Volume 57 1948 > Volume 57, No. 3 > The Ainu people of Northern Japan, by I. L. G. Sutherland, p 203-226
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IN February, 1947, while on a lecture tour of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan, the writer received permission from the United States authorities to visit Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan proper, in order to observe the present condition of the Ainu people. The visit was a brief one, but through the co-operation of the Commanding General and officers of the United States Forces in Hokkaido and of Japanese professors of Hokkaido Imperial University interesting material was gathered from informants in Sapporo and in the Ainu villages near Noboribetsu. The reception by the Ainu of a non-Japanese visitor was most friendly and great help in making inquiries and in gathering information was received from Mashiho Chiri, a part-Ainu and a graduate of Tokyo Imperial University.

Before the present condition of the Ainu is described and in order that it may be better understood and appreciated a brief account is given of the Ainu people and their culture and of their earlier relations with the Japanese. Little has been heard of the Ainu in recent years, though since the occupation of Japan an American and a British illustrated periodical have each published a series of very obviously posed photographs of Ainu life and customs, together with brief accompanying articles.

Records show that the Ainu were early regarded as something exceptional among peoples. In the sixth century A.D. the Japanese presented a pair of them to the Chinese Emperor as curiosities, while as late as 1910 a group of Ainu was “on show” at the Anglo-Japanese Exhibition in London. They have aroused the special interest of anthropologists, but in spite of much discussion the problems of their origin and of their racial and cultural relationships still remain unsolved. What has rendered the Ainu of unusual general interest is their physical type which contrasts markedly with that of the Japanese. Apparently it was the - 204 Japanese who first termed them “hairy Ainu,” the name by which they have been generally known. Opinions differ on the point. They are certainly hairy in contrast to the Mongoloid Japanese but, except in occasional instances, little if any hairier than Caucasian peoples. The men, however, took great pride in their heads of hair and in their beards. The Ainu are a shortish, broadly built people with light skins, hair often wavy and occasionally red or fair, and hazel eyes. An interesting physical feature is a flattening of the humerus and tibia bones not observed among other living racial types but characteristic of prehistoric Europeans.

The general appearance of the Ainu strongly suggests a Caucasoid type. At the Third Pan-Pacific Science Congress held in Tokyo in 1926 there was a symposium on what was termed “the Ainu problem,” but the problem was not solved, views expressed as to Ainu origins and relationships being very divergent. At present the most widely accepted hypothesis is that the Ainu are proto-Caucasians. This is the view of M. F. Ashley-Montagu in his recent Introduction to Physical Anthropology and of Howells in his Mankind So Far. Howells suggests that their connection with western whites was in great antiquity. An alternative suggestion is that they represent an early generalized human type from which more than one of the wavy-haired and heavily-bearded peoples of Europe and Southern Asia have been specialized. No satisfactory hypothesis has been advanced regarding how the Ainu reached what are now the islands of Japan, though some have suggested that this was by previously existing land-bridges. Study of the Ainu language has thrown little if any light on the origins and connections of the people, for apart from borrowings from the Japanese their language appears to be isolated. The same applies to their mythology, while elements that may have been drawn both from the north and from the south are found in their culture generally. The name Ainu now means simply man or men. Their own account of their origin is that they are descendants of a first ancestor called Aioina. “Aioina rak guru”—“persons smelling of Aioina” was their full name, but it was gradually shortened to Ainu, save on special occasions. Aioina wandered far and wide throughout the world and took wives wherever he - 205 went: which explains, they say, why some foreigners resemble the Ainu.

Archaeological remains as well as many place names indicate that the Ainu once occupied the whole of what is now Japan. They are now found as a distinct people only in Hokkaido, with some hundreds in the southern portion of Saghalien and the Kuriles. Ainu types are, however, recognizable in other parts of Japan, especially in isolated mountain regions. Contact between the Yamato, or ancestors of the Japanese, and the Ainu began at least two thousand years ago, but little is known of it until the beginning of the historic period in Japan, about 700 A.D. It was then that systematic campaigns against the Ainu were begun by the Japanese though they were not finally subdued for a thousand years. In these campaigns, carried out under the direction of a high official entitled “Barbarian-Subduing-Generalissimo,” the Japanese were by no means always successful. Ainu culture was, however, neolithic, while the Japanese had iron and fought the Ainu on horseback. In spite of these advantages, subduing the Ainu proved a difficult task, and they made many sporadic revolts against their conquerors. It was in warfare with the Ainu that the foundations were laid of the Samurai or professional warrior class in Japan and many of the Ainu themselves were incorporated in this class.

The claim made for some time by the Japanese, that the Ainu, defeated on Honshu—the main island of Japan—fled northwards and crossed over to Hokkaido, is certainly false. All the evidence goes to show that the Ainu were gradually assimilated in southern and central Japan, though since they despised them as an inferior people the Japanese were reluctant to acknowledge this. By a kind of popular etymology the Japanese associated the name Ainu with inu, a dog, and based a widely accepted legend of the origin of the race on this association and also on the similarity of the name to the word for half-caste. There were no acknowledged Ainu in southern and central Japan by the end of the nineteenth century but Ainu informants told the writer how they interested themselves in noting evidences of Ainu descent in Japanese officials.

