Aniur. Aboriginal tribes living in Japan .


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  • 1 History
  • 2 Language
  • 3 Housing
  • 4 Clothing
  • 5 Hunting, fishing and household utensils
  • 6 Beliefs
  • 7 Rituals
    • 1 Rituals related to hunting, fishing, cereals and others
    • 2 Dances
  • 8 Sources


Approximately 30,000 years ago the continental lands of present-day Russia stretched along what is now known as Hokkaido through the Soya Strait [ii], while the central part of present-day Japan was joined to the Korean peninsula by the Strait from Tsuhima [iii], while natural bridges existed between Hokkaido and Honshu, in the north, and Kyushu and the Ryukyu (Okinawa) in the south.

Later, about 10,000 BC, the seas occupied the extensions that we know today. Thus, we have a period of time ranging from -30,000 to -10,000 to populate in some way the largest island in Japan today. According to researchers, approximately 20,000 years ago man arrived in what we call Hokkaido. And he populated it. Between -10,000 and -300 the Jömon culture , that is, rope pottery, developed throughout Japan [iv]. In the lands occupied by the Ainu, elements belonging to that time have been found.

The Ainu are a North Asian Caucasus people who came to the islands at a very early time, spreading through Hokkaido and northeast Japan, where many Ainu voices still exist. Some Ainu words bear a strong resemblance to their Japanese analogues. Kamui, in Ainu, sounds almost the same as the Japanese word for gods, kami. Certain archaeologists have argued that the Late Jõmon in northeastern Japan was a period of Ainu culture; however, the role of Ainu culture during the Middle and Late periods is not entirely clear.

Over the successive centuries, the Ainu, or Ezo or Emishi, as they were also called, were pushed further and further north by the ethnically distinct and expansive tribes of Honshu. Although their culture has survived to this day, the Ainu have been under great pressure from the flood of immigrants from Honshu over the past century [5th], and now their assimilation process is accelerating. The Ainu bear and salmon festivals continue to be celebrated in Hokkaido and there are hardly any pure exponents of this breed left ”

It is, therefore, a pre-Japanese culture, originally spreading from Hokkaido , the extreme north of Honshu, Kamchatka, the islands. burins , southern Sakhalin and, earlier still, NE China, where they were called tung.

Amiram Gonen [vii] proposes that it is a proto-Caucasian group of Neolithic culture that came to occupy all of Japan. A culture that is related to others in the Arctic Circle, such as the Inuit or the Saami, as it appears on the map of the Ainu museum in Shiraoi, Porotokotan.

Although their origin is uncertain, and anthropologists still do not know where to classify them (if among the Mongoloids, the Austral or the European, although the latter does not have many followers), UNESCO treats them as Caucasians, Proto-Asians and, even, a specific type, apart from those already listed. Today the most widely used hypothesis speaks of a proto-Mongoloid group, from which the Mughals emerged, among other sub-groups [viii].

It is assumed that about 20,000 years ago the peoples of South Asia were moving eastward, conquering the Japanese archipelago. However, until the end of the eighteenth century they barely maintained contact with the Japanese [ix], and until the nineteenth century they did not engage in agriculture, nor do they work with metals, objects that they obtain through trade, although they are expert carvers, famous for the hilts of their swords.

The Ainu, in fact, are neither Japanese nor Russian, and their differences are shown even in body characteristics, such as the most abundant body hair, beard and mustache, brown eyes, no epicanthic fold (skin of the upper eyelid), the prominent nose, and the remarkable length of the trunk in relation to the legs. Gonen also mentions wavy hair and lighter skin.

In their origins they were hunters, fishermen and gatherers. They hunted bears, deer, seals, and whales with bows and arrows. The bear [x] was very feared, and was hunted with poisoned arrows tied with a rope. In the Porotokotan museum you can see various hunting scenes, as well as their most precious utensils.

During the feudal era (AD 659) several outposts from Japan [xi] penetrated the island. At that time they considered it an inhospitable land of Ainus, deserters, traitors and criminals [xii]. By the 9th century the Japanese settled in Ezo (present-day Hokkaido).

