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.

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.

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

About Murakami

About Murakami is my dialogue with Yasukichi Murakami (1880 – 1944). Murakami was a Japanese born photographer who arrived in Cossack when he was sixteen years old. He later moved to Broome and began his career as a photographer. After moving to Darwin he opened his own photographic studio. He was interned in Tatura during WWII. He died whilst interned and is now buried in the Japanese Cemetery in Cowra.

My project blog records the process of creating a performance About Murakami.

This project is an initiative in collaboration with Dr Lorna Kaino.

I am on my way to Broome to find out more about him and to listen to him through his photographs – about his life in Australia, about being a professional photographer and being of Japanese diaspora.

Mayu Kanamori