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Assess the representation of Ainu people after the Japanese colonization of Hokkaido.
For hundreds of years, the Ainu ware treated like a taboo in Japan. In fact, many Japanese people and people from around the world are still not aware of their existence. Ainu was totally assimilated by the Japanese nation and during that time, they were forced to forget about their culture, language and way of living. As a result, the Ainu started a journey to become a vanishing nation. In my essay, I will give my opinion about the Ainu situation after the Japanese colonization of Hokkaido in 1869. In my opinion, the Japanese nation is the main reason not many of us know about Ainu at all. I believe it is important to explain who is Ainu and how Japan started with assimilation towards them. I think this step is necessary to show how Ainu situation had changed them.
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The Ainu were a group of people in northern Japan. They were structured in small communities called “kotan” and had many folks and religious traditions (Morris-Suzuki, 1998: 11). Ainu saw themselves as ordinary people, which can explain why they had called themselves “Ainu” which mean “human being”. They were the first people who were effectively colonized by Japan, however, their history of contact with the outsiders can be seen by many years before Japan colonized them, especially with a society like the Sakhalin, Russia and Japan. During the Tokugawa period, (1603 – 1868) the Ainu became more dependent on trade, especially with Japan. During that time they had battles between them, however, the general relationship among them ware good and Ainu called them Shiasam, which mean a “Good Neighbor” (Morris-Suzuki, 1998: 12). Through trade, the Japanese slowly started invading the land of Ezo, which caused a change in how Ainu thought and felt about the Japanese. According to Morris – Suzuki, ‘In Ainu oral tradition, this seems to be expressed in a sense of betrayal by people who had been once trusted’ (Morris-Suzuki, 1998: 13), which give us clear understanding in how they felt about it. Since that time, the Japanese force shaped the Ainu history: starting with the Tokugawa era, the Matsumae clan and finally Meiji period.
As results, the Land of the Ainu- Ezo, was officially changed into a new state and the Japanese government changed its name to “Hokkaido”. From this moment, Nihon powers decided that “civilizing” must assimilate the Ainu. In 1871, the administrative decision to govern Ainu as Japanese citizens under the Household Registration Law (Jinshin Kōseki-hō). Lewallen in her work states that, ‘Under the 1871 Household Registration Law, Ainu were classified as Japanese subjects but marked as “former natives” (J: kyūdojin), reflecting the logic that Ainu ethnicity would disappear’ (Lewallen, 2016: 61). In my opinion, since this moment, Ainu started being legally discriminated and treated as lower human beings, by new laws, which the Japanese government created. One of the new laws was the Ainu women cannot be tattooed on their faces and everyone needed to learn how to speak and write in the Japanese language. They ware given an order of a change of their names to Japanese and a few years later to register as a Japanese. They ware forbidden to practice their own culture and made them forget about their belief in a relationship between humans and nature. Evidently, the Japanese nation tried to “erase them” as a nation. Sjöberg observes that, ‘Ainu ware no longer a distinct “cultural” group having racial, religious, linguistic and historical traits in common’ (Sjöberg, 1993: 121). Another significant factor from Japanese power to wipe out the Ainu culture was new government law created in 1872 The Land Regulation Ordinance, which started a colonial administration and immigration. Hokkaido Ainu ware relocated, and their land ware used for Japanese agriculture. They lost their traditional hunting, fishing grounds and instead of that Japan have made them into farmers. All of their traditional way became illegal.
Another, significant factor of Hokkaido colonization was in 1899 when Japan introduces “Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Law” (Kyuudojn Hogono), which suppose to help Ainu assimilate with Wajin lifestyle. It supposes to help them to stand up on their feet and make they life better. Kyuudojn Hogono granted free of charge two to five hectares of land together with grants of seeds and tools. As a result, the government believed this would change Ainu into farmers. Certainly, this sounded like a great idea and amazing opportunity for the Ainu families, however, it was not that straightforward like how it should be. Moreover, I think, it was another hidden attack towards the Ainu. Actually, there were hidden rules of this free “gift” from the Japanese government: if they did not farmland in 3 years time, the land would be taken away from them. Ainu did not fight with this decision, because they did not have many choices at that moment and for this reason, they tried very hard to become Nihonjin (Japanese). Sjöberg notes,
At first this resulted in that they devoted much effort to forgetting about their Ainu inheritance and adapting to the new condition. After some time, they found that their land and natural resources had been properly integrated, while they, as people, had been excluded from profit. (Sjöberg, 1997 : 121)
Despite the government effort, the plan of assimilation from 1899 did not work in how Japan planned. The main reason for this was that the plan marked Ainu as different, worst, lower people who would be never good enough to be Japanese. From the beginning, Ainu had problems to fit into a new situation from a number of different reasons. Constant discrimination towards them results in giving them the worst lands than others. Therefore they ware struggling to farm anything from their land and in the end, they ware giving up on farming and starting to work as part-time workers, cable-layers, pathfinders. Although all the criticisms, the clause from Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Law that encouraged educating Ainu children was a first good step for Ainu. In my opinion, it gave them strong ground for a future fight with bringing awareness about them for the nation, and later world. I agree that the process was not easy or fair, