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The Journey of the Tonkori: A Multicultural Transmission

  • Author(s): Uyeda, Kumiko
  • Advisor(s): Merchant, Tanya
  • et al.
Abstract

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.

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