Course:CONS370/Projects/The progressive inclusion and recognition of the Ainu Indigenous Peoples in Japan and the impacts on their relationships to their homelands

From UBC Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

The Ainu Peoples are an indigenous group that traditionally lived in the northern island of what is currently known as Hokkaido, Japan. The word “Ainu” means “human” in the Ainu language, in contrast to “Kamuy” which means “God”.[1] Like the Japanese ethnic majority people, Ainu people believe that all things have spirits,  also known as Gods, including fire and wind as nature gods, foxes and bears as animal gods, mushrooms and mugworts as plant gods, and boats as object gods.[1]

Traditionally, Ainu Peoples have relied on fishing, hunting, and agriculture to support themselves. However, during the 1600s, the Ainu peoples started to trade more with the Japanese population. By the Meiji Period in the 1890s, the Japanese government began a shift in Japanese ideologies to be more inclusive of western ideologies, and negatively affecting the Ainu Peoples.[2] Land, culture, language, and traditions were all stripped from the Ainu Peoples, as part of the State strategy to annex cultural groups outside of the regular Japanese population.[1]

This image depicts a group of Ainu people in their traditional clothing in 1904

What Aboriginal Forestry Means to Ainu People[edit | wikitext]

Ainu Peoples have traditional connections to their traditional lands in Hokkaido. They relied on the land for food, traditional ceremonies, clothing, housing, and much more. Fishing, vegetables' foraging, and hunting were a main source of food.[1] Fishing and vegetable foraging were the main source of food between mid-summer to early autumn.[1]

Plant and Vegetable Foraging

As a supplementary source of food, the Ainu Peoples foraged forests and grasslands for vegetables. Different vegetables were foraged during different times of the year. Garlic, chestnuts, walnuts, and peanuts are among the many.[1] Different tools were used depending on the plant. “Shittap”, a hook shaped tool made of wood, were used to gather garlic.[1]


Fishing was conducted in rivers and the sea. Trout and salmon were mainly fished for in rivers, while tuna, swordfish and river mammals were fished for in the sea.[1] Because the Ainu relied heavily on fish to sustain themselves, villages were located along rivers where trout and salmon would migrate upstream to spawn.[3] Each village would have a specific location that was best for salmon and trout fishing. These areas were restricted to villages themselves and nobody outside of the village was allowed to access the area.[1]


Hunting season occurred during late autumn to early summer when fishing and vegetable foraging seasons were over. Wild game was found in fields and mountainous areas where plants have faded (what does this mean?). Bear, rabbit, deer, and fox were just a few of the animals Ainu hunted.[1] Arrows and spears laced with poison were used alongside hunting dogs during the hunt.[1] The Ainu People utilized strategy to aid in the hunt. Along with dogs, traps were used and in the case of deer hunting, deer were led and trapped into rivers where they were easier to hunt with arrows. As in the case of fishing, each village had areas that were reserved for themselves for hunting. Villages that worked well with each other shared regions in some instances.[1]

Early History[edit | wikitext]

Since the 1300s, the Ainu Peoples have been subject to conflict and subsequent oppression. It first started with neighboring indigenous groups, further escalating to the Chinese oppression during the Yuan dynasty (1279 - 1368). Post Yuan dynasty rule, when the Wajin ethnic group made up the majority in Japan, stable relationships were developed and a stable line of trade was established.[4] The various conflicts around Japan and the Hokkaido region has shifted the Ainu People's traditional practices nonetheless. Trading relationships had to be developed to form alliances in times of conflict. This may have shifted the traditional and cultural practices, but still retaining sovereignty.[5]

During the Edo era (1603 - 1868), Ainu men were forced to work for the Japanese peoples as fisherman. Ainu were forced into labour pools to work near fishing grounds. They had to move their villages and families close to shorelines with the Japanese. Wherever the Japanese moved to, the Ainu had to move as well.[1] This way of life was viewed by some Ainu as a form of slavery.

