Temple, goddess, prayer and contributions

In a trance like state, I prayed.

In Shimabara, there is a small hill called the Benten-zan, which has a shrine and a temple. The shrine enshrines the Benzaiten goddess, who is the goddess of everything that flows: water, time, words, speech, eloquence, music and extension of knowledge. Her origins are with goddess Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning. I thought it apt to pay my respects, as it was in my making of a performance that brought me to this place.

Entrance to the shrine with Benzaiten; photo by Mayu Kanamori

Further up the hill is the Risho-in Taishi-do, a Buddhist temple established in 1895 by Gonsho Hirota. In 1906 Gonsho went on a pilgrimage to India, and whilst on his journey through South East Asia, he met hundreds of karayuki san, many who were born in this area.

Entrance to Risho-in Taishi-do temple; photo by Mayu Kanamori

At the highest point on the hill is their tennyo-to (could be translated as goddess tower), to enshrine a Buddhist statue he brought back from India. Gonsho built the tower with donations of his followers, many who were karayuki san he met during his travels. Women’s names, the amounts of contributions, and the places they lived, like Singapore, Ipoh, Siberia and Rangoon are inscribed on the stone fence posts surrounding the tower.

Tennyo-to at Risho-in Taishi-do temple; photo by Mayu Kanamori

It is worth mentioning that karayuki san had sent much of their earnings back to their hometowns. D.C.S. Sissons wrote that Osaka Shimbun newspaper, before WWII, calculated that annual remittances home from Amakusa women exceed 200,000 yen, which went a long way towards covering the import surplus of the region. *

Sissons also wrote that the earnings of karayuki san in Australia was much higher than their counterparts in other countries.* I carefully looked at the 286 stone fence posts to see if I could find contributions from Australia, but couldn’t any. Although many of the engravings in the posts had faded, it is probably because Gonsho did not travel to Australia.

Posts with names of contributing karayuki san

Opposite the tennyo-to, there is a stone monument by Tomoko Yamada, the author of Joshi-gun Aishi: Karayuki, shofu, itokoujo tachi no sei to shi (could be translated as Tragedy: Karayuki, prostititutes and the silk factory women’s sex and death). The monument is dedicated to not only the karayuki san, but also to the Comfort women in Asia.

A monument for karayuki san and Comfort Women.

Many of the books with information about karayuki san I had read at the National Library of Australia during my residency, also had chapters on WWII Comfort women. Writers like Tomoko Yamada, Yoshimi Kaneko, Ill-myon-Kim and others elaborate on the connection between the long history and culture of often state endorsed institutionalized prostitution in Japan and the atrocity of the WWII Comfort women.

There were 8 Buddhist figures surrounding the tennyo-to, each a protecting diety for one or two of the animals on the Chinese zodiac. I slowly walk around the tennyo-to in an almost trance like state, and prayed.

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  • * Sissons, D.C.S. (1977) ‘Karayuki‐San: Japanese prostitutes in Australia, 1887–1916—       I*’, Historical Studies, 17(68), pp. 323–341. doi: 10.1080/10314617708595555.

Shimabara & Kuchinotsu Port

Acknowledging the contribution made by women

Shimabara today is a pretty place with hot spring bathing houses, streams of running spring water all around town, a castle with infamous history of the Shimabara Rebellion (1637-8) and a series of well-preserved homes of samurai who worked for the daimyo who occupied the castle. I decided to walk the town to understand the historical context of those who had ruled this land.

Shimabara; photo by Mayu Kanamori

Heavy taxes imposed for the costly building of the Shimabara Castle, combined with poverty and famine, and local discontent due to the preceding persecution of Catholic Christians in the area were what caused the rebellion. It resulted in the beheading of 37,000 rebels and sympathisers as well as the ruling daimyo for misruling. Local interpretive boards and pamphlets provide tourists with history of the area with series of names of important rulers and rebels – all men.

Samurai houses in Shimabara; photo by Mayu Kanamori
Shimabara Castle; photo by Mayu Kanamori

Travelling just over an hour south from Shimabara on a local bus,  I arrived at Kuchinotsu. Kuchinotsu Port was one of the first modern ports in Japan that accepted foreign traders. From around 1888, karayuki san boarded a ship from this port to go abroad, often as a stowaway hidden in the bottom of a coal export ships. Many travelled to East and South East Asia in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaya, but they also settled in many other parts of the world such as India, Siberia, Manchuria, South Pacific, Australia and the United States. Today the port services local fishing boats and a ferry that connects Kuchinotsu to Oniike in Amakusa.

