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Japan's Indigenous peoples fight stigma to reclaim identities

43 Comments
By Harumi OZAWA

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It's time the Japanese government apologized to the Ainu Indigenous people, and make restitution.

24 ( +33 / -9 )

The Japanese government should give them large swaths of land that was their traditional territory, as Canada and the United States have done for the American native nations.

20 ( +26 / -6 )

The languages are not taught in schools, though, and some people with Ryukyu heritage, like Okinawan hip-hop artist Ritto Maehara, struggle with fluency.

Well, the blame for this goes directly at the feet of the IJA who literally killed Okinawan's who used Uchinaguchi, as they thought they were spies!

Oh and the language is being taught in some school districts now. The prefectural government published a textbook for use in elementary schools called "Shima Kutuba"

https://030b46df30379e0bf930783bea7c8649.cdnext.stream.ne.jp/archives/uploads/img551fa59562c92.jpg

2 ( +12 / -10 )

The assault on human identity is the fundamental means of all forms of achieving domination over others based on racist ideology. A resurrection of Ainu language and culture will enrich the island of Hokkaido

18 ( +24 / -6 )

While the Ainu were being assimilated by the mainland Wajin, the White race was doing exactly the same and in many cases much worse, in Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand.

I know quite a few Ainu and they don't separate themselves from "Japanese". In fact they are rather proud to be Japanese. The distinction is made by the term Wa-jin.

Today, Ainu are far more an assimilated people, rather than an oppressed people that their ancestors were.

In the last several years the J-govt has put an enormous effort into supporting the preservation of Ainu culture. Unfortunately, timing wise, the Covid pandemic slowed down a few projects,

"I still hate the way I look sometimes, so clearly Ainu," said Monbetsu, who wears the full beard that was traditionally favored by Ainu men."

This is a strange statement. If he shaved he probably wouldn't stand out at all. And although not common, there are plenty of non-Ainu people in Japan with full beards.

0 ( +25 / -25 )

It's time the Japanese government apologized to the Ainu Indigenous people, and make restitution.

The Japanese government should give them large swaths of land that was their traditional territory, as Canada and the United States have done for the American native nations.

Don't hold your breath guys. If they can't even admit to what they did in WW2 they are not going to do anything for their indigenous people

-14 ( +21 / -35 )

Fascinating article, didn't know all this but while reading it I remembered when first arrived in Japan I wondered whether there are Indigenous people and cultures in Japan like in many other parts of the world!!?!?

Didn't look into it deep enough but this article kind a restarted my thoughts. Very interesting, thank you.

19 ( +21 / -2 )

Much can be learned from the Ainu. Glad they are getting more recognition. They should be given large swathes of land, reservations if you like, to hunt and fish and live the traditional ways.

15 ( +19 / -4 )

I once worked with a guy who had Ainu blood who told me that there were probably no "pure" Ainu.

Don't know if its true.

-3 ( +10 / -13 )

In Russia, according to the 2011 census, there are 118 Ainu. But Putin's government does not want to consider us an independent people, since we have rights to the South Kuriles (Northern Territories). And this is not the territory of Russia or Japan, these are the lands of the Ainu. Our ancestors lived here and here was the first Asian Republic of Ezo, which officially had two languages - Japanese and Ainu.

9 ( +14 / -5 )

Japanese history is full of stories of quarreling brothers and warring clans but where are the accounts of the curious customs of the Ainu or tales of the heroic deeds of the Seii Taishogun in battle with the Emishi? Spanish conquistadors left accounts of their plunder of the Mayan and Aztec empires. American settlers left accounts of their contact and conflicts with various tribes. Curiously, Japan seems to lack anything more than the briefest mentions of the wars for which the famed title of shogun was originally bestowed.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Present day inhabitants in all countries should respect the original inhabitants of their country. Since historical times they, the original inhabitants, have experienced and, learned how to live in the country

better than newcomers to the country.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

I know quite a few Ainu and they don't separate themselves from "Japanese". In fact they are rather proud to be Japanese. The distinction is made by the term Wa-jin.

Today, Ainu are far more an assimilated people, rather than an oppressed people that their ancestors were.

This statement sounds like suppressive brainwashing. Japan requires herd mentality and to fit in, the Ainu people likely had to give up their own identities so they weren't the nail that stood out, and it is not necessarily by choice they have assimilated, nor does it sound like a particularly good thing.

It isn't by accident that the diverse ideas of the Ainu are not readily accepted in Japan, and instead of having their culture disappear, it should be cherished. But, of course, in Japan, diversity is not actually wanted and any person who looks to not fit in exactly as Japan wants, will be a gaijin.

