Japan's indigenous people eye political power
News On Japan via AFP -- Aug 15
Shiro Kayano was once just like the millions of salarymen who populate Japan's neon-lit cities. He wore a suit and tie, bought the latest technology and earned a pay cheque in Tokyo's advertising sector.
But a chance visit to a Canadian indigenous household two decades ago set the now 54-year-old on a different path: seeking political power for the Ainu people, a tiny ethnic minority in the nation of 127 million.
Kayano's ambitious bid to win 10 out of 242 seats in the upper house for the newly created Ainu Party in next year's national elections -- as well as vast land claims for his people -- is the latest move aimed at boosting recognition for what was once a hunter-gatherer society in Japan's northernmost Hokkaido.
Fairer-skinned and more hirsute than most Japanese, the Ainu traditionally observed an animist faith with a belief that God exists in every creation -- trees, hills, lakes, rivers and animals, particularly bears.
Ainu men kept full beards while women adorned themselves with facial tattoos which they acquired before they reached the age of marriage. Ainu clothes were robes spun from tree bark and decorated with geometric designs.
But like many indigenous groups around the world, most of Japan's 24,000 Ainu have lost touch with their traditional lifestyle after decades of forced assimilation policies that officially banned their language and culture, leaving them a disadvantaged minority in modern Japan.
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