Kuchinotsu Port; photo by Mayu Kanamori

It is noteworthy that Kuchinotsu Port is where Manzo Nagano (1855–1923), a local 15 year old boy boarded an British ship bound for Shanghai as a trainee sailor. In 1877 he arrived in New WestminsterBritish Columbia, and became the first official Japanese immigrant in Canada. The Canadian Mount Manzo Nagano is named in his honour. Although the term karayuki san is generally used for women who went overseas and worked as prostitutes, in so far as the term comes from this district, and it means someone who goes to or has gone overseas (literally it means going to China, but in those days, going to China equated to going abroad), Manzo Nagano can also said to be a karayuki san.

Kuchinotsu History, Folklore and Marine Museum; photo by Mayu Kanamori

At the mouth of the port was the Kuchinotsu Museum of History and Folklore & Marine Museum, which had a significant section dedicated to information about the karayuki san with displays of their belongings such as a suitcase, contracts signed with traffickers of the trade, historical photographs and a video display of a modern-day documentary on their plight.

After spending most of the day understanding the history of the area through efforts of local men, I was glad to see that finally in this museum was acknowledgement of the contribution made by countless women who left this port to support themselves and in many cases, the livelihood of their impoverished families.

Section on Karayuki san at the Kuchinotsu History, Folklore and Marine Museum; photo by Mayu Kanamori

Much information was provided about karayuki san in South East Asia, but I could not find any information about those who lived and worked in Australia. I thought of Okin. I thought of the many graves of Japanese women in Japanese Cemeteries in Broome, Thursday Island and Cowra. I thought of other women who had made Australia their home: of the war brides that married Australian servicemen, of the young working holiday women who have found husbands in Australia… and of myself.

Shiranui – atmospheric ghosts

Shiranui is an unknown fire, atmospheric ghost fires peculiar to Kyushu.

The sun was beginning to set as the train I had boarded in Isahaya slowly travelled along the Ariake Sea coast and down the Shimabara Peninsula. The villages on this peninsula and in neighbouring region of Amakusa were the two places in Japan on the island of Kyushu where many of the karayuki san , the early Japanese prostitutes who came to Australia had come from. The Ariake Sea lies between the two.

View of the Ariake Sea from my train window on the Shimabara Railiway Line with Amakusa in the distance; photo by Mayu Kanamori

According to D.C.S. Sissons, there are no definitive sources of the birthplaces of Japanese women who came to Australia, but varying sources, such as Alien Registration in 1916 and inscriptions on Japanese tombs stones in places like Thursday Island and Broome indicates that more than half of the women were from Nagasaki prefecture where Shimabara is located, followed by those from neighbouring Kumamoto prefecture, where Amakusa is. Other studies show that more than half of the karayuki san worldwide appears to have been from Shimbabara Peninsula and from the Amakusa Islands.* I am here to find out more about them.

It had been a long day for me, having left Tokyo early in the morning, and changing trains six times to reach the castle town of Shimabara for the night. Hoping to reach my hotel before dark, I gazed out to the sea, counting the number of stations until I reached my destination. I thought of the women before me who left this land and sailed on this sea to what they thought was to find a better life for themselves. I thought about my leaving Japan to come to Australia. I was chasing an Australian boy. I wasn’t driven abroad to support myself and my family. I thought of people I love in Sydney and Tokyo, and imagined the shiranui* before my eyes.

“Shiranui” from the Shokoku Rijindan by Kikuoka Tenryo; source Wikipedia

But by the time the train left Omisaki station, I felt as if I was transported to another realm, another time…

18:02 local time, 7 June 2016 on Shimabara Railway Line between Omisaki and Matsuomachi on Shimabara Peninsula, Kyushu; video by Mayu Kanamori

Sissons, D.C.S. (1977) ‘Karayuki‐San: Japanese prostitutes in Australia, 1887–1916—       I*’, Historical Studies, 17(68), pp. 323–341. doi: 10.1080/10314617708595555.

*Shiranui means unknown fire. It is peculiar to Kyushu. They are atmospheric ghost fires, much like the St Elmo’s fire in the West. Shiranui is said to appear several kilometers from the beach in the open sea on days of the noon moon when the wind is weak and are seen at night. There would first be one or two fires, which would split off to the left and right and multiply, and in the end, several hundred to several thousand fires would be lined up on the surface of the sea.

About Okin – part 2 (State Records Office of Western Australia)

Nothing is as simple is as it seems. Why didn’t the police know?