Accounts of Ainu culture are based on the Ainu of Yezo (re-named Hokkaido), and of the nearby islands. Japanese - 206 accounts, especially in manuscript, are numerous but are not available. European descriptions belong mainly to the second half of the nineteenth century, though one of the Jesuit missionaries to Japan visited and described the Ainu of Yezo in the sixteenth century. Considerable scientific interest was taken in the Ainu people about 1880-90 after a number of accounts of them by travellers had been published. As well as British there have been German, Dutch, French and Russian students of the Ainu and of aspects of their culture. Many papers on Ainu subjects have been published in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, while in more recent years the Research Institute for Northern Culture, attached to Hokkaido Imperial University, has published—in Japanese—a large amount of material relating to the Ainu. Professors Kodama, Inukai and Takakura of Hokkaido Imperial University have been specially active in this research. Professor Kodama's collection of archaeological material and of more than one thousand Ainu skulls is impressive. So far there does not appear to have been in any language a comprehensive scientific treatment of the people and their culture. The best known British authority on the Ainu is the late Rev. Dr. John Batchelor of the Church Missionary Society. Batchelor spent more than fifty years among the Ainu and his efforts to promote their welfare and to secure for them better treatment from the Japanese constitute a remarkable life's work. His special interest was the Ainu language and he prepared an Ainu-English dictionary now being revised by Mashiho Chiri, the part-Ainu already mentioned. Batchelor also published several general accounts of the Ainu people of which Ainu Life and Lore (1927) was the latest. Basil Hall Chamberlain, who was a professor at Tokyo Imperial University collected Ainu folk tales towards the end of the nineteenth century, compared Ainu mythology with that of the Japanese, finding them quite distinct, and traced Ainu place-names throughout Japan. Dr. Neil Gordon Munro did a large amount of archaeological work, was apparently the first to suggest a Caucasian origin for the Ainu and worked for their welfare along medical lines. There are many gaps in the accounts available of Ainu culture, a particular lack being a detailed account of the social structure of the people.

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Hokkaido is an island more extensively and heavily wooded than the rest of Japan and with a more severe climate. Its fauna is distinct, and animals such as the bear and deer are numerous in its forests while its rivers and coastal waters are particularly rich in fish. The Ainu possessed a hunting and fishing economy without agriculture until the latter was introduced by the Japanese. They lived mainly on or near the coasts but made regular seasonal migrations dependent upon the securing of food. Social organization was tribal, each tribe possessing its own territories, and relations between tribes not being always friendly. There are rather vague and incomplete evidences of totemism in tribal and family units. Tribes were divided into village communities ruled by a chief assisted by a council of elders. Chieftainship was hereditary save that capacity had to be shown or another chief was chosen. Village members intermarried, the consent of the chief and elders being necessary. A large district of the tribal lands was set apart for a given village and divided up into smaller areas for family units for hunting and for gardens. River and seaside fishing stations were similarly portioned out and such rights were jealously maintained long after the Japanese government had taken over all the land. There was a good deal of communal sharing of the products of hunting and fishing among the group of families making up the village and in the sharing out unborn babies counted as units. The year was divided into two seasons, winter and summer, winter being called the men's season and summer the women's. Techniques of hunting, fishing, trapping and decoying were particularly well developed. Food consisted mainly of a composite stew, herbs and roots to add to the meat and fish being gathered by the women. Prior to the introduction of the horse by the Japanese the dog was the only domesticated animal.

Ainu houses were made with a framework of tree-trunk uprights and poles lashed together with bark, the sides and roof being thatched with reeds. The house consisted of one large room together with a porch in which nets and utensils were kept. A set plan of interior arrangements was followed, special places being set aside for members of the family, for honoured guests, for casual visitors, for the fireplace and for the family “treasures.” - 208 These latter consisted of lacquered-ware vessels, Japanese swords and other relics of early contact and barter with the Japanese. Each household took great pride in its “treasures” and they were ostentatiously displayed on a low broad shelf. Treasures were used as wedding gifts, in purchasing hunting and fishing rights and in atoning for some wrong-doing. They are still to be seen in Ainu houses. Moving into a new house was the occasion of much religious ceremony. Storehouses raised on posts about five feet from the ground to protect the food from animals were also built.

Household utensils were formerly made of pottery and of bark, but the Ainu ceased to make pottery when Japanese utensils were obtained. Wooden utensils were also made and they were decorated with carving. The use of steel knives led to a great extension of the art of woodcarving, wooden plates, spoons, moustache-lifters, and knife-cases, being decorated with characteristic Ainu patterns containing both curvilear and rectilinear elements. The patterns were conventionalizations of natural and animal forms. The chief article of clothing was a long dress made originally of material woven from the inner bark of the elm. On the best dresses patterns typical of particular districts and villages and differing for men and women were embroidered. Ainu bone needles gave place to Japanese needles and thread. Winter garments were made of animal and bird skins, specially deer skins. Shoes for use with snow-shoes were made of animal and fish skins and the oval Ainu snow-shoes are still in use. On special occasions men wore “crowns” made of bark and ornamented with representations of the heads of bears, other animals and of birds. The women ornamented themselves with large ear-rings and beads, latterly of Japanese manufacture. The Ainu refrained almost wholly from washing, which they considered a dangerous practice.

The bow was the principal weapon and several very effective arrow poisons were used. Arrows used for the ceremonial killing of animals were specially decorated, and the writer was shown an unpublished monograph on arrow decorations by the ethnologist of the Natural History Museum at Sapporo in which more than six hundred decorative designs were figured. Ingenious spring-bows and bow-traps were used in the taking of animals and spears - 209 were used in catching fish. Arrow and spear heads, adzes, knives and scrapers were made of stone, and stone tools and weapons were still in use in parts of Hokkaido until well into the nineteenth century. War clubs were made of wood. Dug-outs were used on the rivers, and for sea-fishing they were provided with a freeboard of planks bound on with bark lashings.

