Music of the Ainu
"Three Ainu Musicians: A Legacy of Resistance and Synergy."
(in press). National Museum of Ethnology Collection of Essays from the Music and Minorities 2014 International Symposium. Osaka, Japan.
"Old and New Sakhalin Rock." 2010. Apraksin Blues, No. 19
"The Journey of the Tonkori: a Multicultural Transmission." 2015. University of California, Santa Cruz.
"Fretless Spirit." 2014. length of film: 43 minutes. A documentary film of Ainu tonkori musicians.
"Oki Dano's Dub Ainu Band as Ainu Tonkori Revival?" 2012. Annual national meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, New Orleans.
"Negotiating Animism in the Twenty-first Century: Perspectivism in the Ainu Tonkori." July 2016. International Council for Traditional Music - Music and Minorities Study Group Symposium, Rennes, France.
"Ainu Tonkori and Personhood in Contemporary Japan." Nov. 2016. from the Panel "Exploring Personhood: 'New Animism' in Ethnomusicology." Annual conference of the Society of Ethnomusicology, Washington D.C.
"Three Ainu Musicians: A Legacy of Resistance and Synergy"
In May 1997, the Japanese Diet passed the Ainu Cultural Promotion Act (CPA), seen as a watershed moment for Ainu rights following two decades of social and political struggle. Far from fulfilling the hopes of the Ainu coalition, the law was seen by many Ainu as a weak compromise for indigenous rights demanded by the Ainu political faction. Yet, the CPA had a profound effect on the landscape of Ainu performing arts. Three Ainu musicians—Oki Kano, Yūki Kōji, and Ogawa Motoi, all children of well-known political activists from the 1970s and ’80s—interacted with the political process leading up to the passage of this law and continue to negotiate the aftereffects of its cultural influence to this day. In what ways do these musicians deal with the power dynamic of the Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture (FRPAC), the administrative agency for the CPA? Contextualizing the CPA within the larger arc of Ainu social movements, this study explores how minoritization shaped musical expression, how the Ainu musicians contributed to the political process, and how political activism evolved into cultural activism through the resurgence of Ainu performing arts.
The Journey of the Tonkori: Ainu Multicultural Transmission
This dissertation addresses the ways in which the Ainu tonkori, a fretless zither, has come to represent the resurgence of Ainu performing arts in Japan as an important identity marker for the Ainu as a minority culture that is commonly perceived to be extinct by most people in Japanese society. The dissertation traces Ainu historical engagement with the Japanese, starting with the Jomon Neolithic period through successive stages of trade, colonization, and assimilation. By tracing these periods of engagement, we can observe how cross-cultural influences have affected the tonkori and its tradition, and how subjugation practices from colonization led to the rise of Ainu social movements and the reconstruction of a new performing arts genre with the tonkori as its main instrument. The dissertation presents Ainu performing arts as a contemporary phenomenon, one that is being newly created and currently in a transformative process, initiated by key musicians who are also cultural and political leaders. The tonkori is emblematic as a musical instrument that allows its practitioners to convey a distinct Ainu indigeneity within Japanese society, a notion that challenges accepted beliefs in Japan of a homogeneous ethnic identity. This work addresses the roles of individual musicians within the Ainu social movement as mediators engaging with Japanese and international institutions and also as bearers of a newly emerging musical tradition.
“Ainu Tonkori and Personhood in Contemporary Japan”
The tonkori is a fretless zither of the indigenous Sakhalin Ainu of Japan, transplanted from Sakhalin Island (Russia) to Hokkaido Island (the northernmost island in Japan) at the close of the Second World War. The Ainu, a former hunter-gatherer people, have traditionally observed personhood in all things, including humans, animals, natural phenomena, and objects. This paper addresses the engagement by Ainu musicians with the tonkori as having personhood—as a female-gendered person that needs to be cared for properly in order for her to “speak”— drawing on the recent scholarship of “new animism” that addresses indigenous ontology and perspectives. Much of the Ainu’s traditional everyday activities engaged in recognizing and respecting spirits that took various physical forms, often seen as persons with special powers and traveling in the human world as gifts for the Ainu. The tonkori was given special status in traditional Sakhalin Ainu culture and many narratives that describe tonkori’s ventures remain in their folktales and epic poetry. Even though Ainu descendants have been culturally assimilated into Japanese society, Ainu animist ontology is still present in the minds of Ainu descendants, and they negotiate ontological universes between traditional Ainu and post-war Japanese beliefs, which sometimes parallel and sometimes crossover. By exploring “new animism,” this paper investigates and probes the animist nature of the tonkori instrument and an indigenous culture’s music within a technologically advanced society of Japan.
Documentary Film Title: Fretless Spirits: Ainu Tonkori Musicians
Length of film: 43 minutes
The tonkori's transformation from an obscure fretless zither to a vital instrument representing Ainu indigeneity was a process carried out by key tonkori musicians that began after WWII in Japan and continues presently as part of an Ainu cultural resurgence. My documentary film chronicles the experiences and world-views of four tonkori musicians; how they have come to dedicate their life to play the tonkori, and how identity is negotiated and altered by being an Ainu tonkori player. Each musician articulates a unique perspective about their personal connection with the tonkori instrument; they speak on the spiritual nature of their bond and how it forms a strong attachment with their ancestors. The connection is also sociopolitical, for 95% of Ainu people hide their Ainu ancestry from society: their friends, co-workers, and sometimes from extended family members. Passing as a Japanese is complicated by a social system dictated by prevailing notions of homogeneity. This film explores how Ainu performers assert a multicultural presence in Japan and expose the internal colonial past by carrying on the post-war human rights recovery movement. It is no accident that three of the Ainu performers are children of key Ainu human rights activists from the 1960s and 1970s. The project incorporates interviews and performances from the Ainu tonkori players with subtitles, footages of Ainu community events, and interviews with scholars living in Hokkaido who have conducted critical research on Ainu culture.
"Negotiating animism in the twenty-first century: Perspectivism in the Ainu Tonkori"
This paper explores how animist notions in the indigenous culture of the Ainu in Japan have been reimagined in contemporary society, and follows how these notions were affected by the contextual change of musical practice from the late nineteenth century (when the Ainu were formally colonized) to the present time. How intrinsic were animist notions in traditional Ainu music and how have they been translated into the contemporary activities of Ainu's unique zither, the tonkori? I reflect on the significance of the concept of "perspectivism," examined by scholars working in Amazonian indigenous peoples (e.g. Seeger, Viveiros de Castro, Brabec de Mori), to Ainu animist notions. Viveiros de Castro defines perspectivism as "the ideas in indigenous cosmologies concerning the way in which humans, animals, and spirits see both themselves and one another" (1998). This preliminary study considers the importance of perspectivism and the inclusion and/or the absence of animist notions, such as "personhood," in Ainu music-making, and the relevance of these notions in contemporary indigenous culture.