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Ainu people, they exist?

Ainu people, they exist?
ainu vocabulary
(Last Updated On: June 4, 2021)

The world is full of diverse cultures and traditional groups. Everyone is known by the tribe to which they belong. It is the old custom of people. Japan, like any other country, is an ocean full of diversity and home to many minority groups. Though with time, the minority groups are vanishing their remains are still in use to identify them. One of the minority groups of Japan consisting of Indigenous people is Ainu. Many of you might have not even heard of this name but history validates their existence. Being a linguist or a person having an interest in learning diverse cultures, you can determine the history, culture, and value of this unique and unusual group i.e. Ainu.

If you don’t know much about this minority group, don’t worry. We’ll help and guide you along with this article. So, let’s start by studying the history and origin of the Ainu people.

language ainu
kamchatka peninsula

History and Origin

The Ainu people faced quite a difficult history. Their origins were murky but some scholars say that they are the descendants of an indigenous population which once spread across Northern Asia. According to them, the Ainu people belong to Hokkaido (a Northern Japanese island) the Kuril island, and Sakhalin. Linguists still debate about its origin and there have been many theories on this subject. They are curious to discover a new language from this group. Therefore they are working hard to explore the ancient history of this minority group.

In 2008, the Japanese government officially recognized the existence of these indigenous people i.e. Ainu. But it was found in the 20th century that their culture, dressing sense, language, and religious practices almost everything is distinct from the normal Japanese people of the current era. And their customs have survived for more than millennia. They also claim that their culture is similar to the prehistoric Jomon culture of East Asia. As Japan was gradually introducing modernism in its culture, these people were pushed farther and farther north, until they finally reached the land of Hokkaido. In 1899, Japan took inspiration from the treatment method of Ainu people in the American West. Under the Meiji Restoration, traditional lands, cultural practices, and language of these distinct people were ban. It was quite difficult for them to survive and their story has been addressed just recently.

Appearance of Ainu people

Since the culture of the Ainu people is significantly different from the ethnic Japanese, their appearance is also comparatively distinct. The inhabitants of the Northernmost Islands like the Kuril Islands were somewhat similar in appearance to the Ainu people. First of all, both and men and women keep their hair to shoulder length. And they wear a traditional Ainu grab on their head. After a certain age, men never shave and therefore the old men of this group usually have long beards. Moreover, the women undergo wrist and mouth tattooing to signify they’re coming to adulthood. Their tattoos were very distinct from the Asian population and both genders wear big round earrings.

Living Standards and Occupation

People of Hokkaido are traditionally hunters and gatherers. Common hunting weapons which Hokkaido people use include spears, bows, and arrows with poison on them. Having such an occupation, Hokkaido people live off the land. Their common foods are deer, bear, rabbit, salmon, fox, vegetables, and much more. Unlike the Asian population, they never eat their food raw. Salmon fishing is another occupation of these people. It has several methods like tesh fishing, uray fishing, and rawomap fishing.

Furthermore, Ainu women face more challenges in life than men. Kaori Tahara, an Ainu rights activist who teaches Ainu history at Tokyo University said that ‘Ainu women face double discrimination not only by the Japanese people but also by the Ainu men. Though the recognition by Japan is our first victory the struggles are not over yet. We still face discrimination and are not yet free to speak about our culture, physical distinction, lingo or our distinct identity’.

Why the inhabitants of Hokkaido are less?

Japanese government imposed some limitations on the lifestyle of these indigenous people. The policies like family separation, forcible assimilation, oppression, and discrimination were set on the population of these indigenous people.

In the 19th century, the impact of smallpox became another problem as a result of which the Ainu population dropped down significantly. Although, there is no official census of Hokkaido figures Hokkaido government did some surveys and according to the latest survey, nearly 20,000 people belong to the land of Hokkaido. But if we take a global measure of the Hokkaido group, some sources suggest that there are 2 million people of this minority group. Because of the fewer inhabitants of the Hokkaido group, it is possible that in the coming years, these people of Northern Island will certainly vanish from history and therefore they are also near to extinction. Also, check out our latest content on the Abau language.

ainu speaking groups

Conflict between Japanese and Hokkaido people

The unique status of the Hokkaido people in Asia has always irritated the Japanese government. The Ainu and Japanese people fought a whole series of wars between the 15th and 18th centuries, and by the 19th century, the Northern Island of Hokkaido came under Japanese control, and since then the oppression and discrimination of Ainu people began. In the 20th century, Japanese rule inhibited all the rights of Ainu in their traditional cultural practices. The inequality did not stop there; most notably their right to speak their ancient language was also taken away from them. The government even took measures to hide the people from the world so that there can be no remains left of this unique group.

In the 20th century, professors of Hokkaido University and schools took a stand for their rights and equality. They demanded to live their life according to their customs, traditions, language, and lifestyle rather than the Japanese rule or Japanese language. After long battles of Hokkaido nationally and internationally against the ruthless behavior of the Japanese government, a bill has passed the last April which indicates the recognition of Hokkaido people as the indigenous groups of Japan for the first time.

It was the first move by the activists to the professors of Hokkaido university to give them the right to speak and present their arguments. This effort was carried out to ensure that the traditions, language, dance, land, and culture of Ainu remain safe. The people of the southern part of Sakhalin island (the land belonging to Russia) and also Kuril island speak the typical dialects of Ainu people. The bill has changed the history of Ainu in Asia.

Similarity between Japanese and Hokkaido

The one way through which Japanese and Ainu people are similar is in the way of religion. The Ainu just like the Japanese and some people of East Asia were animists. And they believe that all things including lakes, mountains, and animals are under the arrogation of spirits which they call kamuy. They believe in the existence of many gods and one of them has the name Kim-un-kamuy or the gods of bear and the mountains. All the animals refer to be the manifestations of Gods on Earth in Ainu culture. However, the bear is thought to be the head of all Gods. Traditionally, they sacrifice the bears to release the kamuy within them to the spirit world.

Ainu people, they exist?

Though the Japanese government did efforts to hide the Ainu people, with the help of professors and school students of Hokkaido, they have been recognized as the indigenous people. Even after the Japanese domination, it has been discovered by the bill that these people still exist. Although, the number of Ainu people is less and it is decreasing day by day, which means this group is near to extinction. But in the current era, we can easily find remains of this indigenous group. The school students of Hokkaido are taught about the population history of Ainu to aware of their distinct language.

ainu people

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