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The "Humans of Hokkaidō" formally recognized.
June 6, 2008 8:15 PM   Subscribe

Until 400 years ago, the Ainu controlled Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's four main islands. Today they are a small minority group of Japan. They are a hunting and fishing people whose origins remain in dispute. Long before the people who would come to be known as "the Japanese" completed their migrations from the Asia mainland, the islands of Japan were already inhabited by a race of people known as the Ainu ("human"). On this northernmost island, (Hokkaido), in the "snow country," there still may be found remnants of this once proud and vigorous people who roamed the Japan islands long before the Japanese themselves arrived.
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The first comprehensive attempt to study Ainu culture was not undertaken until 1968 and by that time, the Ainu population had already dwindled considerably and they themselves had, in large part, begun assimilating with the Japanese and became absorbed into the general population.

In recent centuries (particularly with the 1889 Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Law) they have been subject to Japanese government policies of modernization and integration. As with indigenous (native) peoples in the United States and many other nations, the Ainu have largely assimilated. And like many other such groups, there have been signs of cultural revival recently.

The first official acknowledgment of any kind of separate Ainu identity came only in 1999. And on Friday of this week the Ainu were finally granted recognition as an indigenous people by Japan's parliament.

According to the resolution, "Many Ainu were discriminated against and driven into poverty during Japan's modernization process."

The resolution urged the government to recognize the Ainu as indigenous people with their own language, religion and culture. In addition, it asks top government officials to compile comprehensive measures after hearing expert opinions.
Previously, Culture and Arts, Wiki, On-line museum, PBS Nova link Language (and here),Religion, Artifacts, Photos, Overview, Discrimination, Racism, and the future (you tube) ,via the amazing AINU REBELS.
posted by dawson (35 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yay!
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:25 PM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


this once proud and vigorous people
What, now they're ashamed and wanting a nap?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:26 PM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Ainu jaw harp totally rocks.

You'll note they use a pull-string arrangement, rather than plucking on the tongue of the instrument, as is the method with most other jaw harps around the world. This clip shows it very nicely in closeup and slow motion!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:33 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


And who will be the first commenter to say: "Ainu about this already" ?

Whoops. It was me.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:36 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


What, now they're ashamed and wanting a nap?

Yes, very funny. If you'd read the links, you'd learn that many Ainu are now ashamed of their heritage and the "official" number of Ainu - around 24,000 - may be much larger if people were more willing to identify themselves openly. And of course, while individuals may be vigorous, a people whose culture and language and religion has been mocked as "backwards" and discriminated against to the point where people don't want to *be* Ainu may be fairly described as something other than vigorous. In many ways, the Ainu (as a people) are on their last legs. Recognition such as that mentioned above is a great step, but as is so often the case, it's probably too little - and in many ways, much too late.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:37 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't forget their music.
posted by lekvar at 8:41 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yay a post about where I live!
My friend's friend is in an Ainu-fronted rock band.
posted by damo at 8:58 PM on June 6, 2008


Don't forget their music .

A few months back I played a festival in Hokkaido (in the hills, just outside the main city of Sapporo) and had a chance to see the Oki Dub band from your first link, who were on the bill. I like that instrument (the hankapuy) but found it a bit unfortunate that (1) with the band at full tilt (drums, electric bass, etc) it couldn't really be heard all that well, the subtleties of it were lost, and (2) the mostly reggae beats/arrangements were, well, mostly reggae beats and arrangements. It sure was nice to hear the instrument unaccompanied, there in your 2nd link. Met Oki and his bandmates, briefly, they were really nice fellows.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:03 PM on June 6, 2008


And there's the Rera Cise, who call themselves Tokyo's only Ainu restaurant. (Menu page) I believe they once called themselves the only Ainu restaurant in the world, but now the wiki on Ainu cuisine lists three more. In the world.
posted by ormondsacker at 9:33 PM on June 6, 2008


If you'd read the links, you'd learn that many Ainu are now ashamed of their heritage

Well, no wonder. Ainu in Japan are marginalized a lot more than, say, aboriginals in Canada or blacks in 1960's South. I can't even think of a comparison, but pointing out that someone has Ainu blood in Tokyo is about the same as pointing out that they're a pedophilic leper.
posted by rokusan at 10:01 PM on June 6, 2008


There is thought to be a link between many of the far northern cultures: the Ainu, Inuit of Alaska, Canada, even all the way to Greenland, parts of Siberia and Mongolia.

One commonality is Throat Singing, something that fascinated the physicist Richard Feynman, after he received an album of throat singing from the country of Tuval.
posted by eye of newt at 10:21 PM on June 6, 2008


Ah, I see there is a Metafilter post on Tuvan throat singing.

Supposedly the last Ainu to do throat singing or rekkukara was recorded before he died in 1976, but it doesn't seem to be online that I can find.
posted by eye of newt at 10:32 PM on June 6, 2008


Tuva, not Tuval...sorry.
posted by eye of newt at 10:40 PM on June 6, 2008


It's interesting the Japanese government is prepared to apologize to one distinct population (the Ainu) but not to another (China).
posted by five fresh fish at 10:59 PM on June 6, 2008


My point was more that turns of phrase like "this once proud people" and similar are hackneyed clichés. I was somewhat aware of the hardships the Ainu have been through, and I don't doubt their severity, I just think they deserve better prose.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:09 PM on June 6, 2008


I used to work with a woman who was from Hokkaido originally; she'd been in the USA for quite a long time, but I remember that at one point she said that being from Hokkaido, she was sure she had some Ainu ancestry. She didn't seem ashamed, more sort of interested in the exoticism of the idea, like Americans who think they "have some Native American blood" in their background but so far back in their family history that most of the details have been lost.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:26 PM on June 6, 2008


It's interesting the Japanese government is prepared to apologize to one distinct population (the Ainu) but not to another (China).
posted by five fresh fish at 1:59 AM on June 7 [+] [!]


Japan has apologised several times, including fairly recently, but this has not been accepted by China (for different reasons at different times - I have even heard that Mao rejected the initial apologies because without the Japanese attacking China, the Communists wouldn't have come to power. But this may be hearsay.)
posted by jb at 11:26 PM on June 6, 2008


this once proud people

This reminds me of a couple of stories.

My uncle once taught anthropology at a college. He had some native Americans come talk to his class and they told the class that everything that they have been learning is false. "He teaches about our culture as ancient history. We exist, here and now!"

Also, I was in a taxi near Chichen Itza and my father said "It is amazing that the Mayans just disapeared." The taxi driver turned around and said "We didn't disappear. Our cities may be gone, but we are still here."
posted by eye of newt at 11:31 PM on June 6, 2008 [13 favorites]


I hadn't realised! For the longest time there wasn't a chance in hell they were going to apologise to anyone. Real hardliner.

Korea? I'm finding it difficult to believe they finally admitted culpability.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:31 PM on June 6, 2008


eye of newt: isn't that the former country, now just TLD, of Tuvalu?
posted by davemee at 11:41 PM on June 6, 2008


I hadn't realised! For the longest time there wasn't a chance in hell they were going to apologise to anyone. Real hardliner.

You're joking, right?

Here's a list with apologies by Japan concerning the war. It's quite long.

Of course, words are cheap and it can be argued that a lot of these statements were only issued due to gaiatsu, or foreign pressure.
It would be interesting to compare the actual war reparations paid by Japan and Germany.
posted by sour cream at 12:10 AM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Korea? I'm finding it difficult to believe they finally admitted culpability.

Their apologies thus far haven't carried, to my ears and admittedly in translation, a ring of sincerity, but yes, they have apologized to Korea as well.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:28 AM on June 7, 2008


The Bear Festival (From the Golden Bough. The anthropology is, supposedly, largely obsolete and it's from 1915).
posted by ersatz at 5:59 AM on June 7, 2008


Their apologies thus far haven't carried, to my ears and admittedly in translation, a ring of sincerity...

Yeah, I don't think they're especially sincere with those. They're just doing the bare minimum that they deem politically expedient, I'd say. And I haven't seen a single judge yet award one single yen to any of the so-called "comfort women" (WWII-era sex slaves, mostly Korean, for Japanese Imperial Army soldiers) in any of the several court cases brought by those now-elderly women here in Japan.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:12 AM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Ainu used to be said to be the hairiest people in the world, and also to be Caucasians. I had a copy of the French popular science magazine Science et Vie claiming that Samurai had much more Ainu ancestry than the Japanese population in general, but I've also heard that called a "Eurocentric myth", and it does seem to me to have somewhat that flavor.
posted by jamjam at 9:10 AM on June 7, 2008


Jared Diamond had a nice article on Japanese prehistory which discussed the Ainu and their origins.
posted by euphorb at 9:20 AM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


All I know about the Ainu I learned from SnowCrash. And what I learned is this: don't fuck with the Ainu.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:37 AM on June 7, 2008


Long before the people who would come to be known as "the Japanese" completed their migrations from the Asia mainland, the islands of Japan were already inhabited by a race of people known as the Ainu ("human").

This could be splitting hairs, but the Ainu are a cultural group that has traditionally inhabited modern-day Hokkaido and the Sakhalin Islands to the north. The main island of Honshu was inhabited by other cultural or ethnic groups, usually given the generic name "Emishi". Like I said, it's kind of like splitting hairs, but to say the Ainu were the former inhabitants of Japan is like saying Spain (which itself is home to a variety of cultures) is the same as France.

I used to work with a woman who was from Hokkaido originally; she'd been in the USA for quite a long time, but I remember that at one point she said that being from Hokkaido, she was sure she had some Ainu ancestry.

I think it's fair to say that everyone in Japan has some aboriginal ancestry. Neolithic Yayoi culture didn't start in Japan until just 500AD. If you assume that the wet-rice cultivators of Japan were newcomers who pushed the indigenous inhabitants of Japan out, it makes you wonder where all these new (Japanese) invaders came from.

