The Ainu: Japan's first people
Have you ever heard of the Ainu? These people are often referred to as “Japan’s forgotten people”. In the 20th century, Japanese anthropologists and officials tried to hide the existence of the Indigenous Ainu. However, the Ainu fought back. Discover the hidden corner of Japan with QuizzClub!
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Let’s return to one of the most mysterious people in the world, the Ainu people.
They were an inconvenient culture for Japan because the government tried to create a national myth of homogeneity. However, in 2006, the Ainu were finally recognized as an Indigenous Population.
Some historical and geographical facts
In the historical Japanese texts, the Ainu were known as the Ezo.
The Ainu live on Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kuril Island.
They followed a religion that was based on natural phenomena.
The early Ainu did not speak Japanese and were conquered by the Japanese in the 9th century.
The Japanese government estimate of the Ainu total population is 25,000, although this number has been disputed with unofficial estimates of upwards of 200,000.
Appearance of the Ainu
They are known for having more body hair. The men have long beards which they leave unshaven. Both men and women keep their hair at shoulder length and wear traditional Ainu garb.
The women’s mouths are tattoed to signify their coming to adulthood. It starts at a young age with a small spot on the upper lip, gradually increasing with size. The shape of such mouth tattoos reminds of a smile.
Ainu culture is very different to that of the Japanese. The Ainu have their own language but fewer than 100 people still speak it, and it is classified as ‘endangered’. The language doesn’t have a written form.
The Ainu are traditionally hunter-gathers. They practice ‘arctolatry’ — the worship of bears. They hunted them for food but also kept them as pets.
They have their own musical instruments, such as the tonkori and the mukkari. The oral Ainu culture includes singing ballads. Their contents were an important source of understanding daily life as well as various traditions and habits of the Ainu people.
The Ainu have historically suffered from economic and social discrimination throughout Japan. The Japanese government has in large part regarded them as dirty and primitive people. However, the world is changing. Perhaps, the Ainu will no longer be Japan’s forgotten people.
What do you think about the Ainu? Have you ever heard of them? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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