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

OzAsia Festival – Adelaide

9 & 10 September 2014 7:30pm Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

My date on Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens was beautiful Jacinta Thompson, former Artistic Director of OzAsia Festival. We met in the Space Theatre foyer with a heartfelt embrace. Many Asian Australian artists have developed their careers because of Jacinta’s vision and long-term curatorial commitment in nurturing the growth of an artist like myself. OzAsia Festival not only brings to Australian audiences art from Asia, but has actively invested in the Asian stories within Australia. The importance of their longer term curatorial vision must be congratulated and held in reverence.

Working with the professional people and facility at the Adelaide Festival Centre along with the excellent OzAsia team with current Artistic Director Joe Mitchell, our show excelled, bringing in many favourable reviews. We were blessed with great publicists throughout our Darwin, Broome and Adelaide tours, and have received much publicity, which is of course excellent for the show itself, but in the wider sense, we have been able to add to the legacy of Yasukichi Murakami and to rekindle the memory of the pre war Japanese contribution to Australia.

Reviews

Realtime: 8th OzAsia Festival 2014 Culture’s haunted houses by Ben Brooker

Realtime: 2014 Darwin Festival, Cultural syntheses: north-south, east-west by Nicola Fearn

BWW Review: OzAsia Festival 2014; Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens Captivates and Informs by Barry Lenny 

The Clothesline: Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens: An Enchanting Photographic Journey Betwden Past and Present by Michael Coghlan

The Advertiser: OzAsia migration lay Through a Distant Lens puts Japan in focus by Louise Nunn

In Daily: Murakami: a life lost and rediscovered by Gregg Elliott

Glamadelaide: OzAsia Theatre Review: Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens

Selected Media Links

ABC Radio National Arts & Books Daily: Yasukichi Murakami: the photographer who captured Darwin by Georgia Moodie. Presented by Michael Cathcart

ABC Radio National Music Show: Yasukichi Murakami. Presented by Andrew Ford. Produced by Maureen Cooney / Jennifer Mills

ABC Radio National Drive: A Japanese-Australian photographer in pre-WW2 Darwin. Presented by Waleed Aly. Produced by Hélène Hofman

ABC News: Japanese photographer, pearling pioneer Yasukichi Murakami honoured in Broome

-Posted by Mayu Kanamori

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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.

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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

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

Julie Murakami

Julie Murakami and I met in a restaurant in Rapid Creek, a suburb of Darwin for a Japanese meal. After sharing with her my efforts to date of locating photographs Yasukichi Murakami had left behind, she helped me with the family tree on her father’s side of her family, starting with Jubei and Yasu, Yasukichi’s parents from Tanami in Wakayama Prefecture.

Yasukichi married Theresa Shigeno and had nine children, six boys and three girls. Julie is the daughter of David Yoshiji, who is the second son of Kathleen Masuko and Yoshio Murakami. Kathleen Masuko is the oldest daughter of Yasukichi and Theresa. Julie’s father David Yoshiji Murakami was born in an internment camp in Tatura.

Julie had contacted me last year by commenting on this project blog, letting me know that she was Yasukichi’s great granddaughter. Since then we have kept contact by email, exchanging information about her great-grandfather, and we decided to join forces in our search of his legacy.

Rapid Cafe at Rapid Creek Business Village. 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