The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

An Anthropological Study of the Interface Between Minority and Music

Joint Research Coordinator TERADA Yoshitaka

Reserch Theme List


minority,music, identity


Nations and regions can be divided by ethnicity, religion, language, hierarchy, caste, gender, sexuality, and other factors or a combination of these factors, and in many cases there are imbalanced power relationships within these divided groups. This research group, provisionally defining the various groups in inferior positions as minorities, has as its objective a comprehensive and scholarly examination of the relationships between these groups and their music and performing arts. In many cases minorities seek to use music and arts as forums of expression when from their point of view they are or feel they are excluded or oppressed in terms of culture or history because of their minority status. However, critical studies in terms of theory or specific examples concerning these root reasons have not been pursued. This research group will include researchers from several related disciplines (ethnomusicology, musicology, anthropology, theory of the body, and performance studies). The group hopes to examine in a scholarly manner the roles and possibilities of music and performing arts in forming/manipulating the identity of minority groups.

Research Results

This joint research project aimed to expand the range of areas and approaches covered in both cultural and geographical terms, by adding presentations from guest speakers to reports from members of the research group. Project member presentations, which were discussed both individually and from an overall perspective, were the primary focus in 2012, which was the last year of this three and a half year project.
The regions and themes discussed were as follows: A case study based on research in North America and Hawai‘i explored the musical practice and minority consciousness of Japanese-American musicians and reported on the minority status of Japanese and Japanese-Americans in the international market for jazz. An “Anthropology of Migritude,” inspired by the concept of Negritude to focus on immigrants themselves as a method of researching musical practice, was proposed and its effectiveness debated. Case studies from Japan focused on the transmission of Korean traditions among people of Korean nationality living in Japan and the analysis of life histories of Okinawans living in Osaka, leading to discussion of differences in assumptions and methodologies between anthropologists and sociologists who study minorities. A documentary film depicting music in Buraku communities, which are discriminated against in Japan, stimulated discussion of the use of audiovisual media as a tool for the study of the relationship between minorities and music. Cases from Southeast Asia included the process of linking aboriginal music with cultural and political identity (Malaysia), inversion of majority and minority status in musical practice (Bali, Indonesia), and the relationship between minority identity and musical activity (Java, Indonesia). A case study from Australia analyzed the factors involved in the shift of aboriginal music from a pan-ethnic symbol of aboriginal identity to a symbol of national identity. Other studies dealt with sexual minorities, exploring the use of performance at musical events as a new way of building a foundation for co-existence and the intersection of sexual and ethnic minority status.
The research conducted by members of this group was extremely diverse in theme and region. In both quality and quantity it provided a solid foundation for multidisciplinary, transcultural exploration of the relation between minorities and music. The diverse backgrounds of the group’s members and guest speakers deepened our understanding of the complex relationships that appear where music and minorities intersect.