The village chief took the initiative in arranging hunting and fishing expeditions and also trading expeditions. With the village elders he arranged the division of land and of fishing sites. The chief also supervised the burying of the dead, settled disputes and with the elders administered justice. Suspected offenders were subjected to drastic ordeals to determine guilt. Children were welcomed in the Ainu household, the husband especially wanting at least one son and the mother daughters. For a married couple to have no children was thought to be a disgrace and due to some wrongdoing by one or other of the parties. Barrenness was a common ground for divorce. At childbirth the mother was assisted by a number of elder women and the father observed the couvade. Infant mortality was and still is high among the Ainu. Children were in general treated with affection right up to puberty, but were trained to prompt obedience and made to fetch and carry and go messages. Several features of the bringing up of children among the Ainu seem likely to have set up a good deal of anxiety. From a very early age the infant was left quite alone for long periods suspended from the roof of the house in its cradle. This was while the mother was working in the garden or gathering wood. The infant was said gradually to grow tired of crying and to learn to be patient. A curious Ainu custom was to cut the upper part of an infant's legs at the back to keep it, so it was said, from kicking and squirming too much when it was being nursed.

Names were given to children at a special ceremony when the child was two or three years of age and when its characteristics were thought to be apparent so that a suitable and lucky name could be given. Names were changed if found to be unlucky: the bad luck being due to the fact that the name did not fit.

The father supervised the education of the boy and taught him about animals and their habits and how to hunt - 210 and fish and decoy: also how to make bows and arrows and traps, how to carve and how to give the proper salutations and offer prayers to the gods. He taught the boy the names of mountains and rivers and the routes from place to place. The mother told the children folk tales and taught them other traditional matters. She taught the girls about the gathering and preparing of plants good for food and how to make and decorate garments. The girl was also taught how to behave before men: always waiting to be spoken to before addressing them. This education of the young reflected the Ainu division of activities according to which the men hunted, fished and propitiated the gods while women gathered and prepared food and made and mended the clothes. The position of women was in general inferior, and they were expected to wait on and work for men-folk. There were, however, ways in which women could be influential in domestic and village affairs, for example, by possessing powers of divination. Angry women were greatly feared by the men for they might commit dangerous forms of sacrilege. Women were tattooed on and around the lips, sometimes on the forehead and on the backs of the hands and forearms. The tattooing was commenced as a small area above the upper lip when the girl was six or seven years old and was gradually extended and completed just before marriage, as a sign that the girl was ready to be married. Sometimes the young husband added to it after marriage. There was some variation in tattoo patterns, especially on the hands.

The men took great pride in their long hair and especially in their beards, and had several distinctive styles of hair-dressing. Elaborate taboos were associated with hair-cutting. Early in the nineteenth century the Ainu were ordered by the Lords of Matsumae to cut their hair in the Japanese fashion. This resulted in a great meeting of the chiefs of Yezo who sent a deputation begging that the order be not enforced. “For we could not go contrary to the customs of our ancestors without bringing down upon us the wrath of the gods.” There was great rejoicing when the men were let off. When put into prison by the Japanese the only distress which the Ainu suffered was at having their hair cut.

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Etiquette on the occasions of meeting and greeting and welcoming strangers was highly formalized, the stroking of their beards being an important feature of men's greetings. It was customary to weep on meeting friends after a long interval, especially if a death had occurred in the intervening time. Ainu manners in personal relations are uniformly described as gentle, kindly and hospitable, observers commenting especially on the pleasant and soft quality of Ainu voices. The Ainu still sit cross-legged and not on their heels like the Japanese. Aggression was not prominent in Ainu behaviour, though in hunting the men were not merely brave but reckless. In general there was more anxiety than direct aggressiveness in the Ainu personality.

There were no special ceremonies associated with puberty save that at about fifteen the Ainu youth had his hair dressed as an adult and wore adult clothes. There was a certain amount of permitted sexual freedom before marriage and girls married at about seventeen years of age, men at about twenty; marriage being a matter of individual choice, not of family arrangement, though family approval was usually required. Adultery was severely punished. Children were sometimes betrothed by their parents when very young, but their marriage was still a matter of their own later choice. The marriage ceremony consisted simply of a small feast and the passing on of heirlooms to the couple. The wife retained her own name, but the husband was regarded as the head of the family. Polygamy was permitted but was by no means universal. Divorce was common and could be initiated by either party, the father taking with him the sons, and the mother the daughters when they separated.

A form of hysteria associated with snakes existed among the Ainu, being commonest among women but not confined to them. The condition was supposed to be caused by snakebite, but appeared in some who had not been bitten and was believed to be hereditary. The sight of a snake, or mention of the word, produced an attack, the symptoms being those of extreme fear, with a characteristic bodily attitude and irresponsible behaviour. Batchelor recounts that on many occasions he unintentionally provoked attacks of hysteria by telling of the part played by the serpent in - 212 the fall of man. Serious mental illness was believed to be due, like other diseases, to spirit possession, with in this case the additional cause of some wrongdoing on the part of the person concerned.

The soul was believed to survive death and to depart at death for one of a series of underworlds. The dead were dressed in their best clothes, all of which were first cut or torn a little, and were laid out by the fireside together with their possessions which were to be buried with them. Relatives and friends then held a wake with eating, drinking, weeping, howling and bidding farewell to the dead person as well as telling stories and singing as entertainment for the departing spirit. The body was buried wrapped in a specially woven mat, the place of burial being some unfrequented spot. A post, with its top carved to a sharp spearhead for a man and rounded for a woman was erected over the grave. The spirits of the dead, and especially of female ancestors, were greatly feared and in being farewelled the dead were repeatedly exhorted to forget their relations left behind in this world.

Religion and magic played a large part in Ainu life and the range of beliefs and of practices concerned with the invoking or the propitiating of gods and spirits was extensive. It was an indication of the anxieties set up in early life and to a lesser extent of the actual dangers involved in adult activities. The number of gods and spirits, good and evil, was large. Natural phenomena such as the sun, moon, stars, fire, storms, land, sea, mountains, lakes and forests, all had their appropriate gods, while animals, birds and fish, and especially the bear, the owl, the eagle and the dolphin, were gods of particular realms. All living things in fact, as well as many inanimate things, had their gods or indwelling spirits or were gods, animism being combined with polytheism in Ainu beliefs. Batchelor claimed that belief in a Supreme Creator existed, but other students of the Ainu have denied this. Aioina, as first ancestor of the Ainu and culture-hero, was deified.

A highly characteristic form of fetish, the inao, was extensively made and used by the Ainu. It consisted of a whittled stick, usually of willow, with curled shavings hanging from it. Inao were made in great variety, used at many places and on all occasions involving the supernatural. - 213 The most important of all was the household inao set up by the fireplace and called “the divine keeper of the house.” Outside the Ainu house a group of inao, called collectively a nusa, was permanently set up in the ground. The man who failed to make and set up inao as required became something of an outcast from his own people and the worst name an Ainu could be called was “a person without inao.

The drinking of sake or rice wine also accompanied all Ainu religious and ceremonial occasions. The sharp end of the carved wooden, ruler-like moustache-lifter, a very characteristic Ainu object, was first dipped into the sake and a few drops were sprinkled as a libation to the gods of the occasion. Women did not make inao and were not permitted to pray or to propitiate the gods in any way. They could, however, be shamans if they displayed the characteristic Ainu forms of hysteria and a tendency to develop trance states. The shamans, who usually prophesied in the trance state, diagnosed and cured illness, detected crime and sorcery, controlled the weather and practiced divination. At times they used a fox skull to aid them. The shamans also directed a number of interesting group methods of exorcism and weather control.

The most important religious ceremonies of the Ainu were those concerned with the sacrificing and “sending away” of the bear and of other animals such as the hare and rabbit, of birds such as the eagle, hawk and owl, also of the sword-fish. The bear ceremony was the outstanding festival in Ainu life and it is interesting to note that it has a number of parallels elsewhere. Bear ceremonies appear to date back to Neanderthal times and are found in a number of northern cultures. The Ainu bear ceremony has been several times described and rather variously interpreted. It is the only important feature of Ainu religious life which survives today. The Ainu has good reason to respect the bear and strong motives for ceremonial connected with it. It was to them at once a most valuable and a most dangerous animal. It afforded food, clothing and medicine; but being large and fierce it could also do them and their dwellings great injury. It had, therefore, to be propitiated, honoured and invited to increase and return. Putting it to death and eating it had to be elaborately rationalized.

A bear cub was captured at the end of the winter and was first suckled by the Ainu women, then placed in a large - 214 cage and reared in the village. It was kept in captivity for varying lengths of time since the giving of a bear feast, though a very great honour, involved a considerable outlay for food and drink, since the whole function lasted several days. Guests were invited from other villages and everyone wore their best clothes and ornaments. The men washed for the occasion and had their foreheads and necks shaved and their beards trimmed. Ceremonial drinking preceded the addressing of the bear which was solemnly told that it was being sent to join its ancestors. Its pardon was asked for what was about to be done and it was further told that many gifts and offerings would go with it and it was finally asked to return so that it could be sacrificed again. The bear was then taken from its cage to the accompaniment of dancing and shouting and was paraded before those present and shot at with blunt arrows. It was then taken in front of the nusa and amid tremendous excitement was strangled by crushing its throat and neck between two long and heavy poles. It was then skinned and cut up in a carefully prescribed manner, its blood being drunk, certain parts eaten raw, and the rest cooked and distributed. The bear's head and skin were placed in the most honoured position in the house with offerings of food and drink in front of it and prayers were addressed to it. Immense numbers of inao were made and large quantities of sake drunk. The bear's skull was finally put on the nusa. Piles of bears' skulls amounting to hundreds were to be seen in some Ainu villages. If the bear was directly killed in hunting it was merely saluted and apologies made to it for its being killed. The ceremonies connected with the “sending away” of other animals were much simpler than in the case of the bear.

The Ainu possessed and handed down in oral tradition a rich and varied mythology and folk-lore, much of which has been placed on record. It comprised a rather vaguely organized cosmology and many tales accounting for the origin of natural phenomena and explaining animal behaviour. In addition there were epic poems, comprising thousands of lines and containing a special vocabulary, recounting the deeds of the first ancestor Aioina. Professional tale-tellers, described as hereditary experts, recounted the Aioina epics in all-night sessions. All the people were - 215 acquainted with a considerable range of popular stories and a variety of songs, including lullabies. There was much composing of impromptu songs to recount recent experiences and adventures. Excerpts from the epics were sung for the writer by an elderly woman, who also sang several popular songs, one being about catching a trout with the double meaning of catching a sweetheart. Versions of Ainu folklore varied somewhat from tribe to tribe. A narrow five-stringed type of guitar and a form of jew's-harp were the only musical instruments, and dances were few and rather graceless, the best known one, performed by the women, being a posture dance in imitation of the movements of cranes.

The Ainu occupying Yezo were gradually overcome by the Japanese during the period between the 12th and 17th centuries. In the 15th century Yezo was handed over to the Matsumae family as part of its feudal estate. The Lords of Matsumae appear to have treated the Ainu with great brutality and as wholly inferior creatures. It was actually rendered penal to communicate to the Ainu the art of writing or any civilized arts. A recent Ainu petition to the Japanese government, a translated copy of which was given to the writer and which will be referred to again later, gives what appears to be a true summary of this period: “Our Ainu ancestors had very much suffered by the three hundred years' tyranny of the feudal lords of Matsumae. The good farms and fishing bases had been usurped by them which our ancestors continually owned for very long period . . . The three hundred years' tyranny of the Shogunate ever has ruined our ancestors without giving any cultural privileges.” There are records of many Ainu revolts and rebellions, suppressed by massacres. Batchelor records that Ainu informants told him that in the days of the rule of the Matsumae, when meeting an official or member of the soldier class, the Ainu were compelled on pain of death to go down on hands and knees and place their heads upon the ground. On the fall of the Shogunate, and the beginning of the Meiji (Enlightened Government) era, Yezo was taken over by the Imperial Government and became Hokkaido. A period of rapid development followed in the eighteen-seventies due to Japanese fears of Russian aggression and expansion. Colonization and immigration - 216 were encouraged and a number of settlements for a colonial militia were established. Hokkaido was and to some extent still is a “frontier.” The earlier Japanese population was inevitably a rather mixed lot, including escaped and exconvicts, exiles and those who for various reasons, good and bad, left the mainland of Japan.

Figures available regarding Ainu numbers past and present are unsatisfactory and recent figures are complicated by the degree of mixture of the Ainu and the Japanese. It seems certain that Ainu numbers in early Matsumae times were much greater than during the Meiji era, several campaigns aiming at extermination having been undertaken by the Matsumae Lords. In 1872 the number of the Ainu people was given as 16,000, and in the eighteen-eighties and 'nineties it was said to be 17,000. But during this time the Japanese population of Hokkaido increased many times, being nearly a million at the end of the nineteenth century, and much intermixture took place. Intermixture and assimilation have been increased during this century, but the number of the Ainu is still given as 17,000, this being the figure supplied by the Hokkaido Ainu Association. Ainu numbers were also given in the form of 3,500 families. Shortly before his death in 1939 Batchelor suggested that there were only about 2,000 pure Ainu then living, but there are no exact figures regarding the number who are of mixed Ainu and Japanese descent and the number of full Ainu. A reliable informant, however, drew a line across a map showing the distribution of the Ainu population, dividing off one group of coastal villages where the number of pure Ainu is as low as one per cent, from the more scattered and remote villages where it may be more than thirty per cent. Over all it may perhaps be ten per cent. Here, as elsewhere, the genetic point of view is not so significant as the feeling of the people themselves. Whatever their genetic make-up and group feeling the Ainu constitute a very small minority, the present population of Hokkaido being more than three millions. The physical assimilation of the Ainu is far advanced and is still proceeding, as is their japanizing in many features of culture. But the significant fact remains, as will be indicated, that the Ainu still think and feel themselves to be a distinct group.

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After the Japanese began to migrate in numbers to Hokkaido intermarriage with Ainu women became frequent. The Japanese appreciated the industrious qualities of the Ainu women and the women were in turn willing to marry Japanese and be better fed and clothed and have less hard work to do. Intermarriage was hastened by the adoption of Japanese children into childless Ainu families. This became a regular practice. It was several times stated by those well acquainted with the Ainu that half-caste children were few and weak, that half-caste men tended markedly to baldness, and that half-caste families die out with the third or fourth generation. These statements seem unlikely except in so far as they describe what may be indirectly due to the unfavourable position of half-castes, who at one stage, at any rate, were rejected alike by Ainu and by Japanese.

Practically all accounts of the Ainu given by European observers since the eighteen-seventies, when travel in Hokkaido became possible, included impressions of their inability to adapt themselves and prophecies of their early extinction. Miss I. L. Bird, a sympathetic observer writing in 1878, declared the Ainu to be “completely irreclaimable,” adding that “contact with civilization, where it exists, only debases them.” Ten years later Basil Hall Chamberlain said that the Ainu people was “almost at its last gasp.” In 1890 Romyn Hitchcock of the Smithsonian Institution declared them to be “doomed to extinction,” and judged them to be “incapable of advancement.” After centuries of contact with the Japanese, he said, “they have learned no arts, adopted no improvements.” In 1893 A. H. Savage Landor stated that the Ainu had no wish to be taught the use of anything new and unfamiliar and that their backwardness in acquiring Japanese culture was due to incapacity. They would, he said, “soon be extinct.” A year later John Batchelor who had worked among the Ainu since 1880, in an address (in Japanese) to the Sapporo Temperance Club, which he founded, said: “The last remnant of this race of men is at your very door. The people are poor, degraded and helpless. They are being driven to the wall by sake and immigrants and they cannot last much longer.” Visitors to Hokkaido in this century have told the same story and in Ainu Life and Legends (1941), an official Japanese publication, Kyosuke Kindaiti - 218 of Tokyo Imperial University writes: “In half a century hence people will say in the Hokkaido and Karrafuto, as they do now in north-eastern Japan, ‘This district is said to have once been inhabited by the Ainu race’.” All such judgment and prophecies are interesting, but many instances from various parts of the world show them to be seldom valid. The Ainu version of this same period, as stated in the petition already mentioned, is brief and pointed. “Down from the Meiji era large quantity of Japanese began to flow in, and as our primitive ancestors, not being cultured and educated, they had to guard themselves against the cunning and avaricious Japanese and could not help being thrown into the most miserable way of life. It is indeed sad fact.”

