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Shunned in his lifetime, scuba diving pioneer gets credit due

Yasukichi Murakami stands with an early type of diving dress that he developed in Broome, Australia, in the 1920s. (Provided by Mutsumi Tsuda, professor of Seian University of Art and Design)


By Yasuji Nagai - The Asahi Shimbun


While scuba diving is enjoyed worldwide today, few enthusiasts may be aware that the origins of their hobby can be traced to a pioneering Japanese immigrant in prewar Australia.

Yasukichi Murakami (1880-1944) is credited with single-handedly developing advanced models of diving gear that substantially expanded the scope of the activity before the introduction of scuba.

Hailing from Wakayama Prefecture, Murakami obtained patents on valves and apparatuses for the diving gear while introducing pearl farming to Australia.

He died after being sent to an internment camp when the war between Japan and the United States broke out. He was not forgotten, however, and in recent years, his achievement has been re-evaluated.

Murakami was born in Tanami (present-day Kushimoto) in Wakayama Prefecture. He moved to Australia in 1897 and became a storekeeper in Broome in the northwest of the country. He also became a pillar of the Japanese immigrant community.

In the 1910s, Murakami started pearl fishing, which was thriving back in those days, in partnership with an Australian businessman. Pearl farming was developed by Kokichi Mikimoto in Japan but had not yet been introduced to Australia, and so many of the immigrants were collecting natural pearls as divers.

Using an old model of a diving suit developed in 1836, many divers were harmed physically from the bends, also known as decompression sickness, which is caused by the formation of gas bubbles in the blood that occur with a sudden change of pressure during diving. In 1913, 28 divers died of the bends there.

Murakami decided to improve the swimming suit.

After a great deal of trial and error, Murakami finally invented an advanced model of diving gear by the mid-1920s.


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