An indigenous person shouldn't be made to feel they cannot say who they are, as Monbetsu's mother banning the word, 'Ainu' shows a likely fear from being ostracized from Japan.

Wake up, Japan, diversity is the real spice of life, not conformity.

-2 ( +14 / -16 )

Japan's official recognition of the Ainu as an Indigenous culture came way too late.

They were only hurriedly recognized in 2008 - 1 week before an international conference on indigenous peoples was to be held in Hokkaido.

How embarrassing.

And a few weeks before the G7(8) was to be in held in Hokkaido.

How embarrassing.

The govt's official stance before that was "Japan is an homogenous country - there is only one ethnicity. There are no indigenous groups in Japan".

How embarrassing.

The main reasons for the denial was they were afraid of historical land claims, rights and having to apologize with maybe the possibility of monetary compensation. All a big no no for the govt.

I recall a story indicative of that era at the international conference, an indigenous Maori representative from NZ - a woman with the traditional moko chin tattoo was refused entry to an onsen because well....tattoos are banned. But she's an indigenous woman an official speaker at the international conference on indigenous peoples. Sorry can't change the rules.

That was Japan oh so long ago. You know 14 years ago.

I really hope that their culture can be saved and promoted like the article indicates.

7 ( +16 / -9 )

151E

……but where are the accounts of the curious customs of the Ainu or tales of the heroic deeds of the Seii Taishogun in battle with the Emishi?

Your wish is my command.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/133122

2 ( +3 / -1 )

So how many "pure" Ainu are there? 2? 200? None? Is there even any data?

0 ( +5 / -5 )

It seems Japan has quite some ground to make up compared with some other developed nations. Watch a rugby match with the New Zealand All Blacks team in it, and see both the Maori and non-Maori players performing a Haka with enormous enthusiasm (and seemingly intimidation!). There are Maoris in all areas of society, including parliament.

In Australia, which may have made slower progress initially towards inclusion, indigenous people are increasingly active in politics and in legal challenges against destruction of sacred sites by big business. Their art is sold worldwide. They are being consulted about bushfire prevention as they've had their own techniques for millennia. In the U.K., the Welsh language is still taught in schools, both Scottish and Irish Gaelic are still alive. Moreover Cornish, which almost died out in the last century, is once again being revived by enthusiasts. These are languages originating in the Celtic tribes that came over from Europe as the Ice Age retreated. Celtic music is widely appreciated, in Europe as well as the U.K. So what does this mean for Japan and the Ainu and other minorities? It seems to me that the minorities have to become more publicly and politically active so that the Japanese government can no longer be able to ignore them.
5 ( +6 / -1 )

Returning the Kuril:s to the Ainu seem like the logical way to resolve the conflict with Russia. Neither side would loose face.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

OssanAmericaToday  08:40 am JST

While the Ainu were being assimilated by the mainland Wajin, the White race was doing exactly the same and in many cases much worse, in Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand.

I know quite a few Ainu and they don't separate themselves from "Japanese". In fact they are rather proud to be Japanese. The distinction is made by the term Wa-jin.

Today, Ainu are far more an assimilated people, rather than an oppressed people that their ancestors were.

In the last several years the J-govt has put an enormous effort into supporting the preservation of Ainu culture. Unfortunately, timing wise, the Covid pandemic slowed down a few projects,

"I still hate the way I look sometimes, so clearly Ainu," said Monbetsu, who wears the full beard that was traditionally favored by Ainu men."

This is a strange statement. If he shaved he probably wouldn't stand out at all. And although not common, there are plenty of non-Ainu people in Japan with full beards.

This is about Japan's indigenous people. Another tired attempt to make excuses for Japan by bringing in other countries. It doesn't change the fact that Japanese and the government could care less about indigenous Japanese people. Most Japanese don't even know there are indigenous people in Japan. That's how bad awareness is and a reflection about how much they care. They don't.

The government's attempts are meaningless and they know it. It's too little too late to save the heritage of Japan's indigenous people. Populations are too small, their voice too small, and there's no interest from Japanese. Just your typical government lip service to claim they tried when they already knew it was too late.

-10 ( +8 / -18 )

sunfunbunToday  10:48 am JST

This statement sounds like suppressive brainwashing. Japan requires herd mentality and to fit in, the Ainu people likely had to give up their own identities so they weren't the nail that stood out, and it is not necessarily by choice they have assimilated, nor does it sound like a particularly good thing.

Of course it is. Any assimilation of any peoples are a form of brainwashing. Australian aboriginals have been brainwashed. Native Americans have been brainwashed. African-Amercans, while being segregated were also brainwashed. But we are talking about a people who did not have a written language. It's pretty much impossible to assist any "backwards" culture without some degree of brainwashing.

