Ainu - the indigenous people of Japan
In our last post, we explored Nibutani-Attus, bark fibres weaved into fabric by the Ainu people. To fully and truly appreciate the craft and the extent it takes to preserve their cultural craft, we need to dive into the history of the Ainu population.
Ainu folks are the indigenous people of Japan. They are a population of roughly 20,000 and they inhabit the island of Hokkaido, but also live in the north of Honshu (main island of Japan) and Sakhalin Island in Russia. Like many of the indigenous populations around the world, the Ainu population faces economic oppression and marginalisation due to colonisation. Legislations during the Meiji period (1868-1912) by the Japanese government took away Ainu’s rights to all land and encouraged a population boom of ethnic Japanese in Hokkaido. Ainu were then forced to assimilate to become “Japanese” with measures such as banning of Ainu language in schools, government and other areas. As a result, many no longer speak the traditional Ainu language. And many have embraced the Japanese culture.
It was only after WWII that steps to recover the Ainu tradition in Japan appear after the adoption of the liberal democratic model into the Constitution in 1947. The Ainu people now could claim back their rights. And with that, they formed organizations such as the Ainu Association of Hokkaido to protect their rights and culture. The turning point for the Ainu people emerged after the Nibutani Dam legal case. As a result, the Japanese Diet embraced the first law, the 1997 Act on the Encouragement of Ainu Culture and Diffusion and Enlightenment of Knowledge on Ainu Tradition. Significant measures then started to emerge beginning with the establishment of a Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture. The foundation then implemented initiatives such as a 15 min radio programme to learn Ainu language and financially supported classes that taught Ainu language outside of the regular school curriculum.
It was only after Japan became part of the 144 members of the UnitedNations General Assembly to support the Declaration of Rights of the Indigenous People, did the House of Representative and House of Councilors unanimously agree to adopt the “Resolution to Recognize Ainu as Indigenous People” a year later. This seemed like a symbolic win for the Ainu people especially with the construction of the Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony in Shiraoi Hokkaido.
We hope that our short snippet of Ainu history brings you a better appreciation of these unique people and their culture.
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