Performers dropped from opening ceremony . . .
Organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics have dropped a performance by members of the Ainu Indigenous group from the Games’ opening ceremony, according to an official of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido. Ainu artists were expecting to present their traditional culture in a dance for the July 24 opening, but have reportedly been told that there is no room on the bill. The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee has not yet released a statement explaining its decision. This action has led many to question Japan’s commitment to recognition and reconciliation with the Ainu, who have historically been oppressed by the Japanese state.
Japan’s contested recognition policies of the Ainu . . .
The Ainu are Indigenous peoples of Japan whose traditional territory included northern Honshu, Hokkaido, the Kuril Islands, and southern Sakhalin. The Japanese government, which long banned Ainu culture and language, is on a slow path to reconciliation. The Japanese Diet passed a non-binding resolution in 2008 recognizing that the Ainu are “an Indigenous people with a distinct language, religion and culture,” and a 2019 bill formally recognizes the Ainu, banning discrimination against them and simplifying procedures for obtaining permission to observe their traditional practices. The government is also building a National Ainu Museum to showcase Ainu history and culture, which is scheduled to open in April 2020. Critics have noted the timing of these recent actions with the 2020 Olympics as Japan’s efforts to showcase its acceptance of diversity just ahead of the Games.
Troubled reconciliation ahead . . .
According to a 2013 survey by the Hokkaido Government, there are approximately 17,000 Ainu people on the island. The actual number is estimated to be closer to 100,000, since many Ainu live outside of Hokkaido, and many others hide, do not know of, or do not recognize, their Ainu identity out of fear of discrimination. In dropping the Ainu performance from the Olympics’ opening ceremony, some pundits argue that this is yet another example of Japan’s empty recognitions and reconciliation efforts. For example, the 2019 bill is criticized for lacking a “genuine protection” of Ainu rights, and disregarding issues like welfare policies and unemployment. Ainu-Canada exchanges, which have mainly focused on British Columbia, date back to 1978 and continue to the present. In 2019, UBC held an event commemorating Ainu history for Hokkaido's 150th anniversary, while Vancouver’s annual Japanese-Canadian Powell Street Festival featured performances from visiting Ainu artists that same year.
- Ainu Association of Hokkaido: Actual Living Conditions of the Hokkaido Ainu
- Asia & The Pacific Policy Society: Does the new Ainu bill truly symbolise progress?
- The Japan Times: Olympic snub: Dance of Japan's indigenous Ainu dropped from opening ceremony