Japan has worked to attain cultural homogeneity with few cultural diversities, only seen in subsets of other Asian cohorts. Their past desires of this feat has allowed for governments to hide the existence of Ainu Peoples and their history, with Japan’s Prime Minister stating “Japan is a homogeneous nation” in 1986. During the Japanese era of westernization (1868 - 1912 also known as the Meiji Period), the Ainu Peoples were forced into assimilation.[5] Land, homes, traditions, language were forcibly taken away from the Ainu People. Different laws created since the 1860s have restricted and oppressed the Ainu Peoples into conforming and assimilating into the Japanese population.[5]

Implication of Laws, Japan Status on Indigenous People, and Resulting Impacts[edit | wikitext]

As contact was made between the Ainu and Japanese dating back to the 1300’s, there is a long history of events that lead to the issue of the Ainu’s current problems with their status as Aboriginal People. Below we include some implications of laws that heavily influence the current state of the Ainu in Japan.

1799: The First Ainu Assimilation Measures

Map of Japan indicating the location of Hokkaido, formerly known by the Ainu as Ezo

As Japan increasingly faced territorial pressure from Russia, the shogun (commander in chief in feudal Japan) decided to set a firm grasp on the island of Ezo which the Ainu reside in.[3] This action suggested the shogunate was planning for formal colonization which in turn spurred radical change in Japanese policies regarding the Ainu, which marks the start of assimilation measures.[3]

1868 - 1912: Meiji Period

The Meiji period was a period of time when Japan underwent large changes in political, economic, and social change leading to the reformation of structure and beliefs under the influence of modernization and Westernization.[6]

In 1869, the island of Ezo was renamed to what is currently known as Hokkaido.[5] The island was considered terra nullius (land that is legally deemed unoccupied or uninhabited) by the Hokkaido Land Regulation of 1872. In this case it was important for the Japanese government to establish assimilation policies to exploit resources, increase employment to relieve Russian pressure.[3]

During the assimilation process beginning in 1871, the Ainu were integrated into Japanese society by being registered as ‘common people’ by the Family Registration Law.[3] This did not create equality between the Ainu and Japanese as their legal documentation still regard the Ainu as ‘former aborigine’. Through this, the Ainu lost their cultural importance of family ties from passing down sacred family symbols to simply being assigned a Japanese surname.[3]

Many of the Ainu’s cultural practices were influenced. For example, a practice called chise gomori where a deceased person's house is burnt and rebuilt due to the belief that their spirits will haunt their homes after passing, leading to misfortune in the village unless burned, was banned. Cultural tattoos were looked down upon in Japanese culture, as tattoos were associated with crime and punishment.[3] For the Ainu, clothing and tattoos were ways that one could prevent evil spirits from entering the body. For women, tattoos are initiated starting from the age of three and completed upon marriage.[3] This caused a lot of distress for the Ainu women as they worried about the temperament of the gods and their abilities to find a husband.[3]

This picture depicts an Ainu women with facial tattoos on her mouth for cultural reasons

The Ainu’s hunting and gathering practices were outlawed, which include the use of bow and arrow and fishnets, preventing the Ainu from sustaining themselves through their past form of subsistence from deer, salmon, and trout. This created a heavy incentive for the Ainu people to learn how to farm, creating a cheap and poorly paid labour force for the Japanese government.[4] It was also during this time there was a sudden influx of Japanese hunters, armed with rifles, who were responsible for the decline in the deer population throughout Northern Japan. Salmon and trout eventually suffered the same fate.[3]

Along with many more examples of what assimilation took away from the Ainu, they were forced into being a part of Japanese Society, including restricting cultural practices that have been passed down for several generations. Restrictions from their traditional way of life lead to a wide generation gap of knowledge, preventing children with Ainu background from forming a deeper connection with their roots.[5] Due to extensive discrimination, many Ainu began to hide the fact they were of Ainu descent, therefore many children grew up not knowing that they were of Ainu descent.[5]

1899 - 1997: Hokkaido Former Aborigine Protection Act

Passed in 1899, the Hokkaido Former Aborigine Protection Act was designed to speed up the process of assimilation with the Ainu in a rapidly modernizing Japan. The necessity to speed up this process came from an increasing trend of famines and epidemics that were plaguing the Ainu communities.[2] As mentioned before, Ainu were to adopt the Japanese language and Japanese names. As the terra nullius[3] land was being claimed by the Japanese, Ainu communities were forced to move out to remote areas in order to make room for new Japanese towns and villages for the ease of trade and natural resource extraction. Some Ainu children were also forced into moving to Tokyo to be educated in the Japanese language, though the curriculum was designed to ensure cooperation between the Ainu and the central government.[5]

