The Ainu People of Northern Japan (Mariko/Elsa)

The Ainu people are an indigenous group from Northern Japan, Hokkaido. The exact whereabouts of their origins are unknown, though they are considered to have evolved from the Jomon tribe. Unfortunately, the Ainu have been in conflict with the Japanese for several years, and discrimination is still occurring today. This is due to their differences in culture, tradition and appearance. Their appearance was very different to the Japanese, and this was a main factor of their mistreatment. They were known to be shorter than the Japanese, have Caucasian features and their hair was grown very long.

Location: Hokkaido, Japan:
Today, most Ainu live in Hokkaido, the northern region of Japan. The place in which many Ainu live is unknown today, because they tend to avoid discrimination of the modern Japanese race, therefore keep their habitats hidden. However, they are mostly found largely spread over Hokkaido. The terrain of Hokkaido is largely damp and consists of many marshes. Mountains are also found in this region, such as the Asahidake- the highest. ("Japan's Geography - Terrain." Korean History Project)
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A google earth map, showing the overall terrain of Hokkaido:
Here, you can see that the overall terrain of Hokkaido is mountainous and green. However, there are certain areas that show a brown colour to symbolize the industrial areas of the region, where the green land has been stripped.
This is a zoomed image of Hokkaido, showing the centre of the region. Here, the mountains are prominent, and the contour lines on the map give evidence of uneven terrain:

Detailed Events of the early years of the Ainu People:
12th centuryà The basis of Ainu Culture is made; Satsumon culture. The trading of wooden and bark carved utensils enabled the Ainu tribe to create an industry. The trading introduced them to metal implements and lacquer from mainland Japan. Now that they were equipped with the use of metal, the usual culture of pottery and ceramic soon died out.
13th centuryà Further development of trade created new settlements of the Ainu including government leaders. Due to military and economic progress, some Ainu move to southern Sakhalin.
1356 - 1457 à 3 Groups of Ainu are formed; "Hinomoto," "Karako" and "Watarito," live on the island of Ezo-ga-Chishima (present day Hokkaido). Soon the “Wajin” (Japanese of Hokkaido) discover great differences between the socialization of the Ainu and the Japanese. This causes conflict; leading to more economic basis in Oshima (southern Hokkaido).
1457 – 1648à
The new leader of Ainu, Koshamain commands Ainu forces to conquer forts such as Mobetsu and Hanazawa. During the attack, many Japanese living in the areas of Mukawa and Yoichi (Shamo) are killed.
1669à The Ainu continue to fight for their rights that were taken away by the Japanese. They rise over Ezo to regain their fishing and hunting rights. When peace is finally negotiated, the Matsumae clan poisens Shakashain to end the war.
1720à A subcontract system becomes popular within the Ezo Island. The Matsumae clan trusts the fellow
Ainu with their trading management with the Wajin merchants to receive business taxes.
( historical events-outline)

Overall Evolution of the Ainu:
Around 300 B.C, mainland Japan went through the Yoyai and Muromachi periods which caused Hokkaido to experienced earthenware culture – (use of ceramics, pottery) such as the Zoku-Jomon Period, the Satsumon Period, and the Okhotsk Culture. It is said that the culture of Ainu had developed mainly from Satsumon culture, which was largely influenced by Okhotsk culture around the 1400’s to the 1700’s. In the mid 1400’s, the Ainu began to influence southern Hokkaido. However, they had upset the Japanese clans living there- the Matsumae and Esashi clans. This conflict led to three battles- Battle of Kosyamain in 1457, the Battle of Syaksyain in 1669, and the Battle of Kunasiri-Menasi in 1789. Unfortunately, the Ainu had pushed the boundaries too far, and left themselves to be under absolute control of the Japanese. The Ainu continued to obey Japanese orders miserably; their daily customs were prohibited and they were ordered to follow Japanese customs. Around 1899, during the Meiji period, the Hokkaido Aborigine Protection Act was passed. Initially, the act was to help the Ainu become useful for the agricultural needs of the country, although the act was unsuccessful and caused the Japanese to clarify the distinction between Japanese and Ainu. Still, later during the Meiji period, the Ainu were not treated fairly by the Japanese. Their traditions and culture continued to be ignored and disrespected by the Japanese. Because the distinction between the Ainu and Japanese was now clear, the Ainu faced a lot of discrimination. This discrimination is still happening today, and it is an on going social difficulty. In 1946, the Hokkaido Ainu Association was established to increase the levels of education for the Ainu and to overall rebuild their traditional culture. Soon after, in 1984, they fought for a new ainu law, and the government had accepted this. This gave the Ainu more freedom, and they thanked the Association greatly. The association continued to regain respect of the Japanese and later introduced ancient Ainu traditions back into their culture. Today, language schools of the ancient Ainu language have been founded around Hokkaido to stimulate the true culture of the Ainu people.
("Ainu History and Culture."
Flora of Hokkaido: The vegetation of Hokkaido is mostly made up of broad-leaf forests and conifer mixed forests in subarctic temperature. It also contains a mix of northern hardwoods.
Biome of Hokkaido: The indigenous creature of Hokkaido are the Japanese macque, which is a small monkey found up north of Hokkaido. In total, there are about 32 species of carnivores, 250 species of breeding birds, and 8 types of of reptiles. The waters nearby Hokkaido have many crabs, shrimps, and a variety of insects.
("Flora and Fauna - Japan - Growth."

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The map above shows the different vegetation in Hokkaido, and shows which temperatures each area is, and where the swamps are or the vegetation that grow in cool temperatures and so on.
Today the Ainu people are judged and governed by mainland Japan, and follow the same laws of modern Japan. However, in the ancient times, they were governed by hereditary chiefs. For administrative purposes the Ainu people were judged by Saru, amongst Usu and Ishikari; the 3 districts of the country. The relations between the Ainu people and the 3 districts were ignored and intermarriages between the districts were extremely rare. The chiefs did not control the punishment for criminals; indefinite members of the community were to judge upon criminals and decide the punishments. This made their form of government consultative. However, capital punishment did not exist, although beating was the most severe punishment, except for the consequences of murder.
The Ainu people’s economy is made up by fishing, hunting, harvesting, and trading. (

The Ainu people are not extremely social beings, and prefer to be as families. Men and women are treated equally, and it is the mans job to support his family and mainly work for agriculture. Women were largely independent before marriage, and were allowed to participate during wars as well. Marriage between different tribes was very rare. The community joined when attending ceremonies such as ‘sending the spirits back’. However, the Ainu society has had their traditions and customs taken away from them, due to the Japanese. This has lead to extreme discrimination, and has affected their society greatly. The Ainu commonly went fishing and hunting for a living. Ainu families were formed by parents and children, although when the child becomes 15-16, he/she is required to become married and start a new family with their husband/wife. A woman would always have a marriage arrangement that was arranged by her parents. However, a girl could be left in a separate room, where her spouse was chosen from the men who visited her. A man would propose to a woman by eating half a bowl of rice and handing the rest to her. If she accepted marriage, she would eat the rest of the rice. If not, she’d leave the rice by her side. (
Social structure:
It’s more of an egalitarian social structure, rather than a hierarchial social structure, because everyone has a say in different affairs and in decision-making, but some people are more respected than others, like how men are respected more than women, and the shaman (a spritual healer) is the most respected out of everyone, even the chiefs. Another example of how their social structure is egalitarian is that when performing the Iyomande Ritual (the most important religious festival for the Ainu people), it draws the group together as a whole. (
The life of the Ainu
à fishing and hunting:
The society would be divided into certain villages where they had their own part of the river to fish in. Salmon, trout, ‘Japanese ito’ and dace were common fish that they caught with handmade fishing rods made of bamboo or willow sticks. As for hunting, the Ainu would start around late autumn to early summer because the trees were bare, and the ability to see animals was easier. They would hunt Ezo deer, rabbit, fox, raccoon dog and other animals. As a society, tactics of hunting methods were passed on by generations. The Ainu were intelligent individuals and used their skill in nature to create poisons that they would then apply to arrows to kill the prey. (
Natural resources: The natural resources the Ainu people have are crabs, lobsters, scallops, mussels, oysters, turtles, salmon, seals, walruses, and whales, when it comes to fishing. When it comes to hunting, the men hunt deers and bears. The natural hunting weapons the Ainu people use are: harpoons with poison, bows, arrows, crossbows, man-made traps with venemous arrows, and monoxylon canoes to fish. (
Agriculture and trade:
To farm fish, they’d use canoes, dogs to herd the fish, and poisononus harpoons. To kill game, they’d set venomous traps or use bows/arrows/crossbows.Items could be traded with surrounding people living nearby where a certain Ainu tribe is staying for glass or silk, for example.
Belief systems:

