The Ainu (アイヌ) are a people indigenous to the lands of northern Japan. They have a cultural background somewhat different from that of the Yamato Japanese who have been inhabiting most of the rest of Japan. The Ainu populated Hokkaido, parts of Honshu, the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin, but today they live mostly in Hokkaido.

The Ainu are believed to be descendants of Mongoloid migrants who entered the Japanese islands before the Jomon Period. They were later gradually displaced and assimilated when the Yamato Japanese expanded their territory northwards over the past 1500 years.

In the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the Ainu received the status of "former aboriginals", but suffered under official discrimination for some time. In 1997, a new law was passed for the provision of funds for the research and promotion of Ainu culture, and in 2019 the Ainu were formally recognized as indigenous people.

Today, several museums in Hokkaido aim to preserve the Ainu heritage and inform visitors about their history, culture and traditional 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

  • Upopoy - National Ainu Museum
  • Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Museum
  • Ainu Kotan
  • Ainu Folklore Museum
  • Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples