A glimpse of Ainu culture

Ainu are a northern hunting and fishing people, part of the Siberian "Okhotsk" culture. They used to populate not only Hokkaido and Sakhalin but also the northern part of the main island of Honshu. From the 15th century on the Ainu fought numerous battles against the "wa-jin", the ethnic Japanese, but as the wa-jin expanded their political influence northward the Ainu were forced to either assimilate or retreat to the northernmost islands.

Through the help of Yoshida-sensei of the Sapporo School of the Arts I was fortunate to be able to meet a couple of Ainu activists who are working to preserve their language and culture. Shogawa-san persuaded me to try on one of their stunning robes. Every pattern has a specific, usually protective function.



The Historical Museum of Hokkaido has an exhibit of a traditional style Ainu house: