Ainu or Aynu in Japan are indigenous people who originally lived in Hokkaido. They also lived in the Northeast part of Honshu island and Sakhalin, the island in the east coast of Russia. It is not easy to meet Ainu people nowadays. Throughout the history Ainu people have been oppressed up until Meiji era. During 1800s the population of Ainu has dropped significantly due to epidemic diseases. The recent intermarriage with the Japanese have also blurred the concept of pure Ainus. In 1988 Ainu were labeled as former aborigines. At that time Japanese have also granted them Japanese citizenship which automatically abolishes their indigenous status. Later in 2008, Japan formally recognized Ainu as an indigenous group.
A woman from Ainu Ethnic Group
Ainu People and the Ritual of Worshiping a Bear
The culture of Ainu is different from Japanese. Ainus have animistic beliefs and worship fire as they believe that everything in nature has its spirit or God. They depend on hunting to secure their food. Their traditional foods are meat of bear, wolf, fox, badger, horse and fish, as well as vegetables, herbs and roots. They processed the foods by boiling or roasting them and never ate raw foods. The Ainu men normally had beards and moustaches that would never be cut or shaved until a specific timing. While women would usually tattoo their mouths and forearms. Ainu people spoke Ainu language which is now becoming extinct.
Ainu Shiraoi Museum in Hokkaido
To show the appreciation of Ainu, Japanese government has built Ainu Museum and Cultural Village in Hokkaido. This museum is built to commemorate Ainu people that their number slowly decreases. This museum is located in the small town of Shiraoi. This site is a re-establishment of Ainu village on the shores of lake Poroto. This museum is well known as a Porotokotan which means a lakeside village.
Every house in the village shows different aspects of culture and life of the Ainu people. They normally shows traditional households, and other demonstrations. In n bigger house, the Ainu dances and songs are performed every hour. One of the dances has been claimed as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Property in 2009. Visitors can also join some activities such as playing instruments, dancing, or wood carving.
There is also an exhibition to see the variety of plants that Ainu people used as food and medicine, as well as live brown bears and snow white hunting dogs. Outside the site, some traditional handicrafts made by Ainu people are sold.