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.
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.
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.