On May 15th 2008, a piece of mail arrived following the report by The Hokkaido Shimbun Press, “At last, the Japanese government is going to recognize the Ainu as an indigenous people!” The mailing continued to report that the Ainu would get together the next day to sing and dance at the Ainu Music Festival. I was surprised by the fact that the Ainu had not been recognized, not only had they lost many things in throughout their long history but I thought their plight was known by everybody but it actually wasn’t. What does it mean? The statement showed us the significance of the news to the Ainu, and their pride.
The next day we rushed to the front of the Former Hokkaido Government Office Building. The sky was covered with rain clouds, we could even hear thunder rumbling in the distance and rain was almost about to fall. The venue had Ainu people coming from 5 different areas in Hokkaido, wearing Ainu costumes with Ainu patterns which are produced using handstitch. Some of them were running around with signs saying “Congratulations on accreditation as indigenous people (TBD)”.
They started by performing Traditional Ainu Dance with women’s Upopo (song).
The traditional songs and dances are different according to region. Ainu Traditional Dance revolves around appreciating and respecting nature and land as gods and goddesses who support our everyday lives. They had been dancing at various events and festivals throughout history.
Playing Mukkuri by Yaeko Matsunaga and Keiko Hanaoka. Mukkuri is one of the representative instruments of the Ainu. By puling one string, you vibrate the bamboo ventil and it resonates the sound in your mouth. The structure is very simple, but playing it is not easy. The deep sounds filled the venue by 2 masters who continue carrying on the Mukkuri at the Ainu Museum.
Some performed the strong “sword dance” or “arcual dance” by men, and there were also dances by women who were performing working songs and dances. All the Ainu traditional dances were based on Rimuse (round dance) centering around Upopo. It is said that Ainu songs and dances originally were not for show, but for enjoyment.
A traditional stringed instrument of the Karafuto Ainu, Tonkori was played by OKI that Shift featured the other day. OKI is showcasing the appeal of Ainu music to the world’s young generation through his original style.
Lastly, a group of 4 women, “Ma Rew Rew” appeared on the stage and sang to the Tonkori by OKI. Their songs are based on the traditional Ukouku (troll) of the Akan and Asahikawa areas where the members are from. Ukouku, consisting of all different melodies, sounded intriguing and comfortable.
Some from the Ainu say that being recognized as indigenous people is not all good. This is no wonder, since what happened in the long Ainu history should be not that simple. The esteemed Ainu culture and their spirits, and the restraining and contradiction to carry them down, might continue even after this accreditation. There is also no solution or conclusion in each of the different strong spirits that each Ainu has. Even so, they continue singing and dancing together, with their pride as Ainu.
They continued dancing in a big circle with the audience. Before I knew it, the rain clouds had gone.
Ainu Music Festival
Date: May 16th, 2008
Place: The Former Hokkaido Government Office Building
Content: Ainu Traditional Dance (from 5 different areas in Hokkaido) / Mukkuri (Yaeko Matsunaga, Keiko Hanaoka) / Song (Ma Rew Rew) / Tonkori (OKI)
Text: Yurie Hatano
Photo: Mariko Takei, Yurie Hatano