Lend­ing an ear and a lens to war vic­tims

A vet­eran of 34 visits to Vieät Nam, Ja­panese pho­to­jour­nal­ist Ya­su­fumi Mu­rayama has ded­i­cated his life to trac­ing the af­ter­math of the wars that scar the na­tion to this day.

Outlook - - CONTENTS - By Löu Vaên Ñaït

A vet­eran of 34 visits to Vieät Nam, Ja­panese pho­to­jour­nal­ist Ya­su­fumi Mu­rayama has ded­i­cated his life to trac­ing the af­ter­math of the wars that scar the na­tion to this day.

Ya­su­fumi Mu­rayama is a man on a mis­sion. Ac­tu­ally, he is a man on a mis­sion that keeps mul­ti­ply­ing into sev­eral mis­sions, which are likely to keep him con­nected to Vieät Nam for the rest of his life.

A few hours af­ter ar­riv­ing in the coun­try last month, the Ja­panese pho­to­jour­nal­ist showed just about ev­ery­one he met the pic­ture of a site in Quaûng Trò Prov­ince where a bomb had ex­ploded a few weeks ear­lier. He had found the pic­ture on the In­ter­net, but did not have much in­for­ma­tion about the place or the ac­ci­dent's vic­tims.

His aim is to go to the prov­ince, visit the site, take pic­tures and in­ter­view vic­tims.

In fact, he flies to Vieät Nam at least once or twice a year to do this; trav­el­ling widely within the coun­try to wher­ever his leads take him to.

As a for­eigner, it is not easy for Mu­rayama to find the ex­act lo­ca­tion or per­son he needs to meet. But he has a method to gather in­for­ma­tion that does not fail even when it fails.

"I go to a mar­ket, cof­fee shop or any place with crowds of peo­ple and ask for the in­for­ma­tion I need. Some­times I have to drink a lot of cof­fee to get the in­for­ma­tion."

Some­times, he gets dif­fer­ent in­for­ma­tion that con­nects to or adds to his mis­sion.

Six years ago, dur­ing a trip to Soùc Traêng Prov­ince in the Mekong River Delta to seek in­for­ma­tion about bird flu vic­tims, he es­ti­mates that he had to drink about 20 glasses of milk cof­fee while chat­ting with lo­cals to find what he needed. He

The pho­to­jour­nal­ist has vis­ited Vieät Nam 34 times and been to 25 prov­inces in the coun­try over the last 16 years. He said he would de­vote the re­main­ing part of his life to in­ter­view­ing Viet­namese vic­tims of war.

ex­plained that while his main fo­cus is war vic­tims, he wants to record other hu­man in­ter­est sto­ries in Vieät Nam as well.

His modus operandi will not change this time in Quaûng Trò, and al­though he plans to re­quest help from lo­cal au­thor­i­ties as well.

"It's not good to get lo­cal of­fi­cials get in­volved in the in­ter­view, be­cause the vic­tims will not speak out too much about their sit­u­a­tion," he said. He said he has done some on­line re­search to col­lect in­for­ma­tion about lo­ca­tions se­ri­ously af­fected by un­ex­ploded ord­nance left be­hind by the Amer­i­can War in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try.

The pho­to­jour­nal­ist has vis­ited Vieät Nam 34 times and been to 25 prov­inces in the coun­try over the last 16 years. He said he would de­vote the re­main­ing part of his life to in­ter­view­ing Viet­namese vic­tims of war.

Ex­plain­ing his in­ter­est in war vic­tims, Mu­rayama said that he had ex­pe­ri­enced a very hard life in his twen­ties and thir­ties, as his mother suf­fered from a se­ri­ous brain dis­ease which even­tu­ally led to veg­e­ta­tive state.

Dur­ing his first trip, when he saw pic­tures of sev­eral Agent Or­ange vic­tims at the War Rem­nants Mu­seum in HCM City, he re­alised that he was a much luck­ier per­son.

"I saw so much courage in them. I saw things dif­fer­ently since then and de­cided I would visit the coun­try reg­u­larly to take pic­tures and show them to ev­ery­one in my coun­try.

"At the last meet­ing with my mother six years ago (be­fore she de­scended into a veg­e­ta­tive state), she also sug­gested that the re­main­ing part of my life should be at­tached to Vieät Nam."