In 1457 the Ainu lost the battle of Koshamain [xiii] (in Honshu) to the Japanese; in 1669 they lost again at Syaksyain, and in 1789 at Kunasiri-Menasi. From there – according to UNESCO – they entered a process of assimilation and acculturation by Japan. Amiram Gonen delays the assimilation process to 1868. We have to take into account the non-warlike character of the Aínu, as well as that the swords were obtained not by working metal, but by trade, so they were not of the best quality.

1860It is a disastrous date for the native culture, since it is the year in which the “road to the North Sea” (Hokkaido) opens, and the conquest of the island begins, as in the United States the from the west, confiscating the lands and prohibiting hunting and fishing [xiv] from its primitive settlers. The situation of the Ainus was degrading to the point of denying their own culture, almost reaching their extinction. A year earlier, in 1859, Hakodate became one of the few ports open to foreign trade [xv], and in 1868 the Meiji restoration began in Japan with the consequent loss of traditional values ​​(motif of the film The Last Samurai) . Ainu women were forbidden to get tattoos and men to wear earrings, and the office that favored the settlement of Japanese on the island was opened [xvi],

In 1899 , the Hokkaido Aboriginal Protection Act was passed, listing the anatomical differences with the Japanese. The Japanese demographic boom on the island occurred at the end of the Second World War, when the imperial armies of Manchuria [xvii] left the imperial armies, and settled in new Ainu territories.

In 1972 the Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo, forcing the government to ease pressure on the Ainu [xviii].

From the 80s of the 20th century, interest in culture began, both among the natives and among the Japanese themselves, this influenced the movements of recovery of culture, and led to the revitalization of the language in the decade of the 90, and in the new law of aid to the Ainu of 1998 [xix].

Today they have their own representation in the Japanese Parliament. Although, as Amiram Gonen denounces, marginalization and unemployment is very high, constituting one of the poorest groups in Japan.


The term “aino” or “ainu” refers – according to UNESCO – to the human, as opposed to “kamui”, the divine. The Japanese called them ezo or yezo, while among themselves they consider themselves utari (comrades) [xx].

Charles Dunn [xxi] states that the Ainu are in danger of extinction. However, in recent years an attempt has been made to collect the uses, customs, language and, ultimately, the culture of a people as enigmatic as this one.

Their language [xxii] – UNESCO highlights – is very different from Japanese and Korean, and is currently in the process of recovery. Between the 19th and 20th centuries, at least two dialects (in Sakhalin and Hokkaido) were studied. Gonen also tells us about various dialects (without specifying how many or which ones), which would not be related to any other known language. It is not a written language, but transmitted by oral tradition, although it has been transcribed into Japanese.

The epic poem par excellence is the yukar [xxiii], a set of heroic sagas.

living place

When they felt observed, the Ainu of Shiraoi felt annoyed and decided that to satisfy everyone, that is, the indigenous population and tourists and researchers, they would recreate an Aínu town next to Lake Porotokotan, a place where today, In addition, the Ainu museum is located.

Before entering the parking area, we find a huge pole carved as a totem pole. Its body is made up of a series of intertwined bears, at its top there is an owl or an owl, motifs that are constantly repeated in the carved figures that are sold at the entrance.

After passing the gate, we are struck by the great monument dedicated to the Ainu man, and the fact that there is no corresponding one for women, since we know that women can, like men, act as shaman or spiritual guide. Such equality is reflected in smaller figures carved in wood, and is also evident in the solidarity shown by the merchants, an index of community work.

At the foot of the statue is a smooth wood hanging under the ceiling and with a small stick at its side. Then we go into the town, made up of four houses and some granaries. The houses (kotan) are made of wood, with the openings between the logs filled with straw and leaves. The rooms are oriented to the East, where the “window of the gods” opens; towards the west the door of the aino opens. In the center of the cabin is the fire, and above it, on the roof, a hole is opened for the smoke to escape [xxiv].

Outside the houses, and on the lake we can see some large canoes made by hollowing out a single log. Fishing has traditionally been one of the ways of life of the Ainu and, in fact, their villages are found by the sea or rivers and lakes. There are no palisades or defense walls, not only because it is a recreation, but because its population has not really felt threatened since its Japanese conquest and colonization.

