Transformed events online Voices from the Ryukyus at International Christian University, Tokyo

Sachiyo Fujita-Round (Linguapax Asia)

Under the dire circumstance of COVID-19, this spring, all the events planned to promote the voices of endangered languages and cultures of Miyako Island at our university campus were cancelled. At the university museum, the ‘ICU Hachiro Yuasa Memorial Museum’, there would be the photography exhibition, “Memories of Ritual Prayer on Miyako Island: The Photographs of Uwai Sachiko and Higa Yasuo”, with 180 black and white photographs preserving the scenery of old Miyakoan communities in the 1970s. At the university chapel, there would be the concert, “Weaving the Voices: the Ryukyuan languages and music of Okinawa Island, Ishigaki Island and Miyako Island”. However, these events were turned into “online” thanks to the collaboration of the curators of the university museum, the university Information and Technology centre and the Institute of Asian Cultural Studies. We created the recorded online guide tour of the photography exhibition and a music & talk session webinar (web seminar on zoom), in June, inviting a Miyakoan singer who participated from Okinawa Island.

The Miyakoan language is spoken in the Southern Ryukyu, Okinawa prefecture, which is the southernmost prefecture of Japan. These vernacular languages in Ryukyu Islands are labelled as the endangered languages of Japan. This endangerment articulates Japanese modern history when the Ryukyuan islands were incorporated under the control of Japan, in 1879, when the language assimilation into Japanese by the central government started. In the 21st century, UNESCO’s alert made an impact and was internationally acknowledged for raising the attention and awareness of endangered languages.

From my research on Miyako Island, from 2012, I learned the reality of what we gained and lost by the modernization of Japan. How to make this research useful for the university course where I teach became my challenge for language revitalisation. I prepared events to promote the actual voices of the Ryukyus for 2020 spring. Yet, on the same day when we finished exhibiting the photographs, the university announced a lockdown. Now the YouTube tour guide of the photography exhibition was added to the museum archive and my class of 100 students and a 90 person public audience learned about Isamu Shimoji who sang his own songs in Miyakoan. In the end, the voices stay online and repeatedly are heard.

Online photography exhibition guide tour with English subtitles available here.

I would like to acknowledge the Japan ICU Fund kindly supported these events.