Effects of the Hokkaido Former Aborigine Protection Act on Tenure

The Ainu did not have much in terms of land tenure and land use after assimilation. The main purpose of the Hokkaido Former Aborigine Protection Act was to promote farming activity.  By banning hunting and fishing, the Ainu were forced into learning how to farm despite the knowing that their livelihood and culture were dependent on hunting and fishing.[4] This was done in hopes to promote controlled production of resources. Each Ainu family was guaranteed a minimum of five hectares of subsistence land that was considered something similar to an allotment where the government retained legal title.[4] The land distributed to the Ainu could not be sold or leased, but at the same time could be confiscated at any time by authorities if the land is seen as being mishandled. The inability to read or write in the Japanese language created a large disadvantage. Although farming tools and seeds were supplied, the Ainu were never taught to farm, creating difficulties in properly implementing good farming technique.[3] In the end, most Ainu were not prepared to transition from a migratory/seasonal self-subsistence lifestyle to land cultivation which resulted in abandonment after harvest and unsuccessful attempts, resulting in many relinquishing their cultivation rights to the Japanese for a simple bottle of sake.[4] The alternative to failed farming lead to the Ainu being sent to factories and mines, working in poor conditions for low wages.[5]

1997 to present: The Law for the Promotion of Ainu Culture and the Dissemination and Advocacy of Knowledge in Respect of Ainu Tradition

This act replaced the Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Law after nearly a century. The team who were responsible for pushing this act were comprised of Ainu representatives, Ainu Association of Hokkaido, Hokkaido government… and most importantly pressure from overseas human rights and indigenous peoples’ groups.[5] Recognition of cultural diversity within Japan became increasingly important due to the increasing number of foreign migrants entering Japan in the 1990’s, lowering the popular view of a “racially homogeneous” society within the country.[2] By itself, the law does not address issues regarding land use, rights, education, and politics. This Act is to declare Japan has become a multicultural nation, showing that the Japanese government has shifted from a “protection” to “cultural promotion” mindset.[2]

2007 to present: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Starting from the 1980’s, the United Nations and several other indigenous peoples’ rights and advocacy groups began to bring attention to issues regarding indigenous people in hopes to protect indigenous culture and tradition, education, self-determination and land rights. Similar to certification schemes, these advocacy groups monitor each nation on their treatment towards indigenous groups.[5] This declaration was not adopted by the General Assembly until September of 2007 where Japan was one of the 144 countries in favour.[7] Due to the advocacy groups' negative view towards Japan's treatment towards indigenous groups, Japan is facing outside pressure to change their methods and actions.[5]

Tenure Arrangements[edit | wikitext]

In Japan, around 58% of the forested land is privately owned while the other 42% is owned by the Japanese government. On the Island of Hokkaido, the government owns about 55%. As of 2018 in Japan, there is an increasing trend in “forestland grabbing” by foreigners on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. Forestland grab is the change in dynamics of land use by overseas or national entities, enabling large scale social, economic, and ecological change.[8] Considering much of this land is being bought by foreign investors and is private, the Ainu people have very little opportunity to reclaim this land as these investments are increasingly important to the economy of the Japan. The best option that the government has is to distribute a part of the 55% of government owned land within Hokkaido, for Ainu for reconciliation.

Stakeholders[edit | wikitext]

These are groups of affected stakeholder that is believed to play the largest roles in the inclusion of the Ainu people.

Group Interested Affected Reason
Japanese Government X The Japanese government has no traditional relations with the land. Many lawmakers probably don’t live close to the traditional lands.
Young Generation Ainu Person X Many young Ainu Peoples have no connections with their homelands due to assimilation policies.
Old Generation Ainu Person X Many older generations of Ainu have had some sort of connections with their homelands from the teachings of their parents. They have longed to practice what their ancestors have preached.
Common Japanese Citizen x Non-Ainu Japanese have no ties with the traditional practices and beliefs of Ainu culture.

Assessment[edit | wikitext]

Many entities have played a role in Ainu assimilation. The preliminary actors that have created a snowball effect has been the Japanese government. Since the early days of assimilation and the times where a homogeneous society was a proud factor, the Japanese government has total control over Ainu identity. In past days, the power of control that the Japanese asserted was used to suppress Ainu identity and their culture. However, now the Japanese government is taking responsible measures to reconcile and give the respect the Ainu Peoples deserve. New Bills are to be proposed to give Ainu Peoples indigenous recognition that will give legal power to the Ainu Peoples.

