Ainu Culture and the Ainu People

  • Ainu Culture and the Ainu People

Who are the Ainu?

As indigenous people of Hokkaido, we called ourselves the Ainu. " 'Ainu' means 'human'." Our ancestors made their livings skilfully hunting wild animals in deep forests, catching fish in swift streams, and gathering what the lands provided. The Ainu cultivated epic sagas to convey history, legends, and ways of life through oral tradition, and created a rich traditional culture including imaginative music, song, and dance, while establishing profound beliefs which extended throughout the entire spiritual world.

Who are the Ainu?

Ainu Spirituality

Our ancestors believed that much of the natural world is a manifestation of the kamuy (gods or spirits), and that these gods visit our world, taking on various forms. Our ancestors' nature-dependent lifestyle gave rise to a profound reverence to the natural world, which manifested as respect for the kamuy. All things, such as mountains, valleys, seas, fire, wind, animals, plants, tools, and even clothing, were kamuy taking on another form as they temporarily visited Ainu mosir (the peaceful land of Ainu). This belief placed utmost importance upon harmonious coexistence with nature. Remarkable craft making techniques, legends born of rich oral tradition, unique art, and a complex religious outlook created intimate bonds with the great natural environment which envelops us. Respect and gratitude are the essence of Ainu spiritual beliefs.

Ainu Spirituality

Traditional Arts

Traditional Arts

Song and dance, where joy and sadness both are expressed through the body, are indispensable parts of Ainu life. People dance and sing in all manner of places, whether for ceremonies, when family and friends gather, or just during their work.

Ainu Clothing and Patterns

Ainu clothing can be divided into daily wear for housework or labor, and that worn only on special occasions such as festivals or religious ceremonies. The special clothing is often decorated with unique patterns, made through cutouts and embroidery, such as "moreu" (spirals) and "Aiushi (Thorn) Pattern". The patterns are often different across regions, and are passed on from mother to daughter. These patterns symbolize warding off evil spirits.

Ainu Clothing and Patterns

The Ainu Language

The Ainu language is our own unique language. One way to experience our language is through the names of places throughout Hokkaido. For example, one theory is that the name of this place, Akan, is derived from the Ainu words 'rakan pet', which means 'river where the dace spawn'. The Ainu language, which did not require writing, relied upon 'oral literature' to convey information such as the magnificence of nature, the wisdom needed to live amidst nature, and the rules of Ainu society. Through episodes incorporated into stories and passed down orally over many long years, the Ainu have inherited culture, philosophy, and tradition from their ancestors.

The Ainu Language