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  • Writer's picturePhillip Radcliffe

The History of the Ainu in Hokkaido

(Japanese Translation below)

By Ayami Nakajima

Ainu culture is said to have been established between the 9th and 13th centuries. The Ainu culture continues to this day, but the Ainu language itself is in danger of disappearing. There are eight languages in Japan that are in danger of disappearing, and Ainu is one of those eight languages.   

In Hokkaido, there are many facilities related to the Ainu people, including Lake Akan Ainu Kotan, Upopoi in the town of Shiraoi, the Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum in the Hidaka Region, the Sapporo Ainu Culture Exchange Center, and the Hokkaido Museum. The museum exhibits the history, language and lifestyle of the Ainu people, as well as the folk tools and clothing actually used by the Ainu.

The Ainu people are the indigenous people of the northern part of the Japanese archipelago, particularly in Hokkaido. They have developed a unique culture that includes the Ainu language, which is a language of a different lineage from Japanese. The Ainu have a spiritual culture in which it is believed that everything in nature has a soul. Ancient dances are performed at festivals and family events and crafts such as embroidery and wood carving with unique patterns are still made.

According to a survey conducted last year in Hokkaido, only 0.7 percent of the more than 13,000 Ainu people who are estimated to be living in the prefecture said they could converse in Ainu. It is one of the languages in danger of disappearing. 

The Ainu language began Its decline during the Meiji period (1868-1912). The policy of assimilation of the Ainu people, including education in Japanese, has been pushed forward, and as a result, the Ainu language has rapidly disappeared from daily life.

Today, most of the Ainu people live in Sapporo and other cities in Hokkaido. There are also many Ainu who have moved outside of Hokkaido to places such as Tokyo and Osaka to pursue higher education, find employment, or get married, and are now living in their own communities.

Even today, there are many movements to tell the story of the Ainu people. Various Ainu-related sites and museums have preserved the Ainu culture, and the good qualities of the Ainu people continue to be conveyed through “Golden Kamuy,” an animation series set in Hokkaido, and through traditional Ainu dances performed at opening ceremonies and other events.


中島 絢未








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