The Full Wiki

Ainu people: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

The (also called Ezo in historical texts) are an indigenous caucasian-like ethnic group of Japanmarker. Historically they spoke the Ainu language and related varieties and lived in Hokkaidōmarker, the Kuril Islandsmarker, and much of Sakhalinmarker. Most of those who identify themselves as Ainu still live in this same region, though the exact number of living Ainu is unknown. This is due to ethnic issues in Japan resulting in those with Ainu backgrounds hiding their identities and confusion over mixed heritages. Official estimates of the population are of around 25,000, whilst unofficially the number is upwards of 200,000 people.


Ainu culture dates from around 1200 CE and recent research suggests that it originated in a merger of the Okhotsk and Satsumon cultures. Active contact between the Wajin (the ethnically Japanese) and the Ainu of Ezochi (now known as Hokkaido) began in the 13th century. The Ainu were a society of hunter-gatherers, who lived mainly off fish and plants, and the people followed a religion based around phenomena of nature. The Ainu culture survived in this way until the nineteenth century, with limited contact with the Wajin.

The turning point for Ainu culture was the beginning of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. It was then that a variety of social, political and economic reforms were introduced by the Japanese government in the hopes of modernising the country in the Western style, and resulted in the annexation of Hokkaido. Sjöberg quotes Baba’s (1980) account of the Japanese government's reasoning behind the proceedings:

‘ … The development of Japan's large northern island had several objectives: First, it was seen as a means to defend Japan from a rapidly developing and expansionist Russia. Second … it offered a solution to the unemployment for the former samurai class … Finally, development promised to yield the needed natural resources for a growing capitalist economy.’

In 1899 the Japanese government passed an act labeling the Ainu as former aborigines, with the idea they would assimilate - this resulted in the land the Ainu people lived on being taken by the Japanese government, and was from then on under Japanese control. Also at this time, the Ainu were granted automatic Japanese citizenship, effectively denying them of being an indigenous group.

The Ainu were becoming increasingly marginalised on their own land - over a period of only 36 years, the Ainu went from being a relatively isolated group of people to having their land, language, religion and customs assimilated into those of the Japanese. In addition to this, the land the Ainu lived on was distributed to the Wajin who had decided to move to Hokkaido, who had been encouraged by the Japanese government of the Meiji era to take advantage of the island’s abundance of natural resources, and to create and maintain farms in the model of western industrial agriculture. This development was termed Kaitakushi. As well as this, factories such as flour mills and beer breweries and mining practices resulted in the creation of infrastructure such as roads and railway lines, during a development period that lasted until 1904. During this time the Ainu were forced to learn Japanese, required to adopt Japanese names and ordered to cease religious practices such as animal sacrifice and the custom of tattooing.
Ainu bear sacrifice.
Japanese scroll painting, circa 1870.

The 1899 act mentioned above was replaced in 1997—until then the government had stated there were no ethnic minority groups. It was not until June 6, 2008 that Japan would formally recognise the Ainu as an indigenous group (see Official Recognition, below).

Intermarriages between Japanese and Ainu were actively promoted by the Ainu to lessen the chances of discrimination against their offspring. As a result, many Ainu are indistinguishable from their Japanese neighbors. There are many small towns in the southeastern or Hidaka region where full-blooded Ainu may still be seen such as in Nibutani. In Sambutsu especially, on the eastern coast, many children of such marriages may be seen.

Their most widely known ethnonym is derived from the word ainu, which means "human" (particularly as opposed to kamui, divine beings) in the Hokkaidō dialects of the Ainu language; Emishi, Ezo or Yezo ( ) are Japanese terms, which are believed to derive from the ancestral form of the modern Sakhalin Ainu word enciw or enju, also meaning "human". Today, many Ainu dislike the term Ainu because it had once been used with derogatory nuance, and prefer to identify themselves as Utari (comrade in the Ainu language). In official documents both names are used.

Official recognition

On 6 June 2008, a bi-partisan, non-binding resolution was approved by the Japanese Diet calling upon the government to recognize the Ainu people as indigenous to Japan and urge an end to discrimination against the group. The resolution recognised the Ainu people as "an indigenous people with a distinct language, religion and culture" and rescinds the law passed in 1899.Ito, M 2008, ‘Diet officially declares Ainu indigenous’, Japan Times, 7 June, viewed 29 April 2009, />

Though the resolution is historically significant, Hideaki Uemura, professor at Keisen University in Tokyo and a specialist in indigenous peoples' rights, commented that the motion is "weak in the sense of recognizing historical facts" as the Ainu were "forced" to become Japanese in the first place.


The origins of the Ainu have often been considered Jōmon-jin, natives to Japan from the Jōmon period. "The Ainu lived in this place a hundred thousand years before the Children of the Sun came" is told in one of their Yukar Upopo (Ainu legends).

Ainu culture as it is known today dates from around 1200 CE and recent research suggests that it originated in a merger of the Okhotsk and Satsumon cultures. Their economy was based on farming as well as hunting, fishing and gathering.

Ainu man, circa 1880.
Full-blooded Ainu are lighter skinned than their Japanese neighbors and have more body hair, a large nose and round eyes. Many early investigators proposed a Caucasian ancestry, although recent DNA tests have not shown any major genetic similarity with modern caucasian Europeans. It has been scientifically suggested that the Ainu subspecies may be either distantly related to some form of Eastern European subpopulation that subsequently evolved genetic changes, or alternatively, that their caucasian-like phenotypic morphology came about as a result of convergent evolution in response to some form of natural selective pressure which was also existant in a similar presentation in Europe.

Genetic testing of the Ainu people has shown them to belong mainly to Y-haplogroup D. The only places outside of Japan in which Y-haplogroup D is common are Tibet and the Andaman Islandsmarker in the Indian Ocean.

In a study by Tajima et al. (2004), two out of a sample of sixteen (or 12.5%) Ainu men were found to belong to Haplogroup C3, which is the most common Y-chromosome haplogroup among the indigenous populations of the Russian Far East and Mongoliamarker; Hammer et al. (2006) tested another sample of four Ainu men and found that one of them belonged to haplogroup C3.

Some researchers have speculated that this minority of Haplogroup C3 carriers among the Ainu may reflect a certain degree of unidirectional genetic influence from the Nivkhs, a traditionally nomadic people of northern Sakhalin Island and the adjacent mainland, with whom the Ainu have long-standing cultural interactions. According to Tanaka et al. (2004), their mtDNA lineages mainly consist of haplogroup Y (11/51 = 21.6%), haplogroup M7a(xM7a1) (8/51 = 15.7%), haplogroup D (especially D4), and haplogroup G.

Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup Y is otherwise found mainly among Nivkhs, and with lower frequency among Tungusic peoples, Koreans, Mongols (including Kalmyks and Buryats), Chinese, Japanese, Tajiks and other Central Asians, South Siberian Turkic peoples (e.g. Tuvans, Todjins, Soyots), Koryaks, Alyutors, Itelmens, Taiwanese aborigines, Filipinos, Indonesiansmarker, and Malaysiansmarker. Haplogroup M7a, on the other hand, has been found elsewhere mainly among Japanese and Ryukyuans, and with lower frequency among Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, Taiwanese aborigines, Buryats, Central Asians, and Waars of the Jaintia Hills in Meghalayamarker, Indiamarker.

A recent reevaluation of cranial traits suggests that the Ainu resemble the Okhotsk more than they do the Jōmon. This agrees with the reference to the Ainu culture being a merger of Okhotsk and Satsumon cultures referenced above.

Some have speculated that the Ainu may be descendants of a prehistoric group of humans that also produced indigenous Australian peoples. In Steve Olson's book Mapping Human History, page 133, he describes the discovery of fossils dating back 10,000 years, representing the remains of the Jōmon, a group whose facial features more closely resemble those of the indigenous peoples of New Guineamarker and Australia.

After a new wave of immigration, probably from the Korean Peninsula some 2,300 years ago, of the Yayoi people, the Jōmon were pushed into northern Japan. Genetic data suggest that modern Japanese are descended from both the Yayoi and the Jōmon.


The Ainu were distributed in the northern and central islands of Japan, from Sakhalin island in the north to the Kurile islands and the island of Hokkaidō and Northern Honshū, although some investigators place their former range as throughout Honshū and as far north as the southern tip of Kamchatka. The island of Hokkaido was known to the Ainu as Ainu Moshir, and was formally annexed by the Japanese at the late date of 1868, partly as a means of preventing the intrusion of the Russians, and partly for imperialist reasons.

According to the Russian Empire Census of 1897, 1446 persons in the Russian Empire reported Ainu language as their mother tongue, 1434 of them in Sakhalin Island.For historical reasons nearly all Ainu live in Japan now.