Inside the houses we can verify the existence of a relatively small entrance, which has perfectly been able to serve as a refuge for children on unpleasant days, in the way that exists today in Japanese houses, and, further inside, a huge room in which We will find the pots stacked in one corner, the central fire, the fish put to dry, and some women weaving. On the walls we will also find, hanging, some clothes. Today the floor is made of wood or tatami mats.

Outside, in different cages are the bears and dogs. The bear is truly revered among the Ainu, a characteristic they share with other circumpolar cultures. In fact, once he is dead, he is offered a ritual that will not end with the placement of his skull on stakes, but will later be offered presents.

In the home there is always a branch with three arms, on which a kind of scallop is placed, and another branch that has been specially treated, tearing the bark and through which, they believe, the spirits will descend. To both, next to the fire of the hearth, sake, or fish, or any other food will be offered before oneself.

Also outside the cabin we can see several sticks nailed vertically and some wooden rings, a sample of one of their games. The Ainu are animists or, in their case, Shintoists so they lack temples. Their beliefs, rather and as we will see below, are centered on respect for nature and animals, and the veneration of ancestors. But, although they do not have religious centers, they do show their respect for the dead, before whose graves they nailed a post that usually differentiates the gender. The inau (carved wooden fetishes) were placed in rows outside the houses.


The clothes are very simple. They consist of a large chasuble with large and wide sleeves that are tied with a belt. Its decoration is geometric. Women are usually touched with a headscarf, and men with a kind of straw brace tied on the forehead and crowned with an image that, from what we have been able to verify in museums, is usually associated with the cult of the bear.

In the case of man, in the girdle or belt he carries the sword or the knife. We have found it very interesting to observe the way in which these clothes are exhibited in museums, in vertically glazed drawers, which allows a quick view of each one of them without having to occupy an excessive space.

In the Nibutani museum we had the opportunity to see several of the men’s headdresses referred to above, as well as the typical costumes boxed in or on display and, even, a few meters from the center, try on and buy some clothes.

Some scholars highlight garments made from animal skins, including salmon and other fish. For our part, we were struck by the creation of truly flexible bags made from tree bark. Both sexes usually use earrings and necklaces as ornaments.

Hunting, fishing and household utensils

We have already seen that the Ainu way of life traditionally centered – even the different prohibitions – on hunting and fishing, in the case of men, and cooking and caring for their offspring if they were women.

Among the weapons used for hunting, the museums that we have visited include knives, ribbons, spears and bows and arrows (poisoned), although they also had crossbows and a large number of traps that allowed them to hunt birds, foxes and even bears. Sometimes, if they found a living cub [xxv], they would take them to the village and take care of them for a time, to the point of giving them the Ainu women to suckle their own milk. However, after this, they led him into a death trap in which the young bear cub would put his head forced by the villagers, and there he was killed, to be torn to pieces and eaten. This practice has been banned for a long time, although we have heard again about the lifting of this ban.

For fishing, in addition to harpoons and nets, they used long pirogues made from a single log. In the case of the care of children, they were rocked in wooden cradles hanging from wooden rods, or they were carried on the back of their mothers.

Later they would practice their own work or play, among whose activities is to fit a wooden ring on a small post placed in an upright position.

The object most cared for by women consisted of a tablet on which they fitted, and kept, bone pins and needles. With regard to the kitchen, the fish is left to smoke hanging over the hearth, from where it is collected and chopped, giving the first pieces to the family god. Another part of the food is kept in large pots stored in a corner of the only existing room in the house, and, finally, the vegetables and other items are kept in granaries near the room.


For the Ainu – according to Charles Dunn -, all living beings are venerated as kamui, part of a universal kamui. The kamui are hierarchical: grandmother earth (fire), the mountains and her animals, and the oceans and theirs. Gonen speaks of the cult of the mountains, the earth, the sky, the sea, and as a specific case, the cult of the bear [xxvi], which we have already dealt with above. This fact is interesting, because in the headdresses that men wear on their heads it is a motif that is repeated a lot. In the Ainu museum of Nibutani we can appreciate several.