Depositions of Witnesses, State Records Office of Western Australia Item no 210 1898 – Supreme Court case file no.2883 Okin & Kuchinotsu Port; montaged by Mayu Kanamori

According to newspaper reports of the time, during the trial Okin spoke through an interpreter, and was rigorously cross-examined by the defence. But there are no records left of what she had to say. However in the State Records Office of Western Australia, we can still find the original copy of her pre trial witness disposition along with those of Enaba and Constable John Donovan. There are also statements by the accused, Charles Francis, William Gleeson and Charles Edwards, prepared by their defence lawyer, along with a witness statement for the defence by John Harford, a regular client of Okin’s.

State Records Office of Western Australia, Perth; photo by Mayu Kanamori

From an overall point of view, visiting the State Records office didn’t yield much beyond what I had already known of this case. However some previously unknown details sang out: Constable John Donovan, the arresting officer, who testified that he didn’t know that Okin’s house was a brothel, said in his statement that he had “… not had the occasion to watch this house as a brothel. I have not been long at Malcolm.” Another point of interest was that he had rushed to the house with another police officer, Buttle.

Witness disposition by Constable John Donavan, courtesy, State Records Office of WA.

From what I had previously read about the times, it seems highly unlikely that both police officers not know that Okin’s house was a brothel and that she was a prostitute.

I cannot help but to think that things are not as simple is as it seems.

Report on Japan Study Grant

Read, note take, digest, think, muse, blog, talk, listen, diarise, mind map, dream & imagine to create.


I spent time researching about the diaspora of Japanese women in Australia at the National Library of Australia 8 Feb – 3 March and 21-23 March 2016 as part of the Japan Study Grant. My research focused on the karayuki san (early Japanese prostitutes) and the senso hanayome (World War II Japanese war brides). The purpose of this research was to write a new Australian play.

National Library of Australia; photo by Mayu Kanamori

Details of Research Undertaken

WEEK 1: Studies focused on karayuki san in Australia, reading papers by D.C.S. Sissons in the Special Collections. His published works provided an overall understanding of the history of karayuki san, especially in relation to Australia; whilst his original manuscripts provided further information, which led to a specific karayuki san named Okin, and her rape case.

By the end of Week 1, I began to focus on Okin’s case as a starting point for the play. Further on-line research via Trove on this particular case yielded more details.

My desk at the Asian Collections Room; photo by Mayu Kanamori

Whilst working in the Special Collections, Sisson’s writings on the early Japanese acrobats were investigated. Information in regards to groups of first known Japanese women in Australia, mostly musicians who were part of acrobatic troupes were sifted out of his research material. This aspect of my research had not been originally planned, however, this opportunity provided an interesting insight about early Japanese women in Australia, both karayuki san and musicians as being in professions, which may be described, loosely as it may seem, as in the entertainment industry.

WEEK 2: Study on karayuki san continued on Week 2 by reading books in the Asian Collections. These books were mostly written in Japanese language, and had been referenced by Sissons. These books gave me a broader understanding into the history of prostitution in Japan / Japanese prostitution abroad in historical, economic, social and philosophical contexts. Differing authors provided insights into alternative viewpoints. As a researcher for creative writing, these often opposing perspectives and varying presumptions by the authors have added many philosophical layers of meaning to the material.

Asian Collections Room; photo by Mayu Kanamori

WEEK 3: Studies of senso hanayome in Australia commenced in this week, reading papers by Sissons in the Special Collections, which gave an overview of Australian government’s policies, directives and decisions in regards to senso hanayome as well as newspaper reports which portrayed specific cases and general attitudes of the time. In the Asian Collections and in the General Collections, books about senso hanayome in Australia as well as in the United States provided specific senso hanayome stories, and its preceding history of post war Allied Occupation of Japan, its policies and public attitudes in regards to fraternisation and resulting marriages / children.

2 March 2016
Mind map draft 1 – Canberra sky and roof of National Library of Australia; photo and mind map by Mayu Kanamori

It was of interest and importance to my playwriting to find linkages and similarities between predicaments and public opinions in regards to senso hanayome to those of karayuki san.

WEEK 4: A detailed study of archived senso hanayome newsletters in the Asian Collection, unfettered by viewpoints of scholars, provided raw voices of senso hanayome themselves, providing invaluable insights into their lives, concerns and aspirations. The week finished with reading of a transcript from the Broome Oral History Project, which referred to a particular karayuki san as well as reading a doctorate thesis on loan through the interlibrary scheme on prostitution in parts of Western Australia, including the goldfields, where Okin’s case had taken place.


