Hokkaido 150 Years Later . . .
An edited volume (in Japanese) entitled Ainu Perspectives on 150 Years of Hokkaido will hit bookshelves next month. It addresses thoughts and reflections about the era since the Meiji Government of Japan changed the name of the northern island from Ezo/Ezochi to Hokkaidō and officially incorporated it into Japan in 1869. In 2018, there was much discussion in Japan and worldwide on the 150 years since Japan’s Meiji Restoration – the birth of the modern Japanese state. But there was significantly less discussion about the 150 anniversary of the renaming of Hokkaido in 2019, and Ainu experiences since then. With few exceptions, neither of these sesquicentennials seriously considered Ainu perspectives, as discourse around Ainu-related (settler) colonialism, historical trauma, and reconciliation remain contested topics in Japan. This new book by Ainu authors, and related events, will make a notable contribution to advancing reconciliation-related discussion.
Ainu Mosir and beyond . . .
The Ainu are Indigenous peoples of Ainu Mosir (“peaceful land of human beings”), which included northern Honshu, Hokkaido, the Kuril Islands, and southern Sakhalin. Today, while most live in Hokkaido, Ainu also live throughout Japan and around the world. A 2013 Hokkaido Government survey pegs the Ainu population in Hokkaido at about 17,000, while other estimates of the total population are around 100,000 or higher. Some Ainu are in the process of rediscovering their heritage, and others choose to be silent about their Ainu identity out of fear of discrimination and related challenges.
Ainu neno an Ainu – 'human like human' . . .
Japan, which had long banned Ainu culture and language, is beginning down a slow path toward reconciliation. The Japanese Government recognized the Ainu as Indigenous for the first time in 2008, and the first law to formally recognize the same came in 2019. As in other places, recognition and laws are only part of the path toward reconciliation. Ainu today continue to proudly pursue their interests and rights in various milieus on topics ranging from art, dance, and music, the return of ancestral remains, fishing rights, and language revitalization. Some of these efforts are highlighted on the recently launched AinuToday platform (below), the first English-language, knowledge-sharing platform for an international audience to learn about contemporary Ainu.
- AinuToday.com: Welcome to AinuToday
- The Economist: Japan’s Ainu people have a new museum. Many feel it omits a lot
- NHK World – Japan: Rediscovering Ainu Heritage: Part 1