Japanese photojournalist Murayama Yasufumi says he could not stand idly by when China sent a giant oil rig and a menacing armada into Vietnamese waters in early May.
“Japanese media reported China’s activities in the East Sea, but the reports were often brief," says the 46-year-old photojournalist. “As a person who has enjoyed a close relationship with Vietnam for 16 years, I thought I must come here again and do something so that the Japanese people could know more about China’s illegal acts and Vietnam’s Hoang Sa Islands.”
Having visited Vietnam 36 times, since 1998, to photograph the country and its people; the freelancer returned on June 13, 2014.
He asked many Vietnamese people from all walks of life in Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City about their thoughts and feelings about the Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig before boarding a Vietnamese coast guard ship tasked with stopping this rig from illegally operating in Vietnamese waters off Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands.
I am a Japanese citizen, so my voice may be considered ‘unbiased’" -- Japanese photojournalist Murayama Yasufumi
Yasufumi shot photos of Chinese escort ships chasing Vietnamese patrol ships away from the US$1-billion drilling rig, and Vietnamese fishermen continuing to work near the Hoang Sa islands in spite of threats from the Chinese vessels.
The Kyoto resident also captured the mood of the Vietnamese people, from students to historians, about the territorial tensions between China and Vietnam.
His 26 photos on the topic are now on display in Ho Chi Minh City and will be exhibited in Japan after his return on August 4.
“I hope viewers can find their own feelings when looking at the pictures,” says Yasufumi.
China withdrew its rig on July 15 and later announced that it had “smoothly completed” its exploratory drilling and found signs of oil and gas.
Yasufumi says the disputes may go on and he wants to share his photos to help spread information on China’s illicit actions to the Japanese and global community.
“I am a Japanese citizen, so my voice may be considered as ‘unbiased’,” says the photojournalist.
To fund this trip to Vietnam, the photojournalist says he borrowed US$9,400 from his relatives and friends in Japan.
Yasufumi originally planned to organize a photo exhibition at a culture center in Ho Chi Minh City. But he could not afford the space-leasing fee – VND15 million ($700) per day.
The "Cam xuc Hoang Sa 2014" (Paracels Emotions 2014) exhibition features 26 photos from Japanese photojournalist Murayama Yasufumi.
The photos display peaceful demonstrations by Vietnamese students in Japan and Vietnamese patrol ships protecting the country’s waters among other things.
The exhibition also features 42 other photos from local photographers, aimed at giving an overall sense of China’s 75-day deployment of its rig in Vietnamese waters.
The display is being held at VOV (Voice of Vietnam) College, 75 Tran Nhan Ton Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City from July 24 to 31.
Admission is free
Knowing Yasufumi’s difficulties, Le Phong, his friend and a student of the Voice of Vietnam College in the city, sought assistance from his school.
The administrators not only agreed to let him use the school’s ground floor to hold a free photo exhibition, they also supported him in organizing it.
Love at the first sight
Yasufumi says he fell in love with Vietnam when he came here for the first time in 1998 to attend a photo exhibition by Japanese photojournalist Bunyo Ishikawa.
The exhibition, which was organized at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, portrayed the lives of Vietnamese Agent Orange victims.
Recalling that time, Yasufumi says he was very surprised to know how hard Vietnam suffered from the war and the way this country overcame the pain and loss left over from the war.
“I have admired and loved Vietnamese people ever since,” says the Japanese photojournalist.
Yasufumi says he has learned many things from Bunyo Ishikawa, now 76, and Nakamura Goro, 73, another Japanese photojournalist. Both have photographed Vietnam and its people for years.
“As Ishikawa and Goro get older, I want to be the next Japanese photojournalist to nourish the love for Vietnam,” says Yasufumi.
The photojournalist says he has shot numerous photos of Vietnam and its people, including Agent Orange victims. He also organized many photo exhibitions in Vietnam, Japan and South Korea.
His most recent exhibition, entitled “Cam xuc Hoang Sa 2014” (Paracel Emotions 2014), is his sixth in Vietnam. His four other exhibitions portrayed the suffering of many Agent Orange victims. The remaining display highlighted the beauty of Vietnamese women.
Yasufumi received two certificates of merit for his exhibitions from the HCMC Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism in 2007 and 2009.
In 2006, he mobilized funds from the Japanese community to take a Vietnamese Agent Orange victim with a huge tumor on her face to Japan for treatment. Do Thuy Duong, then aged 18, from the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang, underwent a major surgery at the Kyoto University Hospital to remove the tumor and reshape her face.
“I can’t do anything without the help from Vietnamese and Japanese friends,” says Yasufumi.
Dao Thuy Linh, a student from the Japanese faculty of the HCMC University of Education, who voluntarily works as an interpreter for Yasufumi without pay, said, “I am really impressed by Yasufumi. He is so kind-hearted.”
“He has done many good things for Vietnam and doesn't ask anything in return. I think Vietnam owes him and I would like to ‘repay’ something on behalf of my country,” says Linh.
Yasufumi says after a trip to Vietnam, he returns to his home country and works hard, from being a university security guard to a newspaper delivery man, to save money for his next trip back.
His wife, a Japanese nurse who voluntarily cared for Duong while she was at the Kyoto University Hospital, always supports him, according to Yasufumi.
“My wife and I met each other for the first time at the hospital thanks to a Vietnamese," he said. "Both of us love Vietnam and its people. That’s also the reason why we organized our wedding in Vietnam in 2008."
Yasufumi plans to visit Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands during his next trip to Vietnam.
“China wants not only Hoang Sa but also Truong Sa, which possibly contains more oil resources,” he says.
“I will continue my life with Vietnam until I pass away,” says Yasufumi.
Here are some photos at the ongoing exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City.