The Ainu people in Japan, a proven minority

The Ainu people in Japan, a proven minority

Ainu artist and activist Shizue Ukaji, in 2009.

“We Ainu know how to interpret our dreams. A raven in a dream guides us by his look or by his cawing. » Artist, poet and activist for the rights of this ethnic minority in Japan, Shizue Ukaji perpetuates the Ainu traditions, intimately linked to nature.

In his small house in the village of Shiraoi, in the southwest of Hokkaido, the great island in the north of Japan, the energetic octogenarian protects himself from evil spirits with clumps of mistletoe, keeps fit with infusions of grated bark from the cork oak of the Amur River and thus reads the messages of the dreaming raven, divine herald of the Ainu pantheon – dominated by the bear, “mountain god”the protective owl of the peoples and the feeding salmon.

“Our culture is not just songs and dances. Most of the traditions that are transmitted from generation to generation are in everyday life, in the kitchen”, says Shizue Ukaji, very hostile to the recovery of their culture for tourism and commercial purposes. The immense success of the manga golden kami (Kamui medium “deity” in Ainu), whose fourth season of the animated version will be available on October 4 in streaming is an example of this.

Also read: Article reserved for our subscribers “Golden Kamui”, the successful manga that questions the relationship of the Japanese with the Ainu culture

Shizue Ukaji’s criticisms are also, and perhaps especially, directed at the Upopoy museum: “a place without a soul” according to her-, inaugurated in July 2020, a few hundred meters from her house. The goal is” ainu national museum ” It is “to revive and further develop Ainu culture”, recalls its director, Shiro Sasaki, a former researcher at the renowned Osaka Museum of Ethnology.

“Their own language, religion and culture”

The somber building, which blends with the vegetation along Poroto Lake in front of the enormous silhouette of the Tarumae volcano, houses a unique room that details Ainu crafts and spirituality, where one wanders in a circular way, but does not convince the minority members.

“It is far from reflecting the Ainu’s attachment to nature, which they preserved for future generations,” slice Ryoko Tahara, president of the Menoko Mosmos association (“Wake up, Ainu women”). Above all, it prevents the wounds inflicted over time on this people who probably came from Siberia before the Jômon era (14,000-300 BC).

Animists, who lived by hunting and gathering, the Ainu are mentioned in Japanese chronicles of the 8th century..

The Ainu (from the word any : ” human “) have long radiated over a vast territory covering Sakhalin (now Russia), the Kuril Islands, Hokkaido, and the northern third of the island of Honshu. Animists, who lived by hunting and gathering, are mentioned in Japanese chronicles of the 8th century. Gradually pushed north to the island of Hokkaido, they fell under Japanese rule in 1789.

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