Michiyo Yoneno-Reyes

Our Version of Coexistence: Filipino Migrants‘ Musicking and Migrant Singers in Japan and the World


Filipinos in Japan, the third largest foreign community among those with permanent and long-term visa status, have held a nationwide singing contest called Utawit since 2005, with about ten regional rounds and a national grand championship each year. Its conception is rooted in the presence of thousands of female mid-skilled entertainers in Japan since the 1980s. The ethnographic account of their management of the contest, a relatively large-scale event, implies their version of coexistence with the host community members in Japan – they hardly need the intervention of public or civic Japanese sympathizers while strategically making use of the public community facilities local government units provide for their residents. It suggests their integration into the local community to a certain degree. By accommodating Japanese participants and Japanese songs in the contest, the Utawit organizers exercise agency independently of the so-called multicultural coexistence initiatives of Japanese bureaucratic gatekeepers, as well as local community and NGO groups – this is where cohabitation in Butler’s sense is in evidence.

This study responds to historical accounts of musicianship in Western music and overseas work by Filipinos since as early as the 18th century, as a result of experiences of colonialism, as well as contemporary fieldwork-based studies that depict the significance of karaoke singing in identity formation among Filipino diasporas in the U.K. and elsewhere. The research suggests a condition of rather flexible or “loose” integration of migrants in host societies.


Michiyo Yoneno-Reyes, Ph.D., professor at the University of Shizuoka, is a cultural anthropologist and ethnomusicologist who has also been involved in migration studies. She has taught at the University of Tokyo (2017–2021) and the University of the Philippines (1999–2016). She has co-edited and co-authored Unsilent Strangers: Music, Minority, Coexistence, Japan (2023); Documenting Indigenous Tribal Memory: Folktales of the Vanaws, Northern Philippines (2022); Foreign Nurses Working in Japan: Assessments of the EPA Program (in Japanese, 2021); edited Popular Culture of East Asia: Philippine Perspectives (2013); and is currently preparing a manuscript Doing and Undoing Tradition in Philippine Salidummay: Singing of Modernities in a Postcolonial Periphery. She obtained her BA in Musicology from the Tokyo University of the Arts, MM in Musicology, and PhD in Philippine Studies from the University of the Philippines.