Ainu Culture

The Ainu people

of Hokkaido are to us

almost but a myth

I had a problem with one of my pages yesterday and had a major panic session but now it has been solved, I can move on. Whew!!

Let`s look at the Ainu people of Japan.   The Ainu were the first known inhabitants of Japan, herded up towards Hokkaido as early as the 9th century.   The Ainu, who until that time had lived all over Japan, were pushed up towards Hokkaido which was considered the wild west frontier of Japan.    One could argue it still is the unknown frontier of Japan!!   Most people I meet from Japan give me an `Oh really? You lived in Sapporo??` baffled kind of look when I tell them.  As in, why didn`t you live down in Honshu, like Tokyo or anywhere else?.    Anyway, once the Ainu were pushed up towards Hokkaido they eventually assimilated into Japanese culture by marriage. In the mid-19th century, Japanese people started to move up to Hokkaido to settle.  Encouraging settlement in Hokkaido was a political measure to keep an eye on Russia, and prevent Russia from getting any ideas of moving into Hokkaido, as well as taking advantage of the abundance of coal and lumber in Hokkaido.

While in Hokkaido, I visited an Ainu museum in Asahikawa, in the middle of Hokkaido, as well as in Hakodate in the south of the island.   Their culture is really very interesting.  They have their own language as well.   It would be nice to see that language kept alive for future generations.  There aren`t that many people in Japan now who consider themselves true Ainu as they have assimilated so much.    Though this is an ode to Japan blog, there are some unsavoury aspects of Japan and this is one of them.  They are represented in parliament by a politician of Ainu origin who has really pushed for change in this issue, but there should be more really, considering.

While visiting the Ainu museum in Asahikawa, I bought a little trinket.  Just a keyring holder with a little owl at the end of it.  The owl is one of the symbols of the Ainu people.   I don`t usually buy trinkets in museums, believe me (bookmarks, postcards yes, but trinkets no), but I`m actually glad I did that time as I remember being told I couldn`t take pictures inside the museum so that`s why.   Apart from that, any photos I took around outside were lost.  I didn`t have a digital camera at that time, just an ordinary old film camera (and not even a cool one with long lens or anything like that).  A fujifilm camera – how apt. I must have lost the film.  Sniff sniff : (  Though I found two unprocessed films of mine today so I wonder if they are the ones from Asahikawa.  I`ll have to find out.  I have a feeling they are.

I have photos of Hakodate, but I don`t think I took any pictures of the museum I was in, as I have all my other photos from Hakodate and none are from this museum.   By the way, they were very nice in the museum in Hakodate.   I recommend you go to either museum but the staff in the Hakodate museum were really nice and helpful.  I remember it as if it was yesterday.  It`s nice how the kindness of strangers can be remembered so far on.

So I just have my trinket, and well a lot of information from the Hakodate museum in the form of brochures and leaflets, including info on the language.  But my trinket is I suppose a consolation for not having any photos.   I respect that museums don`t want people taking pictures of the displays, I really do.

The name of the museum, actually a Memorial Hall, in Asahikawa is the Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Memorial Hall and the museum I went to in in Hakodate is the Hakodate City Museum of Northern Peoples.

A picture or two and a language guide will follow shortly ….


Any thoughts? In haiku form or not?

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