Kure – part 2 – House of the Commanders

Although regrettable, it cannot be helped, that all cultures have their own recognition of taste and aesthetics.

It was once again my mentor Dr Keiko Tamura, who recommended me to visit the grounds of the Irifuneyama Memorial Museum, which include the former official residence of generations of Naval Commander-in Chiefs of Kure, and after WWII, that of the BCOF’s Commander of the Allied Forces.

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Volunteer guide at the Irifuneyama Memorial Museum, guard post on the left and clocktower on the right. Kure, Japan. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Although the Kure City Maritime Museum, commonly known as the Yamato Museum, is  seemingly the most popular tourist destination in Kure, boasting 10 million visitors in the first 10 years of operation since it opened its doors in 2005, as a student of Australia – Japan relations, it was important for me to visit during my very brief stay in Kure, the Irifune Memorial Museum and the Naval Academy on nearby Eta Island, because they were both places where the Australians as part of BCOF was stationed.

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Kure City Maritime Museum (Yamato Museum) with 1/10 size scale model of Battleship Yamato. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Climbing up the hill from the entrance of the Irifuneyama Memorial Museum, passing the clocktower and the guard post, was a small building where a volunteer guide stood. He introduced himself to me eagerly, and welcomed me as if I was a foreign dignitary on an official visit. There appeared to be no other visitors that morning, and former residence of the Commanders, both Japanese and Australian, was very quiet, empty and serene.

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Former residence of Naval Commander-in Chiefs of Kure. Kure, Japan. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

At the entrance of former residence with a Western style frontage, another volunteer guide welcomed me, and was eager to show me around. He told me about the architecture of the building, designed by an English trained Japanese architect with a Western style wing for the Commander’s public quarters and a Japanese style wing for his private quarters.

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Western wing of the former residence of Naval Commander-in Chiefs of Kure with restored kinkara-kami wall paper. Kure, Japan. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

When I let him know I was interested in the Australians, he explained to me at great length, in the most diplomatic manner, how the foreign occupiers had changed the décor of the residence to their cultural tastes, painting white paint over their valued unique wall and ceiling feature decorated with kinkara-kami, which is a rare type of gold-embossed paper. Since, the City of Kure and the Museum have reproduced the original patterns as wallpaper of this building as part of their restoration process. As there are now very few people with knowledge of the making of the kinkara-kami, they hold workshops to preserve the knowledge. He then explained to me in painstaking detail, how to make kinkara-kami. He added in the end, that although regrettable, it cannot be helped, that all cultures have their own recognition of taste and aesthetics.

Although according to Takashi Ueda, a representative of Kinkarakami Institute in Tokyo, the kinkara-kami was highly sought after in Europe and America at the turn of the 19th century and was actively exported, and can still be found in Western buildings, one of which is at Rippon Lea, a National Heritage Listed heritage site in Melbourne, Australia.

 

 

 

 

 

Kure – part 1 – Australia and Japan; men and women; past and present

When I told him that I was from Australia, interested in the Australian history in Kure, he nodded as to acknowledge he knew the history well, and as if to acknowledge a common bond, two people of the same generation with an interest in military history, he said, “I too am a member of the Maritime Defence Force.”

It started raining as I reached the end of the roofed Renga-dori mall, a shopping street in the middle of Kure with rows clothing shops, selling dresses devoid of sense of time, and restaurants with lunch time specials of the day displayed on the street for the regulars. This brick-lined street was originally called Naka-dori, but changed its name since it became a pedestrian mall lined with 360,000 bricks in 1978. Renga means brick in Japanese.

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Renga-dori (Naka-dori), Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

It was Dr Keiko Tamura, Australia’s foremost scholar on Senso Hanayome (Japanese War Brides) in Australia, who suggested I visit this street, because Naka-dori was where young Japanese woman met with Australian serviceman, who were stationed in this town as part of the British Commonwealth Occupational Forces (BCOF). BCOF had an anti-fraternisation policy, which meant that dating between Australian men and Japanese women was a definite no-no, but then again, I understand from my study about Japanese War Brides in Australia during my research residency at the Australian National Library, and from reading books such as Children of the Occupation: Japan’s Untold Story by former ABC correspondent Walter Hamilton, that families, friends and the most of the population, both in Japan and Australia, would have disapproved of such liaisons.

Without having dressed for rain, I looked for a convenience store to buy a cheap umbrella, but couldn’t find one nearby. Instead I found an old-fashioned umbrella shop, selling high quality umbrellas, some handmade, next door to a men’s clothing shop with a 110 year history, with its window full of naval uniforms, caps and accessories. This was after all Kure, a port city proud of its naval history dating back to 1886 when it was named as one of the four main administrative districts of the pre-war Imperial Japanese Navy. It was also the place where most of the 11,000 Australian servicemen sent to Japan as part of the BCOF was stationed.