The Ainu believed that there was a God for almost everything, and that the Gods/spirits disguised themselves within plants, animals, pots, utensils, fire, water, earth, air, etc. They would pay respects to Gods by prayers on special occasions such as the birth of a new baby, to protect the mother and child for a safe birth and future. The people of Ainu would respect the Gods by fishing and hunting modest quantities and wanted to preserve the goods that the Gods had given them. The main idea of their religion was that the soul was immortal. In other words, each individual had a spirit or soul which would continue to live in an afterlife either in Hell or Heaven, where Hell was known to be the land of volcanoes. The Ainu attended religious ceremonies such as “iwakte” where the sending back of spirits is performed. This is when the ainu sacrifice small animals like squirrels, or bear cubs. They believed that to sacrifice these animals (which were disguised spirits) they would be returning any aged or damaged spirits back to the land of the Gods or “Kamui Mosir".
This is called the “attush”. It is the traditional dress for an Ainu member. The Ainu had many clothes : "birdskin" clothes made of birdskin with feathers of sea gulls, Temminck's cormorant, Staff-tree, and other birds ; "hide" clothes of hides of bear, deer, fox, seal, dog, and other beasts ; "fishskin" clothes of salmon and trout ; and "plant" clothes of flags and wild rye. The Ainu now do not wear these traditional clothes. ( )

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In the Ainu tribe, people ate quite normally; meats such as bear and deer were common, although they never ate raw meat. They typically cooked meat in soups with wild vegetables. Salmon was the main type of fish that they ate. The salmon was commonly eaten frozen in the winter, and used for flavouring soups when it was dry. During the winter, northern Japan is extremely cold and hunting was hard for the Ainu. Therefore, they stored dried vegetables and smoked fish and meat in storage houses called “pu”.

Ainu men were encouraged to grow their beards long; to show age and intelligence and beauty. This was contrasting to the Japanese, and is one of the reasons for their discrimination. Beards were claimed to be “beautiful” therefore, woman tattooed their mouths to create the appearance of a beard when she was married. They performed “sacred dances” such as the bear ceremony, to send old or unwanted spirits back to the land of the Gods. When an Ainu member dies, his/her family creates a bonfire inside the dead man/woman’s hut and informs friends and relatives. When all has arrived, they proceed with the burial. The dead ainu would be in his/her best clothes. Sacrifices of bears and other animal spirits are made to welcome the spirit of the dead. The next day, the body is wrapped in a mat and the tomb is marked by a small mound and a bamboo post. If the ainu was a man, the post would be a sharp arrow. If the ainu was a woman, the post would be a rounded arrow. A frayed strip of material was also displayed on the post; it was the material that was used to hold his/her hair. Ainu people welcomed new, foreign people and accepted them into their tribe if they followed their citizenship and culture. To welcome the visitor, he/she was to clear his/her throat with a traditional clearing solution. The visitor was asked to leave their footwear before the door and walk bare footed and sit next to the fire. He/she would then be offered a pipe of tobacco and a glass of sake.


Art and Architecture:

These were made of straw and used as outside lavatories, storage houses for food, cages for young bears.

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The ainu were very articulate people and believed in their religion and theory deeply; they applied their beliefs in many of their daily routines, including the structure of their house:
Ainu houses were made of cogon grasses, bamboo grass, barks, etc. The house would lay parallel to a river and was about seven by five metres. Towards the west end of the house, there would be a storeroom. It would have 3 windows. One on the side of the entrance where it was thought that God’s that entered the house could leave through that window. Ceremonial tools were also taken in and out through this window. The Ainu have regarded this window as sacred and have been told never to look in through it.

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Until quite recently, the Ainu people lived in little settlements which are known as kotan, mostly located in places with an abundance of food for food-gatherers in the village. The simplest type of house would be called a kashi, made up of branches and woven mats. A kucha is an enlarged version of a kashi that can house up to 10 people. Next is the chise, an even bigger house with a roof and more space to stand up and make a fire. A chise comes with a semu (storage area of the house). The floor would be made out of earth and rooms could be adorned with sacred objects made out of shaved wood called inaw. The roofs and walls would be made up of bamboo grass or reeds. There would be two toilets from the main building, one for the males and one for the females. There would also be a cage for the bear cub in the Iyomante Ritual (see religion). A winter house would be called toi-chise. In English, that would mean ‘house of dirt’. There would be a roof from a pit of dirt to retain heat during the winter months. During the warmer months, the houses would be made out of less heat-retaining materials, like grass, reeds, poles.

The different genres of Ainu music include:
yukar and upopo. Yukar is known as mimicry, a form of epic poetry. Upopo is known as the 'second voice' copying the first voice, like a vocal canon. All Ainu music is sacred to them because each have a spiritual resonance. Traditional Ainu music is split into two categories: everyday music or epic songs. The instruments used are tonkori (a stringed instrument) and mukkuri (a harp).

Crafts and objects:
The Ainu people enjoy weaving as a hobby and some of the things they weave are their own clothing (see
clothing, above). Ainu people made their own clothes and one type of clothing they would make would be made out of a Japanese elm tree to make a strong fibre. They use this fibre to weave into a cloth that would last for a long time. The fabric/cloth is the basis of Ainu clothing in Hokkaido

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