It isn't by accident that the diverse ideas of the Ainu are not readily accepted in Japan, and instead of having their culture disappear, it should be cherished. But, of course, in Japan, diversity is s have not actually wanted and any person who looks to not fit in exactly as Japan wants, will be a gaijin.

The "diverse ideas" like animism held by many aboriginal peoples around the world are not accepted by their modern societies. Yes, Japanese do not accept the idea of raising a bear cub (taken after killing it's mother) only to kill it in a ceremony. Look up Iomante.

An indigenous person shouldn't be made to feel they cannot say who they are, as Monbetsu's mother banning the word, 'Ainu' shows a likely fear from being ostracized from Japan.

Just like many Jewish families in my country that changed their last names.

Wake up, Japan, diversity is the real spice of life, not conformity.

Pay some attention to the news. Japan has been diving into diversity from Ainu rights to LBGT at full speed.

3 ( +11 / -8 )

It seems Japan has quite some ground to make up compared with some other developed nations.

Tony- You'll find that you can say that about A LOT of things with regards to Japan.

-12 ( +4 / -16 )

My assumption is this: 

In prehistoric times, the Japanese archipelago, a dead end for many migrating Asian tribes, was resided by peoples from both southeast Asia and Russian Far East. The tribes in northern Japan nurtured and developed

the so-called Jomon Culture.

Then, came an agricultural people called the Yayoi tribe from the Asian Continent via the Korean Peninsula to western Kyushu 2500 years ago, who gradually expanded their dominion to the east and the south. The southern expansion continued until 1879 when Ryukyu Kingdom was forcefully annexed to Imperial Japan.

Incidentally, the name "Ryukyu" was given by China but it was soon found that there was an island called "Ryukyu" which lies west of Taiwan, so that the Chinese court must have decided to call the former "Great Ryukyu" and the latter "Small Ryukyu". 

Vernaculars spoken in the Amami, Okinawa, Miyako, Yaeyama island groups are mutually unintelligible today, but they are basically Japanese, which probably became so when the south-bound Yayoi people dominated these islands.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The Jomon people were near genocided by the Yayoi people, who mainly came via the Korean peninsula landing first in Kyushu about 2,500 BC and spreading out gradually.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

sunfunbunToday 10:48 am JST

I know quite a few Ainu and they don't separate themselves from "Japanese". In fact they are rather proud to be Japanese. The distinction is made by the term Wa-jin.

> Today, Ainu are far more an assimilated people, rather than an oppressed people that their ancestors were.

> This statement sounds like suppressive brainwashing. Japan requires herd mentality and to fit in, the Ainu people likely had to give up their own identities so they weren't the nail that stood out, and it is not necessarily by choice they have assimilated, nor does it sound like a particularly good thing.

> It isn't by accident that the diverse ideas of the Ainu are not readily accepted in Japan, and instead of having their culture disappear, it should be cherished. But, of course, in Japan, diversity is not actually wanted and any person who looks to not fit in exactly as Japan wants, will be a gaijin.

> An indigenous person shouldn't be made to feel they cannot say who they are, as Monbetsu's mother banning the word, 'Ainu' shows a likely fear from being ostracized from Japan.

> Wake up, Japan, diversity is the real spice of life, not conformity.

While I agree with you 100 percent about diversity, it's important to note that the word is only floated by most majorities when they want to feel or make themselves look good. They'll "embrace" a Naomi Osaka's biracial heritage because she's winning majors but don't really see her as a true Japanese person. As soon as any of the minority does something negative, they'll highlight it to show how diversity doesn't work all the while ignoring their group's terrible treatment of minorities. The crime stats for foreigners here are always plastered all over the news, with the new convenient scapegoat being the Vietnamese. Same for almost all the places where the Europeans took over by force and brutality, wiping out the vast majority of the indigenous people. They've all never had a long hard look in the mirror to see who the real savages and Barbarians truly are.

-6 ( +5 / -11 )

Aly RustomToday  08:50 am JST

Don't hold your breath guys. If they can't even admit to what they did in WW2 they are not going to do anything for their indigenous people

The only relationship between the Ainu and WWII.

"Ainu wartime experiences were largely those shared by all Japanese. Ainu men enlisted as regular soldiers and were subject to conscription. They were drafted and served alongside other Japanese, not in ethnically segregated units, throughout the theater of conflict. Hokkaido men served as occupation troops in the Aleutians and in combat on the Mongolia/Manchuria border (some were among the captured Japanese troops imprisoned in Siberia until well after war’s end), the Solomon Islands, and Okinawa (Siddle, 1996; Irish, 2009; Howell, 2004)."

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Fredrick....

