In northern Japan, on the main island of Honshu, and the northern-most island of Hokkaido are where the Ainu, Japan's little-known indigenous people, live.
They've lived here for tens of thousands of years.
The Ainu: Japan's Forgotten Indigenous People
by Rob Dyer
Where the Ainu settled
The second time I went to Japan (in 2001) was when I first I went to Hokkaido. I loved it.
Hokkaido is Japan's northern-most island, not far from Siberia in Russia.
Before recorded history, Hokkaido was settled by the Ainu - Japan's forgotten indigenous people.
But like the native people of America, Australia and other countries, the Ainu have long suffered discrimination.
They are physically and culturally very different from the Japanese.
Know for having a lot of body hair, the men have beards which they leave unshaven. While women’s mouths are tattooed.
Arctolatry - the worship of bears
These people are traditionally hunter-gatherers. They have their own language, but fewer than 100 people still speak it, and it is classified as endangered.
They practice arctolatry - the worship of bears. They hunted them for food but also kept them as pets.
Meeting Ainu at the Marimo Festival
Every autumn, on the shores of Lake Akan in Hokkaido, the marimo festival takes place, and the Ainu people play a key part in the celebrations.
The festival began in 1950 as a means to save the endangered marimo algae found in Lake Akan. Marimo are giant green balls of algae (growing up to 30cm in diameter).
The highlight of the three-day festival is a 1,000 torch parade. It's a rare opportunity to see, firsthand, the customs of the Ainu, their traditional dance, and to hear their folk songs.
Official Recognition by the Japanese Government
Today, only a few thousand of Japan's indigenous people remain.
After many decades of discrimination, in 2008 that the Japanese government officialy recognised the Ainu as indigenous people, with their own language and culture.
Perhaps they will no longer be Japan's 'forgotten people'...
VIDEO: The Ainu – Japan’s Forgotten People
Did you know about the Ainu? What do you think about them and their history? And what do you think the future holds for them?
Please let me know by leaving a comment below...
Hokkaido Location Map
And One More Thing…
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About the Author
A writer and publisher from England, Rob has been exploring Japan’s islands since 2000. He specialises in travelling off the beaten track, whether on remote atolls or in the hidden streets of major cities. He’s the founder of TheRealJapan.com.
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