This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000
Yasukichi Murakami (1880-1944), Japanese storekeeper, was born on 19 December 1880 at Tanami, Wakayama prefecture, Japan, second son of Jòubei Murakami and his wife Yasu. At the age of 16 Yasukichi joined the flow of Wakayama younger sons to the Australian pearling towns, arriving at Cossack, Western Australia, aboard the Saladin in August 1897. Some three thousand of his countrymen were then in Australia. He worked with a carter, delivering water, but soon secured permanent employment with Takazò Nishioka, a Japanese storekeeper, with whom he moved to Broome in 1900.
On Nishioka's death in 1901, the enterprise passed to his widow Eki, née Yamaguchi, whom Murakami married on 11 May 1906 at the district registry office, Broome. She was fifteen years older than he and they remained childless. Under their direction, business expanded. They operated as importers, wholesalers and retailers; the store also served as a photographer's studio and a savings bank for Japanese residents and pearling crews. Murakami became one of the leaders of his community. When, during the annual lay-up in December 1907, violence broke out between Japanese and Malay crewmen, he helped to restore peace between the two groups. From about 1911 he was in financial difficulties. A local slump in 1915 led many of the divers and crewmen to withdraw their deposits and he was forced to close the business. The pearler A. C. Gregory then employed him to manage the Dampier Hotel in return for a half-share of the profits.
In April 1918 Murakami was declared bankrupt. His wife had left him two months earlier, having first collected for herself book debts amounting to some £500. She died in Japan in December. At the district registry office, Broome, on 3 February 1920 he married (Theresa) Shigeno Murata (d.1981); she was aged 23, the daughter of Japanese parents and Australian born. It was generally believed that Gregory had received financial assistance from Murakami to enter the pearling industry and that he secured the best of the Japanese divers and crews through Murakami's good offices. In 1921 he entered into a joint venture with Murakami to produce cultured pearls. Alarmed that the price of natural pearls would fall, the West Australian Pearlers' Association persuaded the State government to prohibit the scheme.
At considerable cost, Murakami designed and patented (1926) a diving suit. Less buoyant and lighter than the conventional type, it afforded the diver greater mobility. It was not, however, a commercial success. In 1936 Gregory helped Murakami and his family to move to Darwin where he established a successful business as a photographer. On 30 August 1939 he applied to be naturalized. His application was rejected on the ground that 'it is the established policy of the Government not to naturalize Asiatics or other coloured persons'.
When Japan entered World War II in December 1941, Murakami and his family—with the rest of the Japanese community—were interned. He died of 'chronic myocarditis' on 26 June 1944 at Tatura internment camp, Victoria, and was buried with Catholic rites in the local cemetery. His wife, and their six sons and three daughters survived him. Murakami's remains were later reinterred in the Japanese cemetery, Cowra, New South Wales.
D. C. S. Sissons, 'Murakami, Yasukichi (1880–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/murakami-yasukichi-11201/text19967, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 3 October 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000