Heart-break­ing sto­ries

In pur­su­ing his mis­sion, Mu­rayama has met with and heard sev­eral heart-break­ing sto­ries about war vic­tims, al­though his ini­tial fo­cus was on those af­fected by Agent Or­ange and un­ex­ploded ord­nance. He met a woman in HCM City’s Dis­trict 4, whose fa­ther was an im­pe­rial Ja­panese army­man. The 70-year-old woman, who did not want to be named, wept

in­con­solably as she re­counted her suf­fer­ings. His pri­vate in­ter­preter was in tears as well, and Mu­rayama's eyes were wet.

Her fa­ther left the woman in Vieät Nam in 1945, and her mother mar­ried an­other man soon af­ter. The se­cond hus­band was very jeal­ous of her pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship, so the mother cov­ered up the fact that she had a daugh­ter.

The sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian was just one year old when she ef­fec­tively lost both her par­ents.

Af­ter their first meet­ing, Mu­rayama trav­elled to sev­eral places in Ja­pan seek­ing in­for­ma­tion about her fa­ther. Though he has not suc­ceeded so far, he promised the woman, who some­one had in­tro­duced him to at the Beán Thaønh Mar­ket a few years ago, that he would con­tinue to search for her fa­ther.

"Even if he is dead, I would like to find his tomb and help you to see it in Ja­pan," he told her, al­though he has noth­ing in hand but a few pic­tures of her fa­ther.

Days later Mu­rayama left HCM City for Bình Ñònh Prov­ince’s Quy Nhôn City to meet a woman who had been left be­hind with her two chil­dren by her Korean hus­band.

Mu­rayama will call on Laâm Thò Kyû, an­other 70-year-old woman he met sev­eral years ago.

When the Amer­i­can War ended in 1975, her Korean hus­band fled the coun­try, leav­ing Kyû and two chil­dren be­hind.

Dur­ing the war, Kyû was work­ing as a cook at Phuù Baøi Air­port in Hueá when she met and fell in love with a young South Korean air­craft tech­ni­cian called Cha Song Pok.

Armed with a photo of Cha, Mu­rayama de­cided to go to South Korea in 2009 to find him. He found the man's house in South Korea, but Cha had moved to an­other place.

This time, he will tell Kyû about what has hap­pened and col­lect more in­for­ma­tion.

Muryama said he wants to visit all his "con­tacts" ev­ery time he comes to Vieät Nam. Vis­it­ing them again and again is the only way to show his love to the vic­tims.

"I see my mem­o­ries of Vieät Nam as a pre­cious be­long­ing and I never want to lose it. Though Kyû has given up hopes of meet­ing her hus­band, I will con­tinue to look­ing for the man for her, be­cause I want to keep my prom­ise to her," he told Vieät Nam News.

There's an­other woman in Quy Nhôn Mu­rayama wants to meet though he does not know her name or have a pic­ture. He only knows that the woman op­er­ated a small shop in Quy Nhôn dur­ing the war.

The woman was in­tro­duced to Mu­rayama by Jang Ui Seong, a 70-year-old man, while he vis­ited South Korea to seek Kyû's hus­band.

Jang, who is now a man­ager of a com­pany in South Korea, told him that he used to be a soldier in Vieät Nam be­fore 1975 and he fell in love with a Viet­namese woman.

"This Korean man has a wife and chil­dren in his coun­try. How­ever, he still wants to have some in­for­ma­tion about his first love. You may say I am do­ing some­thing hope­less, but my hope is that there are still some peo­ple who lived at the same time as her and know of her where­abouts," Mu­rayama said.

"If I am lucky to get some in­for­ma­tion about her, I will tell Jang when I visit South Korea af­ter this trip to Vieät Nam. He told me that he misses the woman a lot. Af­ter re­turn­ing to South Korea, Jang has lis­tened to the ra­dio about Vieät Nam ev­ery day."

Nguyeãn Haøo, 76, a war vic­tim in Khe Sanh.

Ja­panese pho­to­jour­nal­ist Ya­su­fumi Mu­rayama talks about war vic­tims he has met in Vieät Nam af­ter ar­riv­ing in HCM City.

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