Japanese colonization brought about profound changes in the mode of life of the Ainu, for it meant the loss of the wilderness. Batchelor records that he always found it necessary to allow the Ainu working in his household to go off to the mountains or to go fishing from time to time in order to keep them happy. The Ainu were openly hostile to the settlers and did all that they could to retard colonization, but gradually their life of hunting and fishing became more and more restricted. The best of the fishing stations were taken over by the Japanese and the Ainu, described (in 1873) as “entirely under subjection to the Japanese,” were made to work for Japanese groups in return for food and clothing. In the same settlements on the coasts Ainu and Japanese villages were completely separate, the Japanese having no more connection with the Ainu “than is necessary between masters and slaves,” to quote one observer. Japanese law was publicly read out to the Ainu on a certain day in each year and their hunting, they found, was now subject to Japanese game laws. They were forbidden to use poisoned arrows or arrow traps or pitfalls, and they were forbidden to kill deer. They were compelled to pay taxes. Village chiefs were chosen and appointed by the Japanese. Towards the end of the century Ainu women were forbidden to tattoo. Several nineteenth century visitors describe the Ainu as greatly fearing Japanese officials and their anger. Some groups of Ainu were forcibly moved from place to place by the Japanese authorities, from island to island in the Kuriles for example, and from Sakhalien to Hokkaido. Usually the new environment was very different from the old and the people died out as a result.

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Ainu chief in ceremonial dress.
Ainu woman, showing tattooing.
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Ainu village earlier in present century.
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During the Meiji reign certain protective measures were taken by the Japanese government, but these, according to Ainu informants, were not properly administered by Japanese officials who abused their power. One informant said that: “Emperor was kind to Ainu, but officials were not good to Ainu.” The Ainu petition already quoted states: “Officials have had no instructing spirit and sympathy towards Ainu.” As administered, the protection laws greatly heightened the Ainu feeling of inferiority. To come under the laws the Ainu had to live in specially located villages and here they felt themselves to be segregated and without social status. Some educational facilities and medical attention were provided, but both were inadequate. The Japanese authorities intended that the Ainu should become farmers and efforts were made to induce them to do so. Some instruction in farming was given and implements were provided. These efforts were not very successful and one is reminded of similar direct efforts elsewhere to make rapid changes in the basic ways of life of a people. The Ainu were still feeling acutely the loss of the wilderness and the attitude of the Japanese officials was one of complete superiority. What the Ainu did take to with some enthusiasm were horses and horse-breeding. Some young Ainu men were sent to Tokyo during the Meiji reign. They were educated and trained for various vocations, but it is said that on their return to Hokkaido they “lapsed into savagery.” Again the story is a familiar one. A wide cultural gap cannot be rapidly and directly bridged.

Christian missionaries were well received by the Ainu. They responded particularly to the understanding and tolerant attitude of John Batchelor, and his influence on them was immense, though few became Christian converts. The missionaries started the first school and Batchelor maintained in Sapporo a rest house where Ainu could stay for a period if sick or incapacitated. Later, when his work for the Ainu had received some recognition from the Japanese government, Batchelor was able to give accommodation and education to Ainu youths.

Japanese policy in regard to the land formerly owned, occupied and hunted over by the Ainu underwent several changes. At first all land was taken over by the Imperial government as a measure of protection of Ainu interests - 220 and it was managed by Japanese officials. Later this law was reversed, and in spite of new protective measures designed to prevent the alienation and sale of land, Japanese colonists were able to secure the best of it. Here, as elsewhere, change and reversals in land policy and a series of protective laws had the same result, namely the loss of land by the aboriginal inhabitants. The condition of the Ainu people steadily deteriorated as the colonization of Hokkaido proceeded. Early observers had described them as a healthy race but diseases introduced by the Japanese changed this. Small-pox devastated whole villages, so that on its appearance a village was at once deserted and the people scattered to the hills. Venereal diseases were introduced and spread unchecked and infant mortality increased. As their traditional ways of life departed the Ainu became more and more depressed and all late nineteenth century observers comment on their melancholy appearance and miserable conditions of living. They comment too on their broken-spirited and subdued personalities and contrast this condition with their former reputation when in conflict with the Japanese. The Ainu remained brave and reckless in hunting, but their subduing by the Japanese had been thorough and their treatment was that of complete inferiors.

