Generations of Japanese journalists find common ground

When freelance photojournalist Yasufumi Murayama met his idol, war photojournalist Ishikawa Bunyo, he was 29.

And when Kiyotaka Yamaoka, also a photographer, met Murayama, known for his images of Agent Orange victims and events related to contemporary social issues, he was 29.

The two meetings may have been nothing more than a coincidence, but the three Japanese men view their connection as something much more special.

Chance encounter: Photo journalists Yasufumi Murayama (right) and Yamaoka Kiyotaka (left) meet their idol, war photographer Bunyo Ishikawa, at HCM City's War Remnants Museum during a recent visit to Viet Nam. - VNS Photo Van Dat

This year, all three men met for the first time together at the War Remnants Museum in HCM City during the opening of a permanent exhibition of Ishikawa's photos of Viet Nam. The gallery opening was held on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of liberation of southern Viet Nam last month.

Ishikawa, now 77, has spent more than 50 years taking photos of Viet Nam and its people. He first arrived in the country in 1964, and was stationed in Sai Gon covering the war as a freelance photojournalist.

Inspired by Ishikawa, Murayama, now 46, visited Viet Nam in 1998 to take photos, which he has compiled into an e-book.

Yamaoka, 35, who owns a coffee shop in Japan, began taking photos of the country as a photography hobbyist when he first visited five years ago.

Thanks to their mutual love of Viet Nam, the men, from three different regions in Japan, are now friends.

"It was destiny," Murayama said, adding that, without Ishikawa, he would not have learned to love Viet Nam.

Years before he heard of Ishikawa, he learned about the war in Viet Nam from a friend of a lecturer working at a university where Murayama once worked.

In April 1998, the lecturer told him that Ishikawa planned to visit Viet Nam a few days later. Murayama soon booked a tour to Viet Nam to meet the photojournalist.

At the time, the War Remnants Museum was displaying Ishikawa's wartime photos.

"I was nervous. I thought that someone who witnessed numerous people killed during the war would be a cold and unfriendly person. But I was totally wrong. He was a very friendly and good-natured person," Murayama said of his first meeting with Ishikawa.

For Yamaoka, his interest in Viet Nam began when he was 13 years old. He read books and watched documentary films about the war, becoming familiar with Ishikawa's name.

"I was shocked when I saw photos of people killed during the war. The emotion was even stronger as I knew the person taking the photos was Japanese," Yamaoka said.

He began searching for more information about Ishikawa on the internet.

"I really wanted to meet him, but I thought that it would be very hard. While searching, I found another name, Murayama's," he recalled.

"I was impressed by him because his photos were about Viet Nam's Agent Orange victims, war legacies and other social issues," Yamaoka said. "He was different from other photographers who love to take photos about the country's landscape, food and dress."

He said he was determined to become a photographer like Murayama, though at that time he did not own a camera.

Reading Murayama's blog, Yamaoka discovered that the photojournalist was planning to visit Viet Nam, so he booked a ticket to HCM City.

When Yamaoka arrived in the city, he sent Murayama an email: "I'm here but I don't know where you are now."

Finally, they met near the Notre Dame Cathedral in downtown HCM City. They talked for hours as if they had always been close friends.

"I recognised myself in the young man. At the time I realised that I had found my successor," Murayama said.

As a teenager with an abiding interest in Viet Nam, Yamaoka said he had no one to talk to about the country, although he had a few Vietnamese friends. But language was a barrier.

Yamaoka said the thought Murayama would be cold and serious, "but he was a very humorous and simple person."

"From Ishikawa's photos, I developed a love for Viet Nam, but the person who taught me about the country and photography was Murayama," he said.

While Ishikawa once had the responsibility of recording images of significant wartime events, Murayama and Yamaoka say they now want to capture moments of peace. 

Source: VNS

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