am not sure when they returned to Adelaide, but I assume it was prior to 1941. After the start of the “Pacific” war, my father enlisted and went to New Guinea, while my mother remained in Adelaide as a nurse in one of the military hospitals. After I was born in 1947, my parents moved to Melbourne where I have spent the rest of my life to date.

Looking a little more critically – and from an amateur photographer’s perspective – some questions spring to mind:

– Why would a professional photographer allow his shadow to fall within the frame?

– Wouldn’t a professional photographer retain the negatives, rather than returning them to the client?

– Looking at the photographs as a set, I cannot help thinking they are almost too casual for a pro.

So, the Big One: was Murakami-san the actual photographer, or did he just process the film as a service for the person who took the photographs? What do you think?

Looking forward to further discussion!

Best regards, Greg

Envelope found by Greg Leon. The handwriting is that of Yasukichi Murakami's.

Envelope found by Greg Leon. The handwriting is that of Yasukichi Murakami’s.

I do not know all the answers.

I know that when I had photographed weddings on negatives, I often gave the negatives to the bride and groom. They are best with them, and not for us to keep a hold on the work we have taken part and brought to creation.

Murakami did leave his shadow in two of his family photographs.  There could be many more. John E deB Norman told me once that he has a photograph of Eki Nishioka’s shadow. Perhaps it was Eki who taught Murakami to leave his shadow in a photo every so often.

Somehow, the words love and immortality to come to mind.

Emma Dean and Joon Yang at Pearl Beach 2014 Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Emma Dean and Joon Yang at Pearl Beach 2014 Photo by Mayu Kanamori

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

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

DNA and RNA: what and how of a role of artist and of being human

When I saw Kevin Murakami in Broome, my heart felt like it had stopped for a moment. The shock of seeing him took me to a place I had not prepared for. There was Yasukichi Murakami walking out of his car, I thought, approaching me to say hello.

Kevin Murakami, Broome, 2013  Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Kevin Murakami, Broome, 2013 Photo by Mayu Kanamori

This man of course wasn’t Yasukichi Murakami nor his ghost, but his great grandson, who travelled from Fitzroy Crossing to see me during my stay in Broome. He heard me give an interview with ABC Kimberley about my search for Yasukichi Murakami’s life and work, and contacted me.

I was working with my friend Sarah Yu in Broome on another project: Jetty-to-Jetty, a heritage walking trail of Broome’s foreshore commissioned by Nymaba Buru Yawuru. My specific task was to interview members of old families of Broome in connection to places and their relationships with one another; then create audio files of stories with multiple voices, which tourists could listen to via a phone app whilst walking from the Streeter’s Jetty where hte pearl luggers used to operate from and the site of  Broome’s old Jetty, where the Town Beach is today. They are families and places Yasukichi Murakami would have had intimate knowledge of. After all, he lived in Broome for 35 years of his life. Once again, my work connects past with present and present with future through people, stories, relationships, place and space.

Kevin had driven 400 kms to just to see me. More precisely, he had come to connect with his great grandfather Yasukichi Murakami so that he can then pass on this connection to his two daughters in Perth. He came so I can give him his ancestral family photographs that I have been collecting and digitizing whilst traveling between Sydney, Perth, Darwin, Broome, Tokyo, Yokohama and Tanami in Japan for my Murakami project.

To make my art, I travel many kilometers to ask others to assist me, to receive from them information I need to carry out my work. This time, however, it was Kevin who travelled to receive information that he needed, and he in turn will pass this information on to his children.

IMG_9793

Yasukichi Murakami, self portrait, by Yasukichi Murakami, 1905, Broome. Courtesy, Murakami Family Archives.

I felt as if this exchange touched upon something very mysterious and significant. It was as if I was given  some sort of a hint about how our creative practice, no matter how small it may be in the great scheme of things, is an important part of the whole. That this project is not only about Yasukichi Murakami nor just about my research nor about my art. That in so far as we are alive, there are things we are meant to do for something much bigger than us.

Kevin’s facial and physical features, so similar to what I have seen of Yasukichi Murakami through his self portraits reinforces these insights of being part of a continuum, in this particular case, the Murakami DNA. So then I begin not only to wonder about the role of DNA, but also the role of RNA in the scheme of things.

I remember studying biology in school. The DNA is said to be a molecule that encodes the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms and  the RNA performs multiple roles in the coding, decoding, regulation, and expression of genes. I am not a scientist, but I think simply put DNA tells a cell what to do and  RNA carries this information for it to happen… or something similar.

Hm….

So then what and how is my role as an artist? As a human being?

-Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Listen to the ABC Kimberley interview here: http://www.abc.net.au/local/audio/2013/05/20/3762857.htm?site=kimberley

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.

Archivists and heritage experts

Julie Murakami and I began our search for Yasukichi Murakami’s life and photographs he has left behind at the Northern Territory office of the National Archives of Australia. Thankfully the archivist who assisted us was supportive, encouraging and enthusiastic, giving us an auspicious start to our research. She helped us with clues about how to tackle the massive archives that held the records of our national heritage. A local woman of Aboriginal and Chinese descent, she was also interested in her own family history, searching for information about her Chinese grandfather. She told us that research can be addictive, and watching her navigate the massive web of our archives, continuously clicking her mouse, following one lead after another, made me think that this could indeed be a portrait of an addict. But then again, I think it may be my own delusional tendencies that needed a reality check: I was beginning to believe that it was the spirits of those buried underneath the vaults of our archives that possessed us to so passionately dig into our hidden histories.

Archival Officer Joanne Wood at National Archives, NT Office. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

At the Heritage Branch of the Northern Territory’s Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport, we met a dedicated and very helpful heritage expert who had some years ago written a report about the heritage listed building in Cavanaugh Street in Darwin’s Central Business District, commonly known as the Stone Houses. In the report is the name Murakami as one of the occupants of this building in the early 1940’s. It is by coincidence that he had answered the phone when I rang to seek some help in locating where Yasukichi’s photographic studio may have been. Such coincidences make me feel that the spirits are with us, and once again, I find the need to remind myself not to be carried away.

At the Northern Territory Archives Service we met an archivist who awakened us to the broader and more meaningful implications of the search for Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs. So professional was her approach to her trade, it made clear to us her dedication to public service, beyond the servicing of Julie and I and her current array of clients / researchers, but for the generation after and the generation thereon after.

Julie Murakami at NT archives. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Meeting with archivists and heritage experts have inspired my processes of art making to take shape in a very different way to what I had imagined. I am unsure how to put it in words just at the moment, but I do know that it will be an important part of the story I am about to tell of Yasukichi Murakami’s life and work. The current clues point towards how an individual photographer / image maker takes part in service of the collective memory of future generations, how our archival practices take part in this process, and how art making can make a difference. It all sounds very grand and perhaps very vague, but I can begin in small specific ways: by suggesting corrections when noticing an error in the records, whenever possible requesting digitization and opening of records which are yet to be opened, and to encourage wider public access to the treasures and secrets hidden in our archives.

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori