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 thekarayuki san , the early Japanese prostitutes who came to Australia had come from. The Ariake Sea lies between the two.
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.
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.
Nothing is as simple is as it seems. Why didn’t the police know?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
I met Okin for the first time buried inside a folder entitled ‘Violent Crimes’
I met Okin for the first time nestled amongst the original manuscripts of D.C.S. Sissons at the Special Collections reading room in the National Library of Australia (NLA). Okin was buried inside a folder entitled ‘Violent Crimes,’ inside a box full of folders dedicated to karayuki san.
Karayuki,literally means going to China, and is the term commonly used for Japanese women, mostly from Kyushu, who worked overseas for subsistence. According to an article in the Tokyo daily newspaperKokumin in early 1896, often the women were smuggled outside onboard steamers; usually went to Hong Kong first, where they were found by agents, and sold to brothels including those in Australia. At the time there were about 200 Japanese brothels, perhaps more according to further research by Sissons, operating in Australia. Most Japanese women living in Australia around this time were prostitutes, although various census results showed that they had listed their occupations as seamstresses, laundress, servants and alike. 
Around 3pm on the 29th of July, 1898, three men allegedly forced themselves into a house occupied by a Japanese man and several Japanese women in Mount Malcolm (Western Australia). The two of the younger men, William Gleeson and Charles Francis raped Okin in her bedroom whilst the older man, Charles Thomas Edwards, stood guard at the door. The Japanese manager Enaba went to the police for help. When Constable John Donovan arrived on the scene, Edwards was no longer there, but he heard a woman screaming, and he found Okin lying on the bed with Gleeson at the foot of the bed, and Francis standing at her head. Clothing of all three were in disarray. Donovan arrested the two men. The third man Edwards was arrested at a later date. 
Francis stated that two days prior to the alleged offence, he had visited Okin and was entertained by her. On the day in question, he visited again in company of his friends. His friends waited in the next room whilst he was with Okin. He called his friend Gleeson for a loan of a pound to offer to her. Gleeson entered the room to lend him the money, whilst Okin replied she had no change. Gleeson was “making overtures ” to her, when the police arrived and arrested them.
Okin’s rape case went to the Criminal Court in Western Australia on 7 October, 1898 before his Honour Justice James and a jury of 12. Francis and Gleeson were charged with “carnally knowing against her will,” and Edwards, for having aided and abetted Francis. The men pleaded not guilty. All women and youths under 18 years of age were ordered out of court.
The Crown Solicitor, R. B. Burnside detailed the case, and stressed the importance of protecting the chastity of women whatever her “colour and creed.” He added that even if she was “only a courtesan, and however low her character, if she did not consent she was entitled to the protection which the law gave to her in common with the most virtuous of women.”
Okin and Enaba gave statements through an interpreter. They both denied that the place they and several other women lived was a brothel, and that Okin had been working there as a laundress. Her hour long cross examination by the defence lawyer Vyner was mostly to elicit facts regarding her mode of living, which at times were delicate, and solicited laughter from the court as well as from the accused.
Justice James summed up the case, referring to the difficulty of obtaining evidence from Japanese witnesses through an interpreter; that there was no evidence that Okin was a prostitute, and on the contrary, the evidence given by Constable Donovan showed that the house where she lived was not known, as usually was, as a brothel; that he agreed with the Crown Solicitor that rape was rape regardless of the reputation of the woman; and that the charge was most serious: rape was a capital offence.
The jury could not agree in the first instance and the court adjourned. [AN ALLEGED CAPITAL OFFENCE. THREE MEN CHARGED. THE JURY UNABLE TO AGREE., 1898]
The jury eventually returned a not guilty verdict and then men were acquitted on 18 October, 1898.
 Sissons, D. C. S. & Horwitz, Solis. 1950, Papers of D.C.S. Sissons, 1950-2006 [manuscript]
 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.
AN ALLEGED CAPITAL OFFENCE. THREE MEN CHARGED. THE JURY UNABLE TO AGREE. (1898) The West Australian, 8 October, p. 7.
THE MOUNT MALCOLM CASE. ACCUSED ACQUITTED (1898) The West Australian, 19 October, p. 7.
Japanese women in Australia, pioneers, artists, entertainers, butterfly, tricks: revealing / concealing in performance
A musician and two dancers were the first Japanese women to set foot on Australian shores, according to records immaculately researched by D.C.S. Sissons. Shamisen player Mitsuko, and dancers Otake and Otome were part of the acrobatic team, Buhicrosan’s Troupe, who disembarked in Melbourne on the 14th of November in 1867 to perform at the Princess Theatre. The first recorded Japanese to ever been born in Australia was the daughter of members of another group of acrobats, the Great Dragon Troupe, aboard the S. S. Penola enroute from Melbourne to Adelaide. Billed as “Iranim Penola the South Australian Japanese,” she was displayed to audiences by her proud grandfather at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide and Port Adelaide Town Hall.[Sissons, 1999]
The first Japanese women in Australia were artists and entertainers. I am a Japanese migrant in Australia and a performance maker. In the first two weeks of my research residency as part of NLA’s Japan Study Grant, I am beginning to find not only historical records, but threads and motifs that seems to be guiding my next performance work.
The butterfly motif, which reference my concerns with the popularity of Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly (see blog entry You’ve Mistaken Me For A Butterfly) has appeared in history of the Japanese acrobats. The two earliest acrobatic groups to arrive and perform in Australia, the Great Dragon Troupe and the Buhicrosan’s Troupe both showcased as part of their repertoire: the Butterfly Trick (Ukare no Cho / devised by Osaka juggler Tanigawa Sadakichi [Sissons, 1999]in 1820’s)
The Bendigo Advertiser’s article about the Butterfly Trick performed by the Great Dragon Troupe, read that one of their jugglers, “… took his seat, tailor fashion, on a table in the centre and back of the stage. Tearing a strip of paper in pieces he took a small piece and twisted it into the shape of a butterfly… (He) took a fan, and waving it with a short and rapid motion, kept the butterfly fluttering in the air like a thing of life, sometimes alighting on his hand, at another time on his fan, and again on a flower. A second butterfly was formed, and two were kept flying about with as much ease as the one… The feat was greeted with great applause.”
Mt Alexander Mail wrote about Buhicrosan’s Troupe’s Butterfly Trick as “… The famous butterfly fanning was neatly done, but the amazement which this feat raises was soon brought to termination by an explanation being given of how the trick, for trick it is, was done…”[Sissons, 1999]
The Butterfly Trick seems to have been performed by men and not the women in the performances… and very curious to know more about how this trick was performed!
Japanese women in Australia- pioneers – artists – entertainers – butterfly – tricks which reveal and conceal in performance – are some of the concepts floating around in my mind as I continue the research phase of this undertaking.
 Historian and academic. David Carlisle Stanley Sissons was an historian in the Research School of Pacific Studies at the Australian National University where he was a research fellow from 1961-1965 and a fellow from 1965-1990. His principal fields of research were the history of Australia-Japan relations and the Second World War war crimes trials. In 1991, following his retirement from the ANU, Sissons took up a three-year post to establish an Australian Studies Centre at the Hiroshima Shudo University in Japan. Sissons died in Canberra in October 2006. (Mayumi Shinozaki, The National Library of Australia http://alra.org.au/newsletter1307/1307_shinozaki_1.html )
 Sissons, D.C.S. (1999) ‘Japanese Acrobatic Troupes Touring Australia 1867 – 1900’, Australasian Drama Studies, 35, pp. 73–107.
Studying, learning, researching and discovering about Japanese women in Australia.
As if to carry a red randoseru on my back, I entered the doors of the National Library of Australia (NLA) this week for my residency in our national capitol as part of NLA’s Japan Study Grant Program. Here I will spend the next four weeks studying, learning, researching and discovering about Japanese women in Australia with the view to writing a new performance work.
It is such a blessing to be able to work with such experienced and dedicated librarians and archivists at the NLA. I am grateful to be here with them.
I am now old enough and ugly enough to write a love story.
You don’t need to read the 382 page National Opera Review Discussion Paper released last September to know that Puccini‘s Madama Butterfly is one of the most popular opera productions performed by Australia’s four major opera companies. These companies have had so many revivals of this production that most opera audiences must have seen it several times in their life times. Typically with beautiful music, costumes, sets and lighting, I can understand why people love this opera. Yet coming out of the theatre, watching audience members with tears in their eyes, listening to them excitedly discussing how beautiful their experience of the show had been, I have to say, crosses my grain. Being a woman of Japanese heritage in the year 2016, I have serious problems in accepting the way its archaic story-line continues to perpetuate stereotypes about Japanese women and their relationships with Western men.
I’m not blaming the opera companies, and certainly not our talented opera singers. The findings of the Discussion Paper suggests that these companies need to stage popular productions like Madama Butterfly to financially survive. Opera Australia has evolved and moved with the times in recent years too, casting talented Japanese and other Asian Australian sopranos for the part of Cio-Cio san instead of an European soprano in Orientalist traditions. But why do we need to continue to enjoy this spectacle that celebrates and beautifies suffering of this woman? Why are concepts of faithful waiting in perseverance for an impossible one sided love and its ultimate betrayal be enjoyed by so many?
My answer is not to criticise Puccini nor those involved in re-staging this 102 year old opera. Nor do I want to write a postcolonial and or feminist critique about Madama Butterfly and a host of other stories with a similar portrayal of Japanese women – its been done before, and relationships aren’t that simple.
My answer is to create a performance that may be able to address some of these issues that the continuing popularity of this opera presents to me, and in the process, re-imagine the way in which Japanese women and Western men relate to each other.
This is my new performance project for the next few years.
I am now old enough and ugly enough to write a love story.