The older Ainu generation have no legal power. Their power is the power to lobby the government for indigenous rights, and they have the power to pass down traditional practices and traditional knowledge to the younger generations.

The younger Ainu generation have no legal power, just like the older generation. They hold the same powers of lobbying the government as well as fighting for their right to inherit Ainu culture.

Common Japanese citizens have no control over the political factors of Ainu inclusion. However, the common Japanese citizen can show their respect towards people of Ainu descent and eradicate the long held discrimination.

Current Status[edit | wikitext]


The Ainu People have been at a disadvantage since their existence. Having been forced into assimilation and exile their traditional ways, the Ainu people have often been the subject of discrimination. The challenges the Ainu People have faced extend into the socioeconomic dynamics.[5] Large gaps have been created between the Ainu Peoples and the majority of Japan.

The Ainu People work mostly in industrial jobs, such as forestry, manufacturing, or agriculture, which holds lower wages when compared to the average person of Japan.[5] Education and post-secondary enrollment is far lesser than the average Japanese population. Traditionally, a higher percentile of Ainu households are living on welfare compared to the Japanese household.[5]

Due to the longstanding assimilation policies and discrimination from Japan, Ainu people are hesitant to claim and represent their heritage. As a response, many Ainu People have fled their homes in Hokkaido for the Kanto, greater Tokyo region, in search of a clean slate. The Kanto region is a large urbanized zone where education, socioeconomic status, and living quality have more variation than Hokkaido.[3]

Advisory Panel

The Ainu People have begun receiving respect from the Japanese government in slow steps. Since the ratification of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, Japan has begun a path of recognition, and reconciliation. Prior to the 34th G8 summit held in Hokkaido in 2008, the Japanese government finally recognized the Ainu Peoples as indigenous people with their individual culture, language, and religion.[9] New laws and policy improvements were promised to the Ainu Peoples. Finally, after years of forceful assimilation and indigenous denial, the Ainu People of Hokkaido will begin to gain recognition.

In 2009, The Democratic Party of Japan took over government with Yukio Hatoyama becoming the Prime Minister of Japan. Prime Minister Hatoyama, a resident of Hokkaido, joined the advisory panel for Ainu policy.[10] This advisory panel included the governor of Hokkaido as well as representation from Ainu People.

Following Prime Minister Hatoyama’s addition, the advisory panel created a report about policy changes to recognize and protect the Ainu Peoples’ heritage and close the socioeconomic gaps within Japan. Under Article 13 and 14 of Japan’s constitution, the principles of equality and respect for individuals must be upheld within Japan.[11] The report touched on the fact of harmony amongst different groups. While policies can be introduced to close the socioeconomic gaps and respect the Ainu Peoples’ traditional ways, the entirety of Japan should work together and have respect for everybody, no matter their origin or ethnic background.[11] The report also featured recommendations to create “symbolic space for ethnic harmony” and guidelines to enhance the education and socioeconomic gaps seen in the Ainu community.

10 Years Later

In 2019, 11 years after the Prime Minister of Japan recognized Ainu People as indigenous people and promised for policy and law introduction, Japan is finally introducing a Bill to recognize the Ainu People as an indigenous group. The bill is to be submitted to the legislative branch of the Japanese government for approval. In an unprecedented move, many have praised the Japanese government for its progression.[12]

The introduction of the Bill would be the first time Ainu People have gained recognition of indigenous status in law. The bill would force regional and national governments to create and adopt policies that protect and promote Ainu culture and language. Under the bill, Ainu People would be able to access crown owned forests to harvest trees required in traditional ceremonies.[13] The proposed bill also brings light to the “symbolic space for ethnic harmony”.[11]

The proposed Bill would protect Ainu culture and language, however one big component is still missing. During the assimilation period, much of Ainu land and territory were seized for development. These lands were close to fishing areas and provided a central location amongst all of the landscape that provided food and resources.[4] The proposed bill does not address land claim issues and no land will be returned back to the Ainu People. However, many have praised and hold the proposed bill as the first required step for a more inclusive and reconciled community within Japan.

