All about the Ainu, Hokkaido’s indigenous people

16 Mar 2018 in Discover Japan

Discover the history of Hokkaido’s indigenous inhabitants. And find out how to experience Ainu culture today.

ainu-mens

They are the indigenous population of Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, and have their own unique history, culture and language. Yet many visitors to Japan have never heard of the Ainu.

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So, who are they? And how can you find out more?

As well as Hokkaido, the Ainu historically resided in northern parts of Honshu.

ainu-house

ainu-village

While the precise origin of the Ainu people is unclear, they are known to be a distinct ethnic group, typically with a light complexion and thick, wavy hair.

japanese-ainu

They also have their own language, which was passed down orally and has no written form. Today, official figures put the number of Ainu at just 24,000. The number of native speakers is a mere 2.

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Historically, the Ainu suffered under the assimilation policies of the Meiji era, when their language and hunting traditions were banned. Today, though, there are efforts to revive Ainu culture.

The government officially recognized the Ainu as the indigenous people of Japan in 2008. An Ainu political party was formed in 2012, and there are plans for a new Ainu museum in Hokkaido ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games.

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In the meantime, the best place to learn about Ainu culture is the outdoor museum in Shiraoi, Hokkaido – a rewarding trip for all the family.

Situated on the shore of Lake Poroto, 2 hours by train or car from Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Tomamu, the museum is a replica of a traditional Ainu village, with thatched cottages and demonstrations of crafts, folk dances and music.

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For the full immersive experience, you can even try your hand at Ainu cooking, woodcarving or dancing!

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Photo credits:

nurananu / CC BY-NC-SA
mechanicalcurator / CC BY
National Museum of Denmark / No known copyright restrictions
Internet Archive Book Images / No known copyright restrictions
The British Library / No known copyright restrictions
Internet Archive Book Images / No known copyright restrictions
Morton1905 / CC BY-NC-ND

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