In this situation the Ainu found a mode of escape, namely through the use of alcohol. By this means the effects of cultural loss and of personal and social frustration were in a manner relieved. There is evidence to show that before the introduction of rice and millet and before the use of sake or rice wine the Ainu made an alcoholic drink from a root, but its use does not appear to have been extensive. They learnt to make alcoholic drinks from the introduced grains but for the most part it was Japanese sake which was consumed, and its use appears to have been actually encouraged by the Japanese. The Ainu were paid for their labour partly in sake and one of their names for it, “official milk,” is significant. Japanese traders were all vendors of sake and used it in buying skins from the Ainu. Eventually it was desired above all else. Finding a form of release and substitute satisfaction in this way the Ainu developed an elaborate system of rationalizations regarding the use of alcohol, and drinking became a central feature in all religious ceremonies and on all occasions of social import- - 221 ance. It was given a religious sanction and there is evidence that it replaced older methods of propitiating the gods. Much ceremonial concerned with drinking itself was developed. As mentioned, the sharp tip of the moustachelifter was first dipped in the sake and a few drops shaken off as a small libation to the gods. The moustache-lifter was then used in drinking. In general, women were not permitted to share in a drinking festival to any extent. Sake was for gods and men, but women would drink if permitted. If the supply of sake was sufficient, drinking was continued until all the men were helplessly drunk. Remonstrated with for their excessive use of alcohol the Ainu replied: “We must drink to the gods or we shall die.” The few abstainers were avoided since it was feared that the gods would be angry with them. In 1892 Batchelor stated that ninety per cent of the Ainu men were drunkards and Ainu women wherever they had the chance. The statement seems extraordinary but many accounts confirm the extent of alcoholism. Resort to alcohol is found in other cases of people situated in circumstances similar to those of the Ainu. It is always symptomatic of severe maladjustments but it may be doubted whether in any other recorded case its general use has been so extensive. The permissive attitude of the Japanese played an important part in this instance. The personal and social disorganization which caused resort to alcohol was itself heightened by the over-use which took place and the loss of lands and possessions was hastened.

The loss of Ainu culture and the adoption of that of the Japanese has proceeded steadily during this century. More and more Japanese articles replaced those of the Ainu, even such a characteristic object as the moustache-lifter, when still made, being handed over to Japanese neighbours to be lacquered. Increase in the Japanese population has brought about more numerous contacts between the two peoples, particularly in the coastal regions. Here there have ceased to be separate Ainu and Japanese villages. Ainu materials and types of clothing have given place to Japanese garments, save on a few ceremonial occasions. The bear festival, so central in Ainu culture, has, however, continued, its main features being still well preserved, though the writer was informed that those taking part no longer understand the words they use in the songs connected with - 222 the ceremony. The use of the Ainu language has been declining steadily during this century. Some ten years ago Batchelor remarked to a visitor that it was known only to a minority and that these “only speak their mother tongue when they are in a temper.” At present only old people and a few students know the Ainu language and Japanese is known to all and almost exclusively used. For this situation the elementary schooling provided by the Japanese authorities for a proportion of Ainu children is partly responsible. There appears to be no possibility of a linguistic revival. The Japanese for a time turned the Ainu into a tourist industry and in several Ainu villages arrangements were until recently made for sight-seeing tourists to be received by the local Ainu chief, several chiefs having preserved their Ainu houses in which to entertain visitors and sell souvenirs. This practice is now almost at an end, but it was for a time thoroughly organized. In the city of Sapporo the writer bought a number of stone adzes and on showing them to an educated Ainu he immediately remarked: “The cunning Japanese have made those.” (“Cunning Japanese” is the regular Ainu phrase.)

In recent years many Ainu young people have deliberately japanized themselves. They have felt humiliated by the protection laws, have lived outside the villages coming under these laws and have striven to keep up with the Japanese. It is ironical to note that the official Japanese attitude and policy towards the Ainu changed dramatically when the Anti-Comintern pact with Nazi Germany was arranged at the end of 1936. Nazi anthropologists, to help cement the pact and also to meet the situation of there being two master races, pointed out that Aryans, meaning in this case the Ainu, were among the progenitors of the Japanese. This was officially accepted in Japan and inequalities and restrictions were hurriedly removed and plans made for saving the Ainu from extinction. It was another two years, however, before anything practical was done and then there was some extension of educational facilities, the restoration of land in certain cases and the opening up of all occupations to Ainu. What made this sudden change especially ironical was the fact that when the theory that the Ainu were of proto-Aryan stock was first put forward in Japan by Neil Gordon Munro it was suppressed, and much of Munro's material was confiscated by the police.

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At the present time the general condition and standard of living of the Ainu people are for the great majority below those of the Japanese peasant farmer or fisherman. Their own estimate is that twenty per cent of the Ainu population are living at the by no means high Japanese standard. The rest are at various stages below it. In the larger villages the Ainu are a small minority and live in Japanese-style houses of poor type. Living conditions for most of the Ainu are thoroughly wretched, their small thatched huts with earth floors giving poor protection against the cold of the Hokkaido winter. By occupation the men of about one-third of the Ainu households are peasant farmers or farm labourers. Holdings are for the most part small and in most cases the land is poor. When land has been allocated or restored to the Ainu it has usually been of poor quality, sometimes uncultivable and in any case insufficient in amount. Many who now wish to be farmers have no land or other resources and are “daymen” to Japanese farmers. About two thousand Ainu are fishermen or work for Japanese fishing companies. A few have obtained work on the railways; there is a very small number of Ainu school teachers; many are casual and seasonal workers.

The Japanese government called up all Ainu young men for military service and many were killed in China and in the Pacific war. Commenting on this a young part-Ainu said: “This war was not our wishes, but to our great regrets. The Japanese attitude is to use us when necessary; at other times we are nothing.” Health conditions among the present Ainu population are thoroughly bad and increased medical services are urgently needed. Tuberculosis and venereal diseases are widespread; as is trachoma, and the infant mortality rate is very high. Bad housing, poor diet and inadequate clothing contribute to the diseased state of the Ainu. Ainu children seen in the schools were poorly clad, dirty and in many cases suffering from skin diseases.

