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Senseis’ Voices

Ainu ToyToy ようこそ

Ainu workshops in WA

By Margo Whittle, Treasurer JLTAWA and Ainu workshop organiser

The Japanese Language Teachers Association of Western Australia (JLTAWA) organised Ainu workshops for WA schools and the community utilizing The Japan Foundation Sakura Network funding. Below is Margo’s account of the workshops.

In June, the people of Western Australia were able to engage with Indigenous Japanese music and art by Mr Motoi Ogawa, otherwise known by his Ainu name of “ToyToy” which translates as “Earth soul”. This was a unique experience for all to see and hear from a representative of the indigenous people of Japan who generally live on the northern island of Hokkaido and are very distinct from modern Japanese people.

When ToyToy performed, in addition to singing he played two different types of instruments, the “mukkuri” and “tonkori”. He also encouraged the audience to sing and clap along. The mukkuri is a stringed mouth instrument which is used to represent the heart of the Ainu people. It plays the sounds of the environment that surround you and the animals that you share this Earth with. ToyToy had some of the audience guess what sounds and animals he was demonstrating when he played it. The tonkori is a stringed instrument that was brought to the Ainu people via the Indigenous people of Sakhalin (an island to the north of Hokkaido). It is usually cradled like a baby when played.

ToyToy explained that to play the tonkori, you play it depending on how you and your audience are feeling so that each time you play, it is completely different. He also demonstrated that by resting the tonkori on different peoples’ shoulders and bodies, a different tone can be made. Ainu believe that everyone can sing, so when the audience sang together, it didn’t matter if you weren’t singing the same note as the person next to you, as long as you kept in rhythm. There was some wonderful whole school singing in Ainu language.

Following the music performance at most schools, ToyToy and Shiho Ouchi showed some students how to make an Ainu pattern using traditional paper craft techniques. These patterns are used to protect the wearer and all whom they care about and are generally used on clothing. The patterns are always symmetrical, and are made up of swirls and sharp points to scare away bad spirits and are generally in a continuous pattern to make the pattern strong against the unwanted spirits. The students were asked to focus when drawing their protective pattern. ToyToy shared that this is how the pattern becomes more powerful. Using our thoughts and focus on protecting those whom we love and are dear to us. This is the first time traditional Ainu patterning has been shared outside of Japan.

Many schools reported wonderful outcomes and here is one excerpt.

“At the end of the morning, ToyToy told us that we are the first ever school in the world, outside of Japan, to be taught how to do traditional Ainu paper craft! We all felt very humbled and thanked him in Ainu by saying “iyairaikere”. The Ainu language sounds like a beautiful song, so try saying it with rhythm. Thank you to the Japanese Language Teacher’s Association of WA (especially Margo Whittle) and The Japan Foundation Sydney for sponsoring and organising ToyToy’s visit to Perth, to his assistant Shiho, and to the students who were so respectful and enthusiastic.”

The Noongar people were also able to connect with ToyToy during his visit. First people and First people connecting and communicating.

Some students wrote recounts and drew pictures following the experience. The performance and workshop really connected with the school communities. The whole of the Perth Japanese School attended a performance by ToyToy. They also saw it as a unique opportunity that would not ordinarily be available in Japan.  The Perth community thoroughly relished the unique opportunity that the ToyToy Ainu artist visit offered.

This opportunity has enriched the learning experiences of our students, our community and potentially impacted all our lives as we have been encouraged by ToyToy to look at our own roots and cultures.

ToyToy was interviewed by Cynthia Keith for Konnichiwa FM radio program which broadcast live on Thursday, 8 June 2017. Listen to the interview online.

Thank you to ToyToy and Shiho for sharing Ainu language and culture. A huge thank you to the Japan Foundation who assisted in making ToyToy’s visit possible.

Photo: whale | Haline Ly

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