The Ainu – Japan’s Forgotten People

Culture, Films, Language



Honshu (northern Japan) and the island of Hokkaido. It’s here the Ainu, Japan’s little-known indigenous people live. They’ve lived here for tens of thousands of years.

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.


Ainu indigenous people The Real Japan Rob Dyer

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.


Ainu indigenous people The Real Japan Rob Dyer

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.


Ainu indigenous people The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Today, only a few thousand Ainu remain.

After many decades of discrimination, it was only, 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’…

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…



Location Map:

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TRJ – Resources

Visit the most scenic photo spots of Akan National Park (including the open-air Ainu Museum)

The Ainu Museum at Shiraoi

Hokkaido Utari Kyokai

Sapporo Pirka Kotan Ainu Cultural Center

Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Ainu

Rare Japanese Video Featuring Ainu. YWCA

Related: Goshikizuka Mounded Tomb, Kobe
Related: Meeting An Itako – Spiritual Medium
Related: Onsen Tips For Those With Tattoos


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