The Ainu are the indigenous people of Japan. They are aborigines predominantly inhabiting Northern Japan. The Ainu culture can be traced back to the 13th and 14th century. The population is on a steady decline and is nearing extinction.
There are several factors responsible for the decline of Ainu culture. Among them are oppression, racism, and forced assimilation policies. Some individuals belonging to the Ainu culture do not disclose their identity for fear of marginalization. Modern socialization, too, has played a role in this. The indigenous people of Japan settled in urban areas face problems such as alcoholism, homelessness, and violence.
Indigenous people of Japan
Ainu literally means human. Their primary activities include hunting, fishing, and farming. They excel in craftworks and sell them to tourists. They have a unique concept of spirituality. They believe that all things, including inanimate ones, are imbued with life and spirit.
The indigenous people of Japan keep a thick beard. Their hair, too, is thick and wavy. They have mixed physical traits of Europe and Asia. This is in sharp contrast to other indigenous groups of Asia. These traits make their origin uncertain. According to some theories, they descend from the Caucasian race. Others are of the view that their distinct features are the result of isolation. This allows them to be racially unchanged.
The chronicles of Japan include ‘Kojiki’ and ‘Nihonsyoki’. According to these chronicles, the Ainu people are descendants of a race known as Emishi. Presently, the term Ainu is used for the Hokkaido in Japan. The Sakhalin and Kuril Islands in Russia also have people called by the same name.
For the Ainu race, death is seen as means of separation between soul and body. The body degenerates in this world, while the soul moves to the next world, where dead ancestors meet it. The other world is referred to as the underground which is a mirror image of this world. The concept of time and space are reversed.
Souls continue to reside in one world until they are ready to move to the next. When the time is right they again gain entry in this world. All creatures shift between these two worlds.
There is no concept of heaven and hell. However, the souls of the bad are rejected by the ancestors. The duty to convince the ancestors rests with the shaman. Strong attachments cause the dead to cling to material objects of this world.
The Ainu culture has been threatened since the control of the Bakufu shogunate in the 15th century. They sought to revoke Russian advances in South Japan. The shogunate favored the Japanese who moved to Hokkaido and gave trouble to the Ainu culture.