The opportunity to spend 4 weeks concentrating on intensive research for my play was one of the highlights of my entire career. It was a kind of luxury I had never experienced before, where my entire being was able to fully input (read, take notes), digest, output (blog, conversations, diarise, mind map), dream and imagine the new work I was / am about to create.

The people working in the library were all very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly, making my daily work a joy. My special appreciation and respect goes to Mayumi Shinozaki and other librarians in the Japanese unit and all at the Overseas Collections, who made my research a daily pleasure.

blog overseas collections
Asian Collections in the Overseas Collections Management Branch (from Left to Right) Mayumi Shinozaki – Chief Librarian, Japanese Unit, Alex Philp – Director, Overseas Collections Management, Jie Chen – Chinese Unit, Rika Wright – Japanese Unit,n Ji-Yeon Cho – Korean Unit, Chenwilai Hodgins (AKA Jane) – Mainland Southeast Asia (Thai, Burma, Laos), Bing Zheng – Chinese Unit (Contractor), Sophie Viravong – Acting manager of Asian Collections, Chief Librarian, Mainland Southeast Asia (Thai, Burma, Laos) Unit, Yohei Harima – Japanese Unit (Volunteer – until Feb 12), Sumiko Kanazawa – Japanese Unit, Hiroko Golding – Japanese Unit, Lucy Fraser – Japan Study Grant scholar (February 1-12), Xiaoli Li – Chief Librarian, Chinese Unit; (Missing staff) Di Ouyang – Manager, Asian Collections, Jung-Ok Park – Chief Librarian, Korean Unit, Irina Chou – Chinese Unit, Maihua Qi – Chinese Unit; photo by Mayu Kanamori. ***Thank you, Sumiko Nakazawa for assisting me with this photo caption!

It was also of value, the library’s proximity to scholars at the Australian National University, one of whom I boarded with during my 4 weeks in Canberra, and few who I met to discuss my research and play. They all imparted their respective ideas and knowledge in their area of expertise, which widened, deepened, and gave guiding posts to my creative process.

I add that the library’s environment was beautiful and sacred. I had my lunch almost everyday by the Lake Burley Griffin, musing about my work.

2 March 2016 revised
Mind map draft 2 – The National Library of Australia and Lake Burley Griffin; photographed from the Nishi Building, New Acton, Canberra by Mayu Kanamori

As a guest at Keiko and David’s

On transformations and where a small change can result in large differences in a later state.

For someone studying about Japanese women in Australia, how lucky can I get than to stay in Canberra with my friend and colleague Dr Keiko Tamura, an ANU anthropologist, who is Australia’s foremost expert on Senso Hanayome (Japanese WWII War Brides).

Book cover, Michi’s Memories: The story of a Japanese War Bride by Keiko Tamura; ISBN (print): 9781921862519 ISBN (online): 9781921862526 Publication date: September 2011 Imprint: ANU Press

Keiko is the author of Michi’s Memories: The Story of a Japanese War Bride, and was the facilitator of communications and exchange for the Australian chapter of the Nikkei Kokusai Kekkon Shinbokukai, an international forum, through events, meetings and newsletters, connected senso hanayome in Australia to their counterparts in other parts of the world, mostly from North Americas and the UK.

Whilst during the day I read books and articles, many of which were written by Keiko, at night, over a glass of gin & tonic (sometimes two), I would ask Keiko questions and air my views about the senso hanayome and my wider research about Japanese women in Australia.

keiko and david
Dr Keiko Tamura and Professor David Hinde in their home; photo by Mayu Kanamori

During these informal discussions, I was inspired by the notion that the senso hanayome were courageous women, who had embraced the new era within the devastation of post-war Japan with a sense of hope and a pioneering spirit. They were not afraid to form relationships with their former enemies, risked being judged as traitors, they learned a foreign language and left their homes to live in a foreign country they had never visited before. At first glance, this may seem obvious, but things are not always what it seems.

A women who became senso hanayome, were often seen in Japan as a woman of loose morals, despite her relationship with a Western man later becoming a conventionally accepted sexual liaison in a form of marriage. They were often labeled as pan-pan, a slang term then used for prostitutes who serviced the servicemen of the Allied Occupational Forces, despite them meeting their future husbands in normal jobs such as being canteen workers, typists, or house girls inside the Allied camps.