Returning the Kuril:s to the Ainu seem like the logical way to resolve the conflict with Russia. Neither side would loose face.

The problem is that there may not actually be any Ainu left. Or do we just include anyone in Hokkaido with a beard?

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

They use natural resources in moderation. Love and respect for Planet Earth are their everyday mantras. Indigenous peoples in the Global North, South, East and West possess priceless insights in safeguarding Planet Earth, our Common Home.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

The only relationship between the Ainu and WWII.

"Ainu wartime experiences were largely those shared by all Japanese. Ainu men enlisted as regular soldiers and were subject to conscription. They were drafted and served alongside other Japanese, not in ethnically segregated units, throughout the theater of conflict. Hokkaido men served as occupation troops in the Aleutians and in combat on the Mongolia/Manchuria border (some were among the captured Japanese troops imprisoned in Siberia until well after war’s end), the Solomon Islands, and Okinawa (Siddle, 1996; Irish, 2009; Howell, 2004)."

That's not the point. The point I'm making is the LDP refusing to own up to their responsibilities time and time again. Not properly recognizing and owning up to their genocide whether cultural or actual.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

The only relationship between the Ainu and WWII.

The Ainu are not the only indigenous people either. There are also Ryukyu

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The major value of this article is that it contravenes the established cultural, ethnic and racial myth that Japan is one folk, one culture and one language. This ideology goes against the facts and has hurt too many innocent people. I hope to see more articles like this in "Japan Today." Thank you for this article.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

They should be given large swathes of land, reservations if you like, to hunt and fish and live the traditional ways.

Ah, yes. “Noble savages” … This reminds of meeting a young man on Vancouver Island back in ‘75. I can’t exactly recall his tribal affiliation, but he said he yearned for the old days. He probably would be dead in a year if he tried.

Living “the traditional way” is something most realistic people of Indiginous descent could neither do nor want to do. It’s simply the pipe dream of dissatisfied young white people.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The major value of this article is that it contravenes the established cultural, ethnic and racial myth that Japan is one folk, one culture and one language.

I never knew one folk, one culture and one language has been the established cultural, ethnic and racial myth to describe Japan. You regular folks may speak fluent Japanese with no problems, but hey, Try Real dialects in Northern and Southern Parts of Japan. Even ordinary Japanese cannot understand what they are saying especially with old people. Yes This is Japan Today and the same old rule keeps you from referring to other nations, so Check out what is called China, or Russia, today or even Korean peninsula. So many different cultural, ethnic, racial people living together.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

While the Ainu were being assimilated by the mainland Wajin, the White race was doing exactly the same and in many cases much worse, in Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand

That's no excuse for not making up for past wrongs. Japan is making steps to right past wrongs, all be it symbolic mostly, but still a step in the right direction.

Ah, yes. “Noble savages”

When you have been brought up to accept the corrupt world as it is, it's easy to romanticize the past. As hard it as it was, at least there was freedom, something we are losing more and more in this "civilized" world.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@oyato

Thanks for the link! I look forward to reading it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The Ainu experience in not unique in Japan. There are so many traditional practices in Japan at risk of disappearing. Industrialization and "commercial colonization" by cheap imports are putting a lot of thousand year old cultural practices and handcrafting knowledge at risk of disappearing in Japan. For example, most people buy cheap imported tatami or machine make tatami so it is very hard for Japanese makers of hand woven tatami mats to sell enough to stay in business and even harder to attract young people to learn the craft.

There are a lot of uphill battles going on in Japan to keep old handcrafted traditions alive. How can a local 13th generation potter who has learned skills and crafts that have been handed down for hundreds of years compete with a 100 yen shop?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Aly Rustom,

Read my post (Feb. 19 | 01: 04 pm JST) above.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It is excellent to see people express their culture and maintain traditions that will enable young people to connect to their cultural identity. I'm very impressed! The world is a richer place when we can learn from the past.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Aly Rustom,

Read my post (Feb. 19 | 01: 04 pm JST) above.

I did.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"...as well as in territory now part of Russia."

Correction: territory which is currently illegally occupied by Russia.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Furthermore, there's a clear-cut linguistic demarcation between languages spoken by indigenous peoples on Taiwan and the languages spoken by peoples on Yonaguni Island of the Yaeyama group and beyond north-eastward.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The most outspoken supporter of the claim that Japan is a homogenous country is Taro Aso, a former prime minister and an LDP big shot.

On the surface, Japan may appear to be a homogenous nation, but if you look closely at the countenances of the Japanese, you will never fail to find there's a huge variety and difference. Roughly speaking, there are two types, the Jomon and Yayoi genealogies. Japan is indeed a nation of heterogenous or mixed-racial peoples.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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