Ainu (ì´n¡), aborigines of Japan,
possibly of Caucasoid descent, having both European and Asian physical
traits. Invaders from Asia forced the Ainu to the N Japanese island of
HOKKAIDO and to Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, in Russia. Their animistic
religion centers on a bear cult. They live by hunting, fishing, farming,
and selling crafts to tourists.
"Ainu" means "human." The Ainu people regard things useful to them or beyond their control as "kamuy"(gods). In daily life, they prayed to and performed various ceremonies for the gods. These gods include : "nature" gods, such as of fire, water, wind and thunder ; "animal" gods, such as of bears, foxes, spotted owls and gram-puses ; "plant" gods, such as of aconite, mush-room and mugwort ; "object" gods, such as of boats and pots ; and gods which protect houses, gods of mountains and gods of lakes. The word "Ainu" refers to the opposite of these gods.
Scholars have advocated various theories about the origin of the Ainu people. The theories include the Caucasoid (Caucasian) Theory, the Mongoloid Theory, the Oceania Race Theory, the Old Asian Race Theory, and the Solitary Race Theory. Some scholars have recently advocated the following hypothesis into which the Mongoloid Theory has developed. Mongoloid peoples once were of two types : Southern Mongoloid and Northern Mongoloid. Before the Jomon Period (several tens of thousands of years ago), the Southern Mongoloid started moving northward and settled the Japanese archipelago, including Okinawa, over a long period of time. Later, the Southern Mongoloid played a major role in the Jomon Period throughout Japan. However, in the Yayoi and Tumulus Periods, the Northern Mongoloid came across the sea to Japan in great numbers. The ethnic Japanese (non-Ainu) are the people who have evolved rapidly through the strong influences of these migratory processes. On the other hand, the Ainu in Hokkaido and the Tohoku region and the Ryukyu people in Okinawa are the ones who have hardly affected by this process.
About 300 B.C., Honshu (Japan's mainland) experienced the Yayoi Period. Between the Yayoi and Muromachi Periods, Hokkaido experienced periods of earthenware cultures, such as the Zoku-Jomon Period, the Satsumon Period, and the Okhotsk Culture. The "Ainu Culture" extended from about 1400 to the early 1700 s. According to one theory, the Satsumon Culture developed into the Ainu Culture through the influence of the Okhotsk Culture. However, this theory is not a proven one. In the mid-1400 s, the Japanese extended their influence over southern Hokkaido, primarily Esashi and Matsumae. Later, they came to op-press the Ainu. To resist the oppression by the Japanese, the Ainu waged the Battle of Kosyamain in 1457, the Battle of Syaksyain in 1669, and the Battle of Kunasiri-Menasi in 1789. The Ainu lost each time. After losing the Battle of Kunasiri-Menasi in particular, the Ainu fell completely under the control of the Japanese. They remained oppressed and exploited by the Japanese until the Meiji era. In the Meiji era, under the government policy of assimilation, the Ainu were prohibited from observing their daily customs. Given the status of former aborigines, the Ainu were forced to abide by Japanese daily customs. In 1899, the Hokkaido Aborigine Protection Act was passed. The act primarily aimed to provide relief for the Ainu and help them become engaged in agriculture. However, the act designated the Ainu as "former aborigines" and clarified the distinction between the Japanese and the Ainu. In the late Meiji era, with an increasing number of Japanese colonizing Hokkaido from Honshu, the oppression and exploitation of the Ainu was replaced by discrimination against them. Discrimination against the Ainu still remains today and has become a major social problem.
At the Hokkaido Ainu Convention in Shizunai, Hokkaido, in 1946, the Hokkaido Ainu Association was established primarily to provide higher education and collaborate in the construction of social welfare facilities. In 1961, the association changed its name to the Hokkaido Utari Association. The association is actively engaged tackling in various problems regarding the Ainu. In 1984, the Hokkaido Utari Association resolved that the Government should enact the New Ainu Law (tentative name), a new law which replaces the current "Hokkaido Aborigine Protection Act." Since then, the association has been conducting an active campaign to demand that the national government enact the New Ainu Law as soon as possible. Furthermore, these days, various activities are being vigorously promoted to revive the Ainu language and to preserve and maintain Ainu culture, such as traditional dancing and various ceremonies. Ainu language classes are being held in various parts of Hokkaido. Moreover, associations to preserve traditional dancing have been organized to revive and conduct ceremonies such as iyomante and chipsanke.
Ainu who lived in Hokkaido, the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin were called "Hokkaido Ainu", "Kurile Ainu" and "Sakhalin Ainu"respectively. Most Ainu now live in Hokkaido. It has been confirmed that a few Ainu people now live in Sakhalin. The census of the Ainu was started by the Japanese in the 1800 s for various purposes, e.g. for putting them to work. The Ainu population from 1807 to 1931 varied as follows :1807 : 26,256These figures (estimated ones) show that the population decreased particularly sharply from 1822 to 1854. The reasons for the decrease were, among others, the spread through the Ainu population of such diseases as smallpox, measles, cholera, tuberculosis and venereal diseases and the breakup of families due to forced labor.
1822 : 23,563
1854 : 17,810
1873 : 16,272
1903 : 17,783
1931 : 15,969
According to a current survey conducted by the Hokkaido Government in 1984, the Ainu population of Hokkaido then was 24, 381.