Under the direction of José M. Gallach [xxvii] it is stated that, unlike the Japanese kami, where spiritual beings reside, in the case of the kamui of the Ainu, said beings descend through them, having their residence in an afterlife, and taking different forms in the human world, such as animals, plants or minerals. These kamui are divided into beneficial and malefic, with the god of the mountain incarnated in the bear among the former.

Ainu women also possessed powers of divination, and were consulted by the elders in case of foreseeing any danger, an act that shows the power that women once had.

The UNESCO report highlights that they also believe they have an immortal soul that goes to the land of the gods (kamui mosir) or to hell when the body dies.

The fact is that they do not seem to do anything without first having made an offering to the spirits: if they are going to cut the fish, the first ones are for the ancestors represented by the home and the two branches mentioned above, and if it is sake what they are going to drink, spread a little by the fire.

In spring, the owl’s song announced the start of the bear hunting party. There are numerous taboos in the game: dreams of bad omen can make the expedition fail, thus avoiding areas where the Ainu have been injured on previous occasions, or when crossing a torrent they pray to the kamui and they are erected inau ( willow rods) in his honor. Upon arriving at the bear’s den, they greet him friendly.

If the cubs can be caught they are taken to the village, where they are cared for and even suckled by Ainu women. At three years old, they were killed by shooting decorated arrows at the end of winter. His movements were interpreted as signs of joy. The heads, once severed, were placed between treats, and they were asked to relate the treatment received to other bears that, thus, would allow themselves to be hunted more easily.

Both men and women can act as shamans. UNESCO differs on this point, and states that there are no shamans among the Aino. The ceremonies are directed by the head of the village or by the head of the family. In them the heads of sacrificed animals are offered, wine is sipped, and offerings of nusa (willow sticks) are made. They pray to Huchi (fire) when they fall ill. JG Frazer [xxviii] affirms that there is reluctance to mention the names of the deceased, and that mistletoe is used as a healing and propitious for women to have children.

For clothing they use skins and, in the case of footwear, sometimes fish scales. Women’s underwear is hidden from the eyes of men.


The family is patrilineal and monogamous – according to some authors – others affirm that the maternal line prevails, possibly as the rest of the matriarchy; in fact, women spend long periods of time in their previous home before entering their husband’s. Women, in turn, tattoo their mouths, arms and genitals when they reach puberty, and when they turn 17 or 18, a kind of mustache is tattooed around their mouth. Men, however, usually only tattoo themselves as a charm against the disease.

With the coming of age, men stop shaving, and tonsure themselves in a semicircle, while growing their hair down to their shoulders. The assemblies hold the judicial power, the maximum penalties being exile, the amputation of ears or nose, and beatings – according to Dunn.

The Ainu museum libretto states that there are various types of marriage. There was a marriage agreed by the parents of both contracting parties, so that they did not know that they were engaged until the crucial moment, or unions due to the common consent of the contracting parties. In some places the daughter of marriageable age is allowed to live in a small room (tunpu) attached to the south wall of the house, until the parents chose between their different suitors.

According to the museum guide, the proper age for marriage was 17 or 18 for men, and 15 or 16 for women, once they had been tattooed.

For the union to be consummated, it is only necessary that the man eat half a bowl of rice and the woman the other half. In the case of rejection, it is enough that it does not correspond to the food. If the marriage is accepted, the next step is to exchange gifts: he a knife or sword, and she embroidered clothing. Next, a prayer is made to the god of fire, and a communal meal is held. The dowry is not necessary, therefore, nor intermediaries. After being considered husband and wife, she will begin the tattoo ritual.

In the book Las Razas Humana – written under the direction of José M. Gallach – kinship relations are further explored [xxix]: “The Ainu kinship structure is confusing at first sight and seems to be the result rather than the Ainu social disintegration – like the numaym kwakiutl – of the emergence of patrilineal descent groups within a matrilineal descent structure: faced with the existence of ancestral blazons (ekashi itokopa), women maintained a type of matrilineal lineage, the shine huchi ikuru, secretly controlled by them (it was linked to the possession of certain totemic belts that they wore under the mour), which served to determine the rules of exogamy ”.

During pregnancy, at two or three months, the offerings are returned to the god of fire so that it reaches a successful conclusion; and at seven a ceremony is performed to purify his body.

