Congratulations to Justin Hunter! He successfully defended his dissertation, “Vitalizing Traditions: Ainu Music and Dance and the Discourse of Indigineity,” at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in May 2015. Hunter is an ethnomusicologist specializing in Indigenous studies, Japanese studies, and world music pedagogy. He received his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and his BA and MM from the University of Arkansas.
For over two hundred years, the Ainu of Japan have been colonized in their ancestral lands and faced deep discrimination in the purported mono-ethnic, homogenous Japanese society. Despite the Japanese government’s official recognition of the Ainu as the Indigenous people of Japan in 2008, the Ainu continue to fight for their rights and to maintain their identity. In this dissertation, I examine the various ways Ainu use expressive culture to highlight their cultural differences in order to reaffirm their identity against assimilatinist policies. Taking advantage of the growing awareness of global Indigenous rights, the Ainu participate in the global discourse of Indigeneity by making connections with Indigenous peoples around the world. Through these efforts, the Ainu draw attention to their struggle and demonstrate that they are a living, breathing, and vital people, despite being forgotten and rendered invisible in the colonial history and memory of Japan.
This dissertation focuses on the “staging” of Ainu identity by Ainu people in various physical and metaphysical spaces in Japan and beyond. These grassroots efforts place the Ainu in charge of their own representation. By focusing on musical and dance performances, and the overall representation of Ainu on various stages, I view these performances as dynamic, active, and productive “vitalizing traditions,” rather than the popular perception of tourist performances as only negative and inauthentic. These performances provide a glimpse into the ways in which the Ainu use expressive culture to perform, understand, and create new avenues to express and construct a sense of Ainuness through propelling activities rather than re-building ones.
The ethnographic settings presented in this dissertation collectively probe themes of traditionality, authenticity, performativity, Indigeneity, and agency. I argue that a rigid application of these terms tends to cast Indigenous expression, presentation, and performance as inauthentic or as constructed tradition and in the process ignore Indigenous peoples’ active and nuanced roles in asserting their ethnicity on their own terms. Re-framing descriptions of Indigenous peoples’ artistic output as intentional and dynamic not only gives voice to Indigenous people but levels the playing field by viewing Indigenous creativity as deserving of support rather than needing rescue and resuscitation.
Hunter’s previous research focused on an historical ethnomusicological study of Western military music in Japan prior to the rise of the Meiji Restoration (1868). This work was presented at both international and national conferences. His dissertation research looked at contemporary understanding of music and dance practices of the Indigenous Ainu of Japan. His dissertation, “Vitalizing Traditions: Ainu Music and Dance and the Discourse of Indigeneity,” attempts to position a study with an Ainu-centric focus to highlight the propelling work in the arts by Ainu communities while questioning binary understandings of such terms as “authenticity,” “tradition,” and even “Indigenous.” This research has been presented at numerous national conferences including the Society for Ethnomusicology and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.
Hunter is the editor of the Society for Ethnomusicology’s SEM Student News and serves as a member of the society’s advisory council. Additionally, he serves in leadership roles for numerous special interest groups, sections, and committees for the society. He has book reviews in Ethnomusicology Forum and the journal Notes. He is a member and alumnus of the Alpha Omicron chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia and was inducted into Pi Kappa Lambda in 2009 at the University of Arkansas campus.