We are the descendants of migrating peoples...

 Ms Maki Shinohara, UNHCR Representative

As I arrived in Kyrgyzstan, I had a chance to see the performance of Kyrgyz Ooz-Komuz at one of the public occasions. The beautiful, rich, floating music brought to me the Kyrgyz ancient world, their aspiration, their values, joy, happiness and struggles.  Indeed music represents the spiritual component of the peoples, reflecting their inner world, experience and history. I was then surprised to hear the Kyrgyz Jigatch, which is exactly the same as the musical instrument “mukkuri” of the Japanese Ainu. 


I am often mistaken as a Kyrgyz on the streets of Bishkek and people casually talk to me in languages I unfortunately cannot understand. But now I am convinced that the Japanese and Kyrgyz are related!  We are the descendants of migrating peoples, spreading ancient music and rich culture across the vast land and water.


People moved throughout history bringing with them languages, art, awareness of nature and wisdoms of life.  I have learned that the Kyrgyz people have a deep-rooted nomadic heritage There were many nomadic people on horse-back in early Japan too. In fact, Japanese are made up of people who managed to reach the far-east island long, long time ago.


Migration requires courage.  The other day, I was talking to a friend about the journey of the famous monk, Genjo Houshi (7th century AD), who travelled along the Silk Road in search of Buddhist scrolls.  Then her eyes popped open and she said, “his journey must have required more courage than those going to the moon!” … Yes. She is probably right.  They had no smart phones, no internet, not even proper maps and not really knowing when they can find the next place to rest, nor even sure that they can safely return to see their families again.  Luckily for Genjou, he once stayed as a guest in a palace near Tokmok, and was able to walk back to China having collected the reputed scrolls all the way from India, across the Tienshan and Hindu-Kush.  Thanks to these courageous people on the move, the world today is rich with culture, art and knowledge.


Today, approximately 3.3 percent  of the world population live outside of their country of origin.  They move for different reasons: studies, jobs, environmental crises, wars etc.  When people move, they bring the most precious things with them, enriching the people and culture they encounter along the way.  That is how I, as a Japanese, can hear the wind blowing on the high mountains of Central Asia in the small musical instrument that we share.


Among these migrating people, however, there are 60 million refugees and displaced persons.  They are part of the global movement but have no choice but to flee for their lives from war and persecution. They embark on risky journeys, not only because of force, fear and despair, but also with hope and courage.  They move, hoping to find a future where their families can restart a normal life in safety and dignity.  They gather the courage to protect their children.


UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) supports governments to protect these people who have been forced to move out of their homes. They are ordinary people, many are educated, professionals who can enrich the societies that hosts them.  Kyrgyz people have been traditionally generous to refugees, like hosting 20,000 people fleeing the war in Tajikistan in early 90s -- many of whom coincidentally were settled in the same city of Tokmok.


Today in Kyrgyzstan, we have young refugees who have grown up, speak the local languages, hardly having the memory of their war-torn homes.  Many are Afghans who deserve a chance to establish their lives and become a constructive member of the Kyrgyz society and culture.  In the nomadic spirit of offering shelter and food to travelling guests, I hope collectively the world can offer these refugees a chance in a foreign land.


Ms Maki Shinohara,
UNHCR Country Representative in the Kyrgyz Republic since February 2015. Ms Shinohara has been working for the UN Refugee Agency since 1992 in a number of countries including the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, missions to Iraq, Pakistan, Darfur, South Sudan, Kosovo, Macedonia (FYROM), as well as at UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Between 2004 and 2007 Ms Maki Shinohara worked as Special Assistant to the President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).