Source: Gaijin Pot
With Japan being such a homogenous country, many visitors don’t realize outlying islands Okinawa and Hokkaido have their own indigenous ethnology. The Ainu, indigenous hunter-gatherers of Hokkaido, in particular, have been fighting to maintain their cultural identity for ages.
When Japan colonized the mountainous, frozen island off the mainland’s northern shores in 1869, the Ainu were forced to assimilate. Like most colonized civilizations, they have been met with a lack of acknowledgment and disrespect. They weren’t even recognized as Japan’s original inhabitants until April of 2019 when a bill was passed banning discrimination against them.
Japan has been criticized for failing to apologize for the mistreatment of the Ainu. When Japanese authorities uphold their unapologetic stance by claiming “an apology would be uncomfortable for many Japanese,” the criticism is more than warranted.
Fortunately, efforts to maintain the culture by the local people still prevail. Visitors to Hokkaido can learn more about the Ainu by exploring the Kamikawa Region where their traditions and way of life still thrive.
Kamikawa is Ainu country
Surrounded by the Daisetsuzan Mountains in the heart of Hokkaido, lies the Kamikawa Region, where many Ainu descendants still live. The area and culture itself are celebrated as “Japan Heritage.” Flowing rivers, quiet streets, and towns in Kamikawa are still graced with Ainu names.