The Ainu People: Indigenous Culture and Efforts to Preserve It

By Staff Writer
February 29, 2024
The Ainu people have a distinctive history that predates the Japanese settlement of the islands. Their roots trace back to the Jomon period (14,000–300 BCE), making them one of the oldest ethnic groups in Japan. Historically, the Ainu lived in harmony with nature, relying on fishing, hunting, and gathering for sustenance.
Traditional Ainu pattern happi coat
The Ainu people were once inhabitants of all four main Japanese islands. Their customary attire featured bark cloth adorned with geometric patterns. While the Ainu primarily embraced a lifestyle centered around hunting and gathering, certain individuals practiced shifting agriculture—a technique involving the temporary use of fields to prevent soil depletion.
Dance of Ainu people
Central to Ainu culture is their spiritual connection to nature, which is evident in their rituals, folklore, and art. The bear, considered a sacred animal, features prominently in Ainu mythology and ceremonies. Tattooing, an Ainu tradition, is not merely decorative but also holds deep spiritual significance.

During the 20th century, a significant influx of ethnic Japanese migrated to Hokkaido, intertwining their lives through intermarriage with the Ainu. While many Ainu rituals are no longer practiced in a strictly traditional fashion, they persist in commemorative events held at museums and festivals.
Ainu house in Poroto, Shiraoi Town
As a part of the Ainu Policy Promotion Act, in June 2014, the Cabinet endorsed a fundamental strategy for developing, managing, and operating the "Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony" to foster the revitalization of Ainu culture. It was determined that this Symbolic Space would be established in the vicinity of Lake Poroto, Shiraoi Town.
Post your comments