The backstreets of Koga are probably the last place you would expect to find an Australian Aboriginal art gallery, and yet that is where you will find Tjangala Cafe.
Mr. Onuki, owner of this unique set up, first visited Cairns in Northern Australia many years ago to see the Great Barrier Reef, but found himself lured further and further inland by the culture of the Australian Aboriginal people. Across 11 years, while working as a public servant, Mr. Onuki read about Aboriginal culture and visited Aboriginal communities in inland Australia. During this time he also did independent research into the art of the Aboriginal people, which is closely linked to their culture and way of life.
The Australian Aboriginal people are Australia’s first people, and it is estimated they have been living in Australia for around 50 thousand years. Although there were once between 250-300 languages and over 600 dialects used by the Aboriginal people, none of these languages had a written script – instead, Aboriginal people traditionally used pictures to convey a vast number of things from Dreamtime stories, and history to the location of food and water and other useful everyday information.
Mr. Onuki is particularly captivated by the distinctive art of the Western Desert region. In 1971, a school teacher named Geoffery Bardon introduced acrylic paints to the people of Papunya, a remote Aboriginal settlement west of Alice Springs, and they began to paint on canvases, which was the beginning of the Western Desert Art Movement, known for its innovative ‘dot painting’ style.
Mr. Onuki decided to establish Tjangala Cafe to introduce some of these amazing artworks to the Japanese community, and to create a space where people could appreciate them. The name Tjangala is an Aboriginal skin name used by the Pintupi people of the Western Desert, and it was given to Mr. Onuki when he visited the Aboriginal community of Utopia. In addition to displaying a sizable collection of artwork from numerous Aboriginal artists, Tjangala has also hosted a number of these artists over the years.
In 2007, when Tjangala first opened, two artists from the Mount Liebig Aboriginal community visited he cafe and created artworks. In 2011, Maureen Nampijinpa from Mt. Allen visited Japan, creating artworks and giving talks in Kobe and Tjangala Cafe. In 2012, Barbara Weir, who previously visited Japan in 2008 and spoke at the opening ceremony of the hugely popular art exhibition Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye with fellow artist Gloria Peyarre, visited Tjangala Cafe. During her stay she created artworks and gave a talk to the large crowds who came to see her. Many of the works painted by these artists can be viewed at Tjangala.
Many other Aboriginal artists have visited Japan in the past. In August 2008, Maureen Napaltjarri, and Norma Kelly, two artists from the Mount Liebig Aboriginal community, participated in Yomiuri Television’s summer program ‘Waku Waku Takarajima’, and created artworks with local children. Five women from the Mount Liebig community visited Iwaki in Fukushima on March 11, 2012, one year after the Great East Japan earthquake, to attend a memorial and revival event. They performed a traditional song and dance to pray for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. It is hoped that with the cooperation of Melbourne-based Aboriginal Art Coordinator Mayumi Uchida many more Aboriginal artists will visit Japan in years to come.
Tjangala has a diverse menu, ranging from curry and spaghetti to sandwiches and sweets, including apple pie, pumpkin cake, and brownies. I recommend the Aussie-style toasted sandwiches – I tried the egg and ham sandwich and was not disappointed. They also offer a wide range of delicious Australian teas and blends of coffee, as well as soft drinks, wine, and beer.
In addition to its Aboriginal art related events, Tjangala also plays venue to a number of musical performers. Most recently in November they hosted a Jazz performance. You can keep an eye on what events are scheduled on Tjangala’s website.
Tjangala is open from 11am – 8pm, and is closed Tuesdays and the final Monday of each month. They also take a break over New Year’s. The cafe is located a 20 minute walk from Koga Station, close to Koga First High School. I highly recommend you visit Tjangala next time you are in Koga to experience the extremely friendly, family-like atmosphere, enjoy the delicious food and drink, and appreciate the unique and beautiful artworks of the Australian Aboriginal people.
Tjangala Cafe Details
Address: 306-0012, Ibaraki-ken Koga-shi Asahi-cho 2-16-8