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

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