Recommendations[edit | wikitext]

The Japanese government needs to implement policies at a faster pace. The transition of governments between elections is very problematic. Instead of governments saying blanket statements that hold no value in legislature to please overseas advocacy groups, governments need to implement actions. Yes, the Ainu Recognition Policy gives Ainu Peoples legal footing in a court of law, however, that took upwards of 10 years to become law.

Secondly, the introduction of a new bill that recognizes the Ainu people as an 'indigenous group' for the first time has recently caused commotion with the Ainu representatives. With plan of building an Ainu museum in hopes of reaching tourism target goals, the construction of the Ainu museum has been seen as an insult to the Ainu Peoples and their culture.[14] Japan’s rush to create the museum by 2020 seems suspicious to many, such as the chairman of Ainu Kotan no Kai (translates to Ainu Kotan Association). With the summer Olympics heading to Japan, the Ainu People have criticized the government as trying to profit from Ainu Peoples’ culture and heritage, as they expect it to bring upwards of one million visitors by then. Mochihiro Ichikawa, a lawyer who attended the bill conference stated that this was based on cultural promotion rather than the collective rights of the Ainu people.[14] Before proceeding with such decisions based on Ainu culture and lifestyle, the Japanese government should consider Ainu groups in their decision making as a step to recognize that their opinions and rights matter.

Lastly, the Japanese government should find methods to return portions of traditional land owned by the government back to the Ainu people. Once these lands are returned, the Japanese government will no longer have to hold strict hunting and fishing laws against the Ainu as they will have land they access specifically for their activities to support their livelihood. Also by creating this area to be non-accessible to the Japanese common folk, there will not be declines in wildlife population as hunting can be forbidden, while allowing the Ainu to use bow & arrow, and fishnets.

This conservation resource was created by Anthony Shi and Clarence So

References[edit | wikitext]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Ainu Museum. "The Ainu People". Ainu Museum. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Suzuki, Morris (December 1999). "The Ainu: Beyond the Politics of Cultural Coexistence". Cultural Survival. Retrieved April 3, 2019. 
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 Godefroy, Noemi. "The Ainu Assimilation Policies During the Meiji Period and the Acculturation of Hokkaido's Indigenous People" (PDF). Populations Japonaises. Retrieved April 2, 2019. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Cornell, John B. (July 1964). "Ainu Assimilation and Cultural Extinction: Acculturation Policy in Hokkaido". Enthology. 3: 287–304 – via JSTOR. 
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 Okada, Mitsuharu Vincent (2012). "The Plight of AInu, Indigenous People of Japan" (PDF). Journal of Indigenous Social Development. 1: 1–14 – via University of Hawai'i at Manoa. 
  6. Pletcher, Kenneth. "Meiji Restoration". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved April 4, 2019. 
  7. "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples". United Nations - Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 
  8. Islam, Kazi Kamrul (September 2018). "Forestland Grabbing by the Foreigners in Hokkaido, Japan: Is it a Big Concern for Sustainable Forest Development?". applied sciences. Volume 8: Issue 10 – via MPDI. 
  9. Lewallen, Ann-Elise (November 1, 2008). "Indigenous at last! Ainu Grassroots Organizing and the Indigenous Peoples Summit in Ainu Mosir". The Asia-Pacific Journal. Volume 6: Issue 11 – via APIJJF. 
  10. Winchester, Mark (October 12, 2009). "On the Dawn of a New National Ainu Policy: The "'Ainu' as a Situation" Today". The Asia-Pacific Journal. Volume 7: Issue 41 – via APJJF. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Tsunemoto, Teruki. "Toward Ainu- and Japan-Specific Indigenous Policies" (PDF). JSPS Washington Office. Retrieved April 1, 2019. 
  12. Murakami, Sakura (February 25, 2019). "Japan's Ainu recognition bill: What does it mean for Hokkaido's indigenous people". The Japan Times. Retrieved April 2, 2019. 
  13. "Japan to recognise Ainu as 'indigenous people' for first time". Aljazeera. February 14, 2019. Retrieved April 4, 2019. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 "'Empty words': Rights groups say Japan's bill recognizing Ainu as indigenous group falls short". The Japan Times. March 2, 2019. Retrieved March 21, 2019. 

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Course:CONS370. It has been viewed over 52 times.