If the pregnancy is too short, the woman stands on the left side of the fireplace, the husband, the children and the rest of the men must wait outside the room, and it is another woman, who has given birth previously, who attends the pregnant woman in her work. Then the gods are asked, especially those of fire, so that the birth is fruitful. If, even so, the birth is difficult, have to perform various magical ceremonies that favor it.

The residence used to be matrilocal, and even today they usually spend a first time in the house of the wife’s family. Regarding sexual relations, it seems that they were very free, requiring the woman not to get pregnant before marriage, or promoting abortion in the opposite case.

Rituals related to hunting, fishing, cereals and others

JG Frazer states in The Golden Branch that the Ainu differentiate between male and female millet. Before consuming the cakes, the old men make others to worship them, and pray to them. After the prayers, everyone can eat the new millet. It is an offering to the god, which is none other than the millet that must redound to the well-being of the community [xxx]. They also believe – as we gather from the work of Frazer – that the water blackbird’s heart is wise and eloquent, so when they kill it, they open it and eat its still warm heart, hoping to be wise and eloquent [xxxi].

In the case of fishing – continues Frazer -, between May and June, the Ainu maintain rules of ceremonial purity. The women must keep absolute silence in their houses, otherwise the fish will hear them and they will escape. Once the fishing is achieved, they introduce it through the window, because if they do it through the door the other fish would see it and they would also escape.

In the case of fox hunting, the Ainu also maintain a series of taboos, such as: when hunting the fox, they close its mouth so that they cannot communicate it to others.


Traditional dances are generally imitation animal dances, spirit dances, rituals, and hunting.

  1. a) dances of protection (prophylactic).

There is the following catalog in The ainu traditional dance [xxxii]: it is said that “rimse” “originally meant creating sounds by hitting, it currently refers to dancing and singing, derived from their combination in the scene. When something disastrous or catastrophic happened in the village, its inhabitants brandished their swords up and down while stamping the ground with their feet to drive away evil spirits. ”

Emush and ku rimse is a sword dance intended to drive away the forces of evil. It is not a display of warfare, since, as indicated, the Ainu did not possess such a weapon, but obtained it – of poor quality – through trade with the Japanese. The libretto describes it like this: “there is also a dance that serves to intimidate the evil gods and that is performed on the occasion of celebrations. It’s called emush rimse and it’s a sword dance. The dance is performed by the men who brandish their swords, cross their blades violently among themselves accompanied by shouts and blows. It is similar to ku rimse, a dance with a bow, and it is one of the few male dances ”.

  1. b) dances related to animals and the environment.

Iyomante rimse is the dance performed to celebrate the bear god. It is “a party that will last well into the night; participants stand one after the other and begin to dance. As the emotion is great, the circle grows, thus giving rise to the “iyomante rimse”, a dance performed to send the spirits of the bears back to heaven “.

Fumpe rimse or Fumpenere has as its theme the death of the whale. It begins with a scene in which an old woman meets a beached whale on the beach. The news spreads, and the villagers gather to chop it up. Then a flock of crows hovers around, hoping to get a bite. It is said that this dance is performed to make the wishes of the villagers come true, they thus dramatize their wishes, so it would be a magical dance ”.

Hanchikap rimse refers to ducks or water birds.

Chikapne and Hararki are dedicated to birds.

Sarorum cikap rimse is the dance that imitates the movements of the crane.

Chironup rimse mimics foxes.

Erum upopo’s theme is a mouse.

Mukkur is the imitation of the sound of birds by means of a mouth harp.

Pomkenetay is based on the black alder forest.

Chak peeyak is dedicated to the rain.

  1. c) songs and dances that reflect everyday life (lullabies, jobs, feelings, etc.).

Upopo is performed by women sitting in a circle. The libretto from the Porotokotan Ainu Museum says that “women sit in a circle and sing to the rhythm created by hitting the shintoko caps (okay). It is the prelude to other happy dances ”.

Iyuta upopo is a song that women recite while grinding grain. Yaysama ne na is an improvisation of joys and love. Ihumke is the lullaby that women sing with children on their backs or in their arms. Otchike rimse is used by women among other songs. Finally, Tapkar is performed by a man praising the gods.


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