Elementary education has not yet reached all Ainu children, though most have received some schooling. Formerly there were special schools for Ainu children, an arrangement to which the Ainu objected since it implied discrimination and inferiority. These schools were abolished during the war as a measure of economy and Ainu children - 224 may now attend Japanese elementary schools. Asked how part-Ainu children were distinguished from Japanese a school principal gave long eye-lashes as the first of a series of distinguishing characteristics. About a dozen Ainu have managed to secure high school education and a smaller number are University graduates, these usually having received assistance from a Japanese benefactor. The main desire expressed by Ainu with whom the condition and future of their people were discussed was not so much for immediate economic betterment as for more education which they saw as the means to free them from their inferior status. One elderly tattooed Ainu woman, a very intelligent informant said, “Ainu cannot afford to get education. This is why the Ainu seems inferior to the Japanese. But if Ainu were given the same opportunity and situation as Japanese, then the Ainu people are not inferior to them.”

A development of great interest which has taken place among the Ainu since the Allied Occupation of Japan and which has been rendered possible by it was the formation early in 1946 of the Hokkaido Ainu Association. This Association comes from the people themselves and replaces a former Japanese sponsored organization which existed to make the Ainu understand official policy. A translation of the constitution of the new Association was given to the writer and its purpose is stated to be: “To plan elevation, development, welfare and regeneration of Ainu.” Among detailed objectives are: “To intensify education; improvement of agriculture”; and “opening up of fishery.” The writer met some of the directors of the Association and was impressed by their earnestness and sense of purpose. They are mainly young men, some of whom had come under Batchelor's influence. The Association immediately became active and drew up and presented to the Japanese government the “Petition for Promotion and Relief of Ainu Race” which has already been quoted. The petition, which is a document of great interest, briefly recounts the treatment of the Ainu by the Japanese, states their present condition and asks for more education, more land and for medical services. “We not only expect the Government to help us,” it states, “but we ourselves have begun to awake to do our best to solve the impending problem, having collected all strength of the Ainu race. The result, happy to say, is to - 225 have organized an Association for the improvement and regeneration of the Ainu race.” The petition concludes: “When this petition is granted our Association honestly promises to instruct the Ainu race to build up the ideal district, by food production to the nation and society. And also we shall try to do our best to uplift them to the standard of the Japanese in salvation of most miserable Ainu race . . . We all Ainu have had such a vision long time to be realized. We are planning to educate, rebuild the desolate huts, help the fishery and set up medical centres.”

When the writer learned of its formation, the Ainu Association and its objectives immediately suggested a parallel with the Young Maori Party and its work in New Zealand in the latter years of last century and on into this century. The parallel though interesting is not, however, close, though one may note Christian influence in each case. Ainu culture has been much more fully lost than was Maori culture. The language is almost gone and assimilation has proceeded much further than it had with the Maori people at the end of last century or than it has now. It is significant also to note that no attempt is being made by the Ainu Association to revive or maintain features of Ainu culture. Emphasis falls on much-needed provision for education, health and the economic welfare of the people. Treated for so long as inferiors they wish to restore self-respect by raising themselves to the level of the Japanese around them. Progressive assimilation to Japanese culture is assumed. The really surprising thing is that after centuries of contact with their Japanese conquerors and the almost complete loss of their culture (with the usual damaging and deteriorating effects), and as a numerically tiny minority, the Ainu should, immediately the opportunity occurs, organize a movement to promote the welfare of what is left of their race. It is impressive evidence of the strength and persistence of racial and group feeling and of the strength of the motives that lie behind all nativistic movements. The Ainu situation is still in the main a racial and caste situation. As assimilation proceeds it will, unless their standard of life is quickly raised, in all probability take on more and more the features of a class situation. The writer found the Ainu intensely interested to hear of racial minorities and their situation elsewhere and grateful for sympathetic interest - 226 shown in them and their Association. Unfortunately, no special interest in the Ainu and their welfare appeared to be taken by the American occupying authorities.

Just sixty years ago Basil Hall Chamberlain who as mentioned interested himself in Ainu folk-lore, writing of the Ainu as he had seen them, said: “By some European travellers the japanization of the present generation, and the probable speedy extinction of the race, are mourned over. The present writer cannot share these regrets. The Ainus had better opportunities than fell to the lot of many other races. They were sturdier physically than their Japanese neighbours. From those neighbours they might have learnt the arts of civilization . . . But so little have they profited by the opportunities offered to them during the last thousand or two thousand years, that there is no longer room for them in the world . . . The impression left on the mind after a sojourn among the Ainus is that of profound melancholy. The existence of this race has been as aimless, as fruitless, as is the perpetual dashing of the breakers on the shore of Horobetsu. It leaves behind nothing save a few names.” This rather harsh judgment was made before the profound effects upon a people of the disturbance and loss of their culture (especially when the gap between their culture and the invading one is wide), were understood as they are now. The Ainu have persisted longer than Chamberlain and others predicted and at this late day, having for the first time secured the opportunity of self-expression, are making a concerted effort to promote their own welfare.

  • BATCHELOR, JOHN—The Ainu and their Folk-lore. London. 1901.
  • BIRD, ISABELLA L.—Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. London. 1905.
  • CHAMBERLAIN, BASIL HALL—The Language, Mythology, and Geographical Nomenclature of Japan Viewed in the Light of Ainu Studies. Tokyo. 1887.
  • HITCHCOCK, ROMYN—The Ainos of Yezo, Japan. Smithsonian Report. Washington. 1891.
  • KINDAITI, KYOSUKE—Ainu Life and Legends. Tokyo. 1941.
  • PILSUDSKI, BRONISLAW—Materials for the Study of the Ainu Language and Folklore. Cracow. 1912.