November 19, 2012

Ainu & Okinawa Connections

First, many apologies for being MIA for a long time - this is my first blog entry in nearly 7 months! Things have been quite busy for a while but hopefully I will be able to return to doing a better job of keeping everyone updated about goings on in the Ainu community.

The Ainu have been in the news recently, particularly in their relation to the people of Okinawa.

The Asahi Shimbun: "Genetic kinship found between Ainu and native Okinawans"

A study has found that Okinawan and Ainu peoples most closely resemble each other, sharing Jomon DNA while Japanese on Honshu were of a mix of Jomon and Yayoi DNA. This supports the theory that the Jomon people originally lived throughout the Japanese archipelago, and the Japanese people were into being as the Yayoi came from mainland Asia (China and Korea) and intermixed with the Jomon in Kyushu, moving northwards throughout Honshu.

The theory is already a well-known (and perhaps well-accepted) within certain parts of the Ainu community, so it does not come as much of a surprise. However, there are some criticisms of the study. Some people for example point out the fact that the study treats Jomon as a monolithic entity when in fact it consisted of many different groups and ethnicities.

Personally, I do not find the results surprising but am wary of putting great emphasis and meaning on genetic analysis. Indeed, given the history of using Ainu bodies for study, I have somewhat of a distaste of studies of this nature. Where did the Ainu DNA they used come from? Given all the issues with Ainu identity in the current community, how did they define what an Ainu person was?

Even without the "genetic kinship," many Ainu and Okinawans share a connection in modern society, whether from shared experiences as minorities in a Japan or from the simple fact that they occupy the extremities of the Japanese archipelago. Interestingly enough, these connections have also been brought to the forefront due to recent events, and it is these that draw my personal interest.

Recently the Ainu musician OKI teamed up with Okinawan legend Misako Oshiro for a tour to commemorate the release of their CD, "Kita to Minami (North and South)."  

I was able to attend their performance in Tokyo, an interesting mix of the two traditions. You can find some excellent photos of their rehearsals as well as from their performances in Tokyo, Naha, and Miyako-jima at photographer Masashi Noda's blog.

Also check out check out an interview with the two artists (in Japanese) on Ryukyu Asahi Broadcasting's "Q Report."

November also marked the 19th Annual Charanke Festival, the gathering of Ainu and Okinawan communities in Nakano, Tokyo. 

The festival was a great success marking a return to the park area in front of Nakano Station where the festival has traditionally been held. The festival featured many Ainu artists and Okinawan performers as well as various booths featuring crafts and foods from both communities. 

Check out more photos from "Charanke Festival 2012" on our Facebook page.

Indeed, the Ainu and Okinawan communities have strong bonds through people, music, food, and culture, regardless of what is written in their DNA - or perhaps, some may argue, because of it.

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