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Miyaji Youfuku-ten, clothing store for men, Kure.  Photo by Mayu Kanamori

After reluctantly buying an expensive umbrella in the shop, I walked up the Irifuneyama hill to visit the Irifuneyama Memorial Museum, which include the former official residence of generations of Naval Commander-in Chiefs of Kure, and after WWII, that of the BCOF’s Commander of the Allied Forces.

Half way up the hill after a fork in the road, with no signs for tourists in sight, I asked a handsome man about my age, walking the street about its whereabouts. He told me I had taken the wrong road, and that he would show me where it was as he was going the same way.

With both of our umbrellas keeping us a comfortable distance away, we shared small talk about the rain. When I told him that I was from Australia, interested in the Australian history in Kure, he nodded as to acknowledge he knew the history well, and as if to acknowledge a common bond, two people of the same generation with an interest in military history, he said, “I too am a member of the Maritime Defence Force.”

This response wasn’t so surprising. Despite the fact that Australian troupes were stationed here once, the city’s long proud history does not reflect the seemingly short period of Allied Occupation, nor I assume, that the people here would want remember those ten long years under occupation. After all, Japan lost the war.

“So you know the history,” I said. “Its difficult being Japanese in Australia because of the memory of Japan’s treatment of Australian POWs, and of course the bombing raids.” Then I remembered that Kure was only 30 kms away from the centre of Hiroshima, and that this place too, was bombed heavily by the Allied Forces killing over 2000 people, half of them, civilians. I then quickly added, “Other than the first contact between Europeans and Indigenous Australians, the Japanese are the only people that ever attacked Australia.” After a long silence, I added again, “And of course there is the issue of text books in Japan.”

He said very little, but gave me what seemed to me like knowing nods.

I was reluctant to end our conversation, but by this time we had reached the grounds of the former residence, now turned museum. But before I thanked him for guiding me to my destination, I quickly added, “So I am interested in the War Brides that came from places like Kure to Australia. I’m researching the relationship between Australian men and Japanese women. I’m hoping I might be able to write a love story.” There was no time left for him to respond, but he bowed instead, and wished me a safe journey. I proceeded to walk up the hill from the entrance towards the residence, stopping occasionally to take photographs, not yet allowing myself the space to think further about my living the binary divide between Australia and Japan; men and women; past and present.

You’ve Mistaken Me for a Butterfly (1st and 2nd instalments)

– Photo by D. Nishi

When Professor Vera Mackie asked me to take part in the 2017 Biennial Japanese Studies Association of Australia (JSAA) Conference   , I thought I would be talking about my research on Japanese women in Australia, and specifically about the Karayuki-san.  Being excited to partake as an artist among scholars, I accepted without much thought. I didn’t know then she was to propel this project in a direction I had not imagined.

Several months later, I found out that instead of me giving a talk, she wanted me to perform at the conference. Yikes.  I was no where ready to perform this work. I wasn’t even thinking of performing it myself, and I was still researching the material. As a matter of fact, I’d stopped researching since my health issues last year, and this project had been stagnant for a good nine months.

Composer and musical performer Terumi Narushima, who I had collaborated with before on Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens and Awase Miso, also happened to be on the JSAA Conference steering committee. She advised me that if I read my talk slowly, and with long pauses, and if she played the piano for me during my pauses… well, we would have a show.

So Terumi and I have decided to collaborate again.

As this work was still in progress, we especially compiled our first instalment of You’ve Mistaken Me for a Butterfly for the 2017 JSAA Conference at the University of Wollongong, and performed it for the conference delegates on the last night of the conference.

So now… we’ve got a show… and we are performing it again in September for the POETRY ON THE MOVE Boundary Crossings: A Festival of Poetry.

I will also be travelling to the goldfields of Western Australia for further research, and Terumi will join me in Perth as artists-in-residence at  University of Western Australia’s (UWA) Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS). We will develop and present our second instalment of  You’ve Mistaken Me for a Butterfly as its public event presented by IAS, and at the pre-opening of the Women in Asia Conference at UWA organised by the Schools of Humanities, Social Sciences and Music.

What I am really chuffed about is that this work is presented in context of performed poetry. I have dabbled in amateur poetry since I was a kid, fancying myself as a poet, yet too shy and not confident enough about my poems. But now, thanks to Vera and Terumi (and Carol Hayes, Rina Kikuchi, Laura Dales, Lyn Parker and many others), I might just add writing poetry to my job description.

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Here are the dates and venues available to the public:

You’ve Mistaken Me for a Butterfly (the first instalment)

POETRY ON THE MOVE Boundary Crossings: A Festival of Poetry, presented by International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra.

16 September 2017, 2PM at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, ACT.

You’ve Mistaken Me for a Butterfly (the second instalment)

IAS PUBLIC PERFORMANCE, presented by the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS), University of Western Australia (UWA).

25 September 2017, 6PM at the Callaway Music Auditorium, UWA, Crawley, WA

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Can I be so brave to tell… some of my poems are on Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/mayukanamori/

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Samurai houses in Shimabara; photo by Mayu Kanamori
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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?

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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.

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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.

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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.