Ainu House at the Shiraoi Ainu Museum

The Ainu are a people indigenous to the lands of northern Japan. They have a cultural and racial background somewhat different from that of the ethnic Japanese. The Ainu populated Hokkaido, parts of Honshu, the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin, but today they live mostly in Hokkaido.

According to one of several theories, the Ainu are descendants of Mongoloid migrants who entered the Japanese islands before the Jomon period. They were later gradually displaced and assimilated when the ethnic Japanese expanded their territory northwards over the past 1500 years.

An Ainu performance at the Shiraoi Ainu Museum

In the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the Ainu received the status of "former aboriginals", but suffered under official discrimination for some years. In 1997, a new law was passed for the provision of funds for the research and promotion of Ainu culture.

Today, several museums in Hokkaido aim to preserve the Ainu heritage and inform visitors about their history, culture and way of living. Some of these museums stage cultural shows that demonstrate traditional Ainu dance, music and dresses. Furthermore, Ainu handicrafts are sold at many souvenir shops across Hokkaido.

Ainu-related attractions

Near Noboribetsu
Shiraoi Ainu Museum (Porotokotan) (more information)
The Shiraoi Ainu Museum is one of the country's best museums about the Ainu. This open air museum recreates a traditional village of thatched roof houses along the shore of Lake Poroto. Each of the houses demonstrates different aspects of the Ainu culture and lifestyle. Hourly Ainu cultural performances include traditional folk dances, songs and mouth harp demonstrations.

Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Museum
The Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Museum in Asahikawa exhibits a wide range of traditional Ainu tools and goods, as well as a hut made out of bamboo grass. The museum was founded by the local Ainu leader Kawamura Kaneto (1893-1977), an outstanding surveyor in railway construction, who also worked on educating people about Ainu culture.

Lake Akan
Ainu Kotan (more information)
Ainu Kotan is a touristy Ainu-themed shopping street in the town next to Lake Akan. Ainu Kotan offers multiple souvenir shops specialized in Ainu handicrafts. At the end of the street stands a small museum displaying Ainu crafts, clothes and daily life utensils. Traditional Ainu performances are periodically held in a hall next door.

Lake Kussharo
Ainu Folklore Museum (more information)
The Ainu Folklore Museum is a small museum about the Ainu along the shore of Lake Kussharo. The museum has interesting displays and artifacts that highlight various aspects of Ainu life, language and culture.

Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples (more information)
The Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples in Abashiri introduces the culture and traditional everyday life of the peoples inhabiting the northern, subarctic regions of the globe, including the Ainu, the First Nations people of northern Canada, the Inuit, the Sami and the Siberian peoples. The beautifully done museum illustrates the differences and similarities between the respective peoples through various exhibits.

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Page last updated: November 26, 2013