Seeking to slowly raise people's awareness and interest in the Ainu

Toshihiro Pete

Pete Tonkori Studio Owner, Tonkori Maker, Musician

Toshihiro Pete

Born in Tokyo. He has ancestral roots to the Ainu of Kushiro. He moved to Lake Akan in 2016, where he now performs as a musician while making traditional Ainu musical instruments called “tonkori”. He formed a band with Lake Akan school children and has composed several original Ainu songs. In June 2022, he started his own shop called Pete Tonkori Studio.

Rediscovering his Ainu roots as an adult

Toshihiro Pete has ancestral roots to the Ainu people of Kushiro. Though he was aware of this lineage since his childhood, he grew up without giving it much thought and attention.

After learning how to play the guitar during his junior high school years, he decided to pursue a career in music. After graduating from a music school, he started working various jobs, including gigs as a roadie to professional bands, while also performing as a musician himself. But a turning point came when he was in 30s. Various circumstances forced his band of over 10 years to break up, which put a stop to his musical career. It was during this time that Toshihiro decided to let go of everything and rediscover himself, particularly his Ainu lineage.

A growing desire to raise awareness of the Ainu people

Toshihiro began frequenting an Ainu cultural exchange center and an Ainu cuisine restaurant in Tokyo, gradually deepening his knowledge of Ainu culture.

Through these experiences, he realized how most of the people in the Tokyo metropolis have very little knowledge of the Ainu. This sparked a strong desire in him to promote awareness and understanding of the Ainu people among the Japanese population.

In 2016, he decided to move to Lake Akan in Hokkaido after learning of a job posting related to Ainu culture. He took up the post of Regional Revitalization Cooperation Corps for Kushiro City, a job that involved working with the Ainu in Lake Akan. The work gave him a vision of turning Lake Akan into a place that thrives with music. In the following year, he started a program that aims to nurture Ainu performers. He also revived his own musical career by forming a band with several school children in Lake Akan.

It was during this time that he started working with the tonkori, a traditional musical instrument of the Karafuto Ainu people. As he sought to improve his tonkori skills, he tried making his own tonkori. He soon found himself getting absorbed into tonkori crafting, eventually leading him to open the Pete Tonkori Studio in June 2022.

Creating opportunities for people to get interested in Ainu culture

Nowadays, Toshihiro Pete keeps himself busy by crafting tonkoris and performing as a musician. His motivation for these activities comes from a desire to raise awareness of the Ainu people. He also began working as a cultural guide in Lake Akan, in the hope that it would serve as an entry point for visitors to get interested in Ainu culture.

Through his work as a guide, he hopes to create a fun time for everyone while sharing his passion for music and the tonkori. Toshihiro says, “I think that getting interested in something begins by having fun. It’s all good even if the guests experience it just as something fun, but it would make me really happy if some of them seek to learn more about the culture.” He plans to first have fun himself, then share that fun with others in order to give them something that gets them interested in Ainu culture.

Toshihiro’s approach is to do things slowly but surely, creating small opportunities that may lead to deeper interest. “I’m not thinking of doing anything audacious. I just want the guests to enjoy the tour, and hopefully help raise awareness of Ainu culture.”