At this point I began to see a similarity, although not the same, with the karayuki. I am sure that such thought would be regarded as severely disrespectful to the senso hanayome – they were not prostitutes, but young women in love, who married, raised families and worked in respectable jobs. Keiko may not necessarily agree with me, but I see a similarity in so far as they both appear to have courageously boarded that ship to go abroad to the unknown, and lived in best way they can, despite being judged negatively as women of ill repute.

Much to my delight, Keiko’s husband, Professor David Hinde is a nuclear physicist at the ANU. Not only can I discuss details of my research with Keiko with her expertise and humanities background, I was given the opportunity to think laterally and pick David’s brain in areas of science and physics.

A plot of Lorenz’s strange attractor for values ρ=28, σ = 10, β = 8/3. The butterfly effect or sensitive dependence on initial conditions is the property of a dynamical system that, starting from any of various arbitrarily close alternative initial conditions on the attractor, the iterated points will become arbitrarily spread out from each other; source: Wikipedia

In so far as this project began with my interest in Madama Butterfly, and the way in which I wanted to somehow create art that changed the way we celebrate the suffering of Cho-cho san, I thought it apt to ask David about metamorphosis and the life cycle of butterflies as well as the butterfly effect in chaos theory. Over dinner, after the gin & tonics, the three of us discussed meaning of transformations and its stages as well as ideas of a deterministic nonlinear system where a small change initially can result in large differences in a later state.

I do not know exactly yet how these discussions will transform itself into a theatre work. I just somehow know that there is something bubbling under the surface and I am somehow on the right track.

*                                                        *                                                    *

Dr Keiko Tamura is a Research Associate, School of Culture, History & Language, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. She published widely on Japanese immigrants to Australia, Western expatriate communities in Japan and memories of the Pacific War in Australia and Japan.  Her publications include Michi’s Memories: The Story of a Japanese War Bride, From a Hostile Shore: Australia and Japan at war in New Guinea (with Steven Bullard); Forever Foreign: Expatriate Lives in Historical Kobe, and Reframing National Memory: Stories from Australia and Japan about the Pacific War (in Japanese with Mayumi Kamada et al.) She held research positions at The Australian National University, Kobe University and Kyoto University and was awarded research fellowships from the National Library of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive, and the Australian Prime Minister Centre in the Museum of Australian Democracy.  She worked for the Australia-Japan Research Project at the Australian War Memorial since 1997 and appointed as manager between 2007 and 2009.

*                                                        *                                                    *

Professor David Hinde is the Head of Department of Nuclear Physics and a Researcher of Nuclear Physics at ANU. He has completed his B.Sc. at the University of Manchester, then commencing a PhD degree in Nuclear Physics at ANU in 1978.

He was a School Postdoctoral Fellow from 1982 to 1984, when he was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship. In 1986 he moved to RCNP, Osaka University, Japan and in 1987 to the Hahn-Meitner Institute, Berlin, Germany. He returned to the Department of Nuclear Physics in 1989.

He was awarded the Pawsey Medal by the Australian Academy of Science in 1992. He is currently Head of the Department of Nuclear Physics at the ANU.  Professor Hinde is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Physics and a Fellow of Institute of Physics, UK. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2006.

His research specialty has been developing novel experimental equipment and techniques allowing elucidation of the time-scales associated with heavy ion reactions, to understand the dynamical processes as two individual quantum systems start to overlap.  His work has led to a significant change in our knowledge of nuclear dynamics, resulting in a re-direction of international research.

Lunch with Jacqueline Lo

An invaluable benefit of spending time in Canberra is the great minds I get to brain storm my project ideas with.

Professor Jacqueline Lo (ANU) is my dear friend and mentor. She has seen my performance works, listened to my concerns and aspirations during their creative processes, gave me feedback, written papers about some, and has instigated pivotal insights and guideposts for me as an artist and as a human being.

I met her for lunch at the restaurant in Street Theatre.

With Jacqueline Lo at the Street Theatre
With Jacqueline Lo at the Street Theatre

Bursting out of my long silent reading and thinking time at the National Library, I blurted out to her:

I wanted to write a love story that didn’t reinforce tragically inclined storylines, emotions and behaviors. Not that I wanted to necessarily write a Cinderella storyline, but neither did I want to pass on the beautification of the long suffering love of Cho Cho san in Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly.

Yet, post colonial and feminist critiques aside, somehow the glorification of heightened emotions of sorrow caused by unreturned romantic endeavour actually existed within me. Actually, I thought it existed/ exists within all of us, Japanese or otherwise… and that was why I was working towards writing a play that transforms these repetitive karmic forces at play, reinforced by popular stories, not only of those from my own life time, but from many previous life times.

Furthermore, It was up to all of us in the present moment to change not only our future, but also our past; by learning our karmic lessons, it was possible to change the past in the here and now; to heal past wounds through our art making process and in the theatre, just like it was possible in quantum physics that the here and now can change the past.

I told her about the historical alleged rape case of Okin.

There were many unknown factors about what may or may have not happened to Okin; that historical facts cannot be taken at face value; that nothing is ever what it seems; and if we can put aside critical thinking and preconceived judgements which our karma has engendered in us; then those areas we are never to know will give us an opening to change our past and future simply by how we imagine or reimagine them to be.

Does any of this make any sense to you? I’m raving.

But Jacquie, within minutes of me blurting all this out, understood what I was saying.

She said that I am using the term karma, but in her area of trauma and memory studies, this could be called trans generational memory (through a diasporic lens.)

She then discussed the work of an amazing artist, John Young Zerunge, who I had the pleasure of meeting several years ago. John and I (and artists Owen Leong and Savandhary Vongpoothorn) had shared our respective works during roundtable discussions with delegates from New York University’s Global Arts Exchange, hosted by Jacquie at the ANU.

'Bonhoeffer in Harlem', 2011 by John Young 'Bonhoeffer in Harlem', 2009 St Matthauskirche Kulturforum Berlin, installation view
‘Bonhoeffer in Harlem’, 2009 by John Young
St Matthauskirche Kulturforum Berlin, installation view

She later sent me a chapter in the book Empathy and its Limits she had written called, Diaspora, Art and Empathy. It was primarily about John Young’s art over a period of time. Reading this gave me further guideposts to my work in progress.

To me, John’s work goes far beyond racial, diasporic or transcultural concerns (He was born in Hong Kong, studied in Australia, and is part of the first wave of Chinese Australian artists). His work concerns those of humanity as a whole.

In her writing, Jacquie characterises Marianne Hirsch’s concept of postmemory:

the relationship that the generation after those who witnessed cultural or collective trauma bears to the experiences of those who came before, experiences that they ‘remember’ only by means of the stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up. But these experiences were transmitted to them so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right. Postmemory’s connection to the past is thus not actually mediated by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation.

Yes! This is what I am doing, working on, remembering, imagining, projecting, and creating.

Jacquie then goes on to write that John’s work, although not that of conventional postmemory in a sense that it was bequeathed to him as a member of a particular diasporic or national community, but that of ‘affective communication and imaginative contamination,’ and thus postmemory is ‘less about veracity… but rather about the structures of feeling that the memory-making inspires, and the ways in which this memory-making echoes something of the ethics and history of the memory-maker.’

Suddenly, I felt liberated.

Over the last decade, somehow I have found myself working in what Jacquie describes as ‘conventional diasporic frameworks in our multicultural paradigm.’ This it seems is what John had experienced: an ‘ethnic’ artist charged with the weight of representing a social or cultural group.

So then my concerns about Madama Butterfly need not only be because I am a woman of Japanese heritage. The discourse on diaspora and diasporic art may have made me take notice of this particular story, and kept me awake at night, knowing something had to be done, but now my work no longer need to be just about the Japanese, or more specifically, a Japanese woman who had suffered.

I would so much like think that my concerns to be wider and deeper, and not only within the context of diaspora or perhaps even gender. For the sake of evolution our consciousness, I would like my art to take part in a transmutation of our accepted behaviors and emotional responses, especially of those that are repeated throughout generations, and are often judged, celebrated or criticised, without it ever being questioned.

…. A big task ahead…


Professor Jacqueline Lo is Associate Dean (International) for the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Executive Director of the Australian National University’s Centre for European Studies and the Chair of Academic Board (2016-2018).  She is also an Adjunct Research Fellow of the Centre for Interweaving Performance Cultures at the Free University of Berlin.


John Young Zerunge was born in Hong Kong in 1956 and moved to Australia in 1967. He read philosophy of science and aesthetics at the University of Sydney and then studied painting and sculpture at Sydney College of the Arts, specifically with the conceptual artist Imants Tillers and musical prodigy (the late) David Ahern. His investigation of Western late modernism prompted significant phases of work from a bi-cultural viewpoint, including series of paintings in the last four decades – the Silhouette Paintings, The Polychrome Paintings, the Double Ground Paintings and the Abstract Paintings.