The southern half of Sakhalin was acquired by Japan as a result of the Russo–Japanese War of 1904-05, but at the end of World War II in 1945, the Soviets declared war on Japan and took possession of the Kurile islands and southern Sakhalin. The Ainu population, as previously Japanese subjects, were "repatriated" to Japan.

There are, however, a small number of Ainu living on Sakhalin, most of them descendants of Sakhalin Ainu who were evicted and later returned. There is also an Ainu minority living at the southernmost area of the Kamchatka Peninsula and on the Kurile Islands.

However, the only Ainu speakers remaining (besides perhaps a few partial speakers) live solely in Japan. There, they are concentrated primarily on the southern and eastern coasts of the island of Hokkaidō.

Due to intermarriage with the Japanese and ongoing absorption into the predominant culture, there are no truly Ainu settlements existing today. The town of Nibutani in Hidaka area (Hokkaido prefecture) has a number of Ainu households and a visit to some of the Ainu owned craft shops close to the Ainu museums (there are two of them in Nibutani) is an opportunity to interact with the Ainu people. Many "authentic Ainu villages" advertised in Hokkaido such as Akan and Shiraoi are tourist attractions and provide an opportunity to see and meet Ainu people.


Today, it is estimated that fewer than 100 speakers of the language remain, while other research places the number at fewer than 15 speakers - the language has been regarded as “almost extinct”. As a result of this the study of the Ainu language is limited and is based largely on historical research.

The Ainu language is significantly different from the Japanese language in its syntax, phonology, morphology, and vocabulary. Although there have been attempts to show that they are related, modern scholars have rejected that the relationship goes beyond contact, such as the mutual borrowing of words between Japanese and Ainu. In fact, no attempt to show a relationship with Ainu to any other language has gained wide acceptance, and Ainu is currently considered to be a language isolate.

Words used as prepositions in English such as: to, from, by, in, and at are postpositional in Ainu; they come after the word that they modify. A single sentence in Ainu can be made up of many added or agglutinated sounds or morphemes which represent nouns or ideas.

The Ainu language has had no system of writing, and has historically been transliterated by the Japanese kana or the Russian Cyrillic and now Latin alphabets by investigators. The unwieldy nature of the Japanese kana with its inability to accurately represent terminal consonants has contributed to the degradation of the original Ainu. For example, with such words as "Kor" (meaning to hold), is now being pronounced with a terminal vowel sound as "Koro".

Many of the Ainu dialects even from one end of Hokkaido to the other were not mutually intelligible; however, the classic Ainu language of the Yukar, or Ainu epic stories, was understood by all. Without a writing system, the Ainu were masters of narration, with the Yukar and other forms of narration such as the Uepeker (Uwepeker) tales, being committed to memory and related at gatherings often lasting many hours or even days


Ainu culture was quite different from Japanese culture.Never shaving after a certain age, the men had full beards and moustaches. Men and women alike cut their hair level with the shoulders at the sides of the head, trimmed semicircularly behind. The women tattooed their mouths, and sometimes the forearms. The mouth tattoos were started at a young age with a small spot on the upper lip, gradually increasing with size. The soot deposited on a pot hung over a fire of birch bark was used for color.Their traditional dress was a robe spun from the inner bark of the elm tree, called attusi or attush. Various styles of clothing were made, and consisted generally of a simple short robe with straight sleeves, which was folded around the body, and tied with a band about the waist. The sleeves ended at the wrist or forearm and the length generally was to the calves. Women also wore an undergarment of Japanese cloth.

Modern craftswomen weave and embroider traditional garments which command very high prices. In winter the skins of animals were worn, with leggings of deerskin and in Sakhalin, boots were made from the skin of dogs or salmon. Both sexes are fond of earrings, which are said to have been made of grapevine in former times, as also are bead necklaces called tamasay, which the women prized highly.

Their traditional cuisine consists of the flesh of bear, fox, wolf, badger, ox or horse, as well as fish, fowl, millet, vegetables, herbs, and roots. They never ate raw fish or flesh; it was always boiled or roasted.

Their traditional habitations were reed-thatched huts, the largest square, without partitions and having a fireplace in the center. There was no chimney, only a hole at the angle of the roof; there was one window on the eastern side and there were two doors. The house of the village head was used as a public meeting place when one was needed.

