by Van Dat
Sorrow: A photo by Murayama of Truong Thi Le, who was one of only three members of her family to survive the My Lai massacre by the Americans in 1968. The photo is one of 60 to be displayed in Seoul in November.
Personal journey: Japanese photographer Yasufumi Murayama comes to Viet Nam to take photos of victims of the war. — VNS Photo Van Dat
HCM CITY — The tears falling down the wrinkled face of an old woman in Binh Dinh Province sent Japanese photojournalist Yasufumi Murayama on an odyssey around South Korea to find the man she had loved during the war and had two children with.
Murayama was on one of several trips he made to Central Viet Nam to interview victims raped by South Korean troops during the war when he met Lam Thi Ky, 68, when she told him the story of her life before 1975.
During the war, she worked as a chef at Phu Bai Airport in Hue where she met a young South Korean aircraft technician called Cha Song pok.
They loved each other and pledged to marry. When the south was liberated in 1975, the man was forced to return home, leaving his wife, son and a daughter behind.
Soon after reaching South Korea, Cha wrote a letter to Ky and sent it along with US$2,000 for her to take the family to Korea. Unfortunately, the letter arrived but not the money and the family had to stay back and lost contact.
Murayama could not forget her story and, armed with a photo of Cha, decided to go to South Korea in 2009 to find him.
He landed there and went to the address Ky had given him, but Cha's neighbours said he had moved out five years earlier.
He took the photo and wandered around, asking about him, but without luck. When he almost lost hope, he met a journalist from Hankyoreh, a daily newspaper. The kind man agreed to carry the story in his newspaper, and it was published last March.
Murayama first met Ky's family two years ago in Quy Nhon and has since been back several times.
"I was moved to see the mother cry when she told me her story."
"I have given my name card to everybody I met [in Korea] in the hope of getting information about the 74-year-old man.
"If he is dead, I have to find his grave and help his children pay their respects."
Ky does farming while the son runs a small cafe and the daughter cleans at a hotel in Quy Nhon. Both are around 40 and are eager to meet their father.
"A person's life is too short. And no pain is bigger than heart pain. I want to do something to help the woman and her family. It is difficult for people who live in poverty to go to South Korea looking for their husband or father."
People ask Murayama curiously if he is very wealthy as he can do this. He smiles and says he does not have much money but enough to go to South Korea.
He has been travelling around Viet Nam for 15 years to take thousands of photos of Agent Orange victims. But the pain felt by women likes Ky is no less than the pain of Agent Orange victims, he says.
He has an amibitious project in mind. He wants to educate the younger generation in Viet Nam, South Korea and Japan about the consequences of recent wars in the Pacific region. He thinks they do not know enough about them and "I want them to know about the wars and the pain felt by the victims."
For that, he is in Viet Nam for two weeks now to meet 20 young Vietnamese women and tell them about women who were raped during the American War, take their photos, and interview them.
He has finished the task in Japan and South Korea, and next May he plans to publish a book on this around the world.
"No journalist has done this before. I want to interview younger generations in the three countries about the wars.
"The Japanese army raped South Korean women, and the South Korean army did the same to Vietnamese women."
"South Korea has asked Japan to pay compensation to the victims; Viet Nam has not asked South Korea."
He has visited several central provinces including Binh Dinh, Thua Thien – Hue, and Quang Ngai to talk to the victims and the children born following the rape.
He met four rape victims' families in Binh Dinh. They live in poverty. The children who are now in their 40s used to be discriminated against because they did not have a father and were of mixed race.
Murayama told Viet Nam News he planned to hold a photo exhibition called Scars of the Viet Nam War in South Korea in November.
It will feature more than 60 photos he took while travelling across the country.
"The exhibition aims to send Korean people a message that while the war is in the past, its consequences still remain.
"Through the pictures of the wounds and the grief that Vietnamese people still suffer, I want to raise people's awareness of peace."
Murayama was born in 1968 in Hyogo and first came to Viet Nam in 1998.
In 2004 he obtained signatures from around 600 people to support dioxin victims.
He has held several exhibitions about the life of Agent Orange victims in HCM City.
Scars of the Viet Nam War will be held at the ArtSpace Seogyo in Seoul from November 12 to 19.
Murayama plans to continue shooting photos of Viet Nam's Agent Orange victims.
Asked why he had virtually dedicated his life to doing this job, he said that he admired a Japanese photographer who had had a contract with a newspaper to shoot photos of the victims.
"Seeing the photos, I felt the human love in his heart. So I am doing the same to help the victims." — VNS