What likely happened was that settlers did indeed arrive from Korea or Taiwan or the Chinese continent in 500 BC, introducing rice cultivation to indigenous inhabitants. Intermarriage between "Wa" newcomers and the indigenous population occurred; this intermarriage also involved technology transfer such as pottery and rice cultivation, resulting in the creation of a new culture - Yayoi.

More powerful and organized rival Emishi groups would continue to fight with the new Wa states for more than one thousand years before being eradicated from the main Japanese Island of Honshu.

But all Japanese people have some "Ainu" blood in them.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:57 AM on June 7, 2008


don't fuck with the Ainu

I remember that guy as being Aleut. Hmm, a quick Google seems to find a lot more results for it, too. Or was there an Ainu badass in that book too? I don't remember.
posted by marble at 11:27 AM on June 7, 2008


Looks like you're right.

It's getting on time for me to re-read Snow Crash and Diamond Age again. And maybe even Cyrptonomicron. And I should read Zodiac for the first time.

Just couldn't get into the Baroque Cycle books, though.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:54 AM on June 7, 2008


I remember reading somewhere that due to the lightness of their skin and relatively large amount of facial hair, 'Ainu' was sometimes used by the Japanese as an insult against westerners.

Is that true?

Oh, and thanks for the exposure to the Ainu music. It's interesting that even the more traditional (i.e. not reggae-influenced) music seems to have a more conventionally western, and even rock, structures. I'm already imagining shellac doing an all ainu album.

...hey, I can dream, right?
posted by lumpenprole at 12:51 PM on June 7, 2008


I remember reading somewhere that due to the lightness of their skin and relatively large amount of facial hair, 'Ainu' was sometimes used by the Japanese as an insult against westerners.

Not in my experience. In the past, "gaijin" (outlanders) were called "yabanjin" (barbarians) or "nanbanjin" (southern barbarians), but those terms typically were reserved for Portuguese or Dutch traders... four hundred years ago.

I've never heard a Japanese person deliberately insult Westerners about body hair or smell or whatever; this is imagined, on the Westerner's part. Instead, Westerners are mocked (usually by television comedians) on their strange outlandishness: blonde hair, blue eyes, big noses and funny, funny, accents. The typical insult is to call someone "hen", or "strange". But all of this is balanced out by the curiosity the Japanese have for "outside" cultures (although the police often seem to think that foreign = criminal).

The Ainu barely register in the Japanese consciousness. Besides, the Japanese can be a very hairy bunch, much hairier than Europeans, especially their legs.

The more racist insults, of course, are reserved for the Chinese and Korean inhabitants of Japan... Kind of like how these two ethnic groups can be treated in LA, for example.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:23 PM on June 7, 2008


Like KokuRyu says, "Ainu" wasn't used as an insult against westerners. "Ainu" was used as an insult against Ainu. Getting to this point has been a long, hard struggle, with plenty of peculiar twists—for example, here's a quote from Kirsten Refsing's The Ainu Language:
My first field work on Ainu was carried out in Hokkaido in 1969, when I had the opportunity of travelling over most of the island in search of native speakers. I interviewed twenty-two informants (Refsing: 1974: 26ff) of varying degrees of fluency in the language. Some had previous experience of working with linguists, and they were unusually open and straightforward. They would volunteer information and display a certain pride in their unique knowledge. Others had never before been asked about the Ainu language and many of them were suspicious and hostile and would start out by denying any knowledge of the language at all. Some of them even denied that such a language existed. With one or two exceptions I succeeded after a while in putting them at ease, and in the course of our conversation in Japanese about the old days, they would finally agree to tell me some stories or to sing a song in Ainu. One old woman told me that in her childhood she had been ridiculed by the Japanese children for speaking Ainu, and they had tried to convince her that the Ainu language was just meaningless sounds like the barking of dogs—and after all "dog" is inu in Japanese, and thus very close to the word ainu... so this woman had been almost convinced that her mother tongue was not a proper language.

To carry out field work on Ainu is a delicate task, and it cannot be hurried. before you can make the person(s) you work with understand what you are trying to do, you yourself must start by trying to understand what it is like to be bilingual without having any clear concept of different languages; to be cursed with an extra language which detracts from your social status and exposes you to ridicule; and finally—in your old age—to be repeatedly besieged by eager young Japanese scholars who beg you to speak into their taperecorders the very same language that the very same Japanese used to compare to the senseless babbling of animals!
Now, if you were after a good example of an Ainu badass, Shakushain should work. (Search for "1669" on this page for more.) I also recommend Brett L. Walker's The Conquest of Ainu Lands for people interested in this area.
posted by No-sword at 4:30 PM on June 7, 2008


Also, pardon the self-link, but here's a recent post from MOFB about the formal-recognition issue, also touching on the topic of insults.
posted by No-sword at 4:51 PM on June 7, 2008


many excellent links many of you provided here, thanks. I've learned quite a lot.
posted by dawson at 9:26 PM on June 7, 2008


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