Instead of using furniture, they sat on the floor, which was covered with two layers of mats, one of rush, the other of flag; and for beds they spread planks, hanging mats around them on poles, and employing skins for coverlets. The men used chopsticks when eating; the women had wooden spoons. Ainu cuisine is not commonly eaten outside Ainu communities; there are only a few Ainu-run restaurants in Japan, all located in Tokyomarker or Hokkaidō, serving primarily Japanese fare.

The functions of judgeship were not entrusted to these chiefs; an indefinite number of a community's members sat in judgment upon its criminals. Capital punishment did not exist, nor did the community resort to imprisonment. Beating was considered a sufficient and final penalty. However, in the case of murder, the nose and ears of the culprit were cut off or the tendons of his feet severed.


For more information see Ainu creation myth.
The Ainu are traditionally animists, believing that everything in nature has a kamui (spirit or god) on the inside. There is a hierarchy of the kamui.

The most important is grandmother earth (fire), then kamui of the mountain (animals), then kamui of the sea (sea animals), lastly everything else. They have no priests by profession.

The village chief performs whatever religious ceremonies are necessary; ceremonies are confined to making libations of rice beer, uttering prayers, and offering willow sticks with wooden shavings attached to them. These sticks are called inau (singular) and nusa (plural).

They are placed on an altar used to "send back" the spirits of killed animals. The Ainu people give thanks to the gods before eating and pray to the deity of fire in time of sickness. They believe their spirits are immortal, and that their spirits will be rewarded hereafter by ascending to kamui mosir (Land of the Gods).

Some Ainu in the north are members of the Russian Orthodox Church.

American continent connection theory

In the late 20th century, much speculation arose that people of the group related to the Jomon may have been one of the first to settle North America. This theory is based largely on skeletal and cultural evidence among tribes living in the western part of North America and certain parts of South America.

It is possible that North America had several peoples among its early settlers—these relatives of the Jomon being one of them. The best-known evidence that may support this theory is probably Kennewick Man.

Groundbreaking genetic mapping studies by Cavalli-Sforza have shown a sharp gradient in gene frequencies centered in the area around the Sea of Japanmarker, and particularly in the Japanese Archipelagomarker, that distinguishes these populations from others in the rest of eastern Asia and most of the American continent.

This gradient appears as the third most important genetic movement (in other words, the third principal component of genetic variation) in Eurasia (after the "Great expansion" from the African continent, which has a cline centered in Arabia and adjacent parts of the Middle East, and a second cline that distinguishes the northern regions of Eurasia and particularly Siberia from regions to the south), which would make it consistent with the early Jōmon period, or possibly even the pre-Jōmon period.


In March 1997, the Ainu were recognized by a Japanese court as an indigenous and minority people. Ainu issues did not matter in the sphere of public policy until then.

There was a limited outcry when the Saru River was dammed and the upriver town of Nibutani, one of the largest traditional Ainu villages, was flooded and the land expropriated from its Ainu owners. The reservoir was designed to service an industrial development project on the coast of Hokkaido, and despite the industrial project's cancellation, the government persisted in building the dam.

Two Ainu residents, Kaizawa Tadashi and Kayano Shigeru, refused to sell their land, and in 1993 filed lawsuit against the expropriation. The expropriation was upheld, but for the first time a Japanese Court recognised that the Ainu's indigenous rights had been violated.

As signatories of the United Nations Treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which was signed by Japan in 1979, the Japanese had been forced to face the issue that the Ainu were indeed indigenous and minority peoples, which supported the Ainu in their pursuit of their rights to their distinct culture and language. There are many different organizations of Ainu trying to further their cause in many different ways.

There is an umbrella group of which most Hokkaido Ainu and some other Ainu are members, called the Hokkaido Utari Association, originally controlled by the government with the intention of speeding Ainu assimilation and integration into the Japanese nation-state, which now operates mostly independently of the government and is run exclusively by Ainu.


  • Tohoku Ainu (from Honshū, no known living population)
  • Hokkaido Ainu
  • Sakhalin Ainu
  • Kuril Ainu (no known living population)
  • Kamchatka Ainu (extinct since pre-historic times)
  • Amur Valley Ainu (probably none remain)

See also


References and further reading

  • Kayano, Shigeru (1994). Our Land Was A Forest: An Ainu Memoir. Westview Press. ISBN 0813318807. ISBN 9780813318806.
  • Article on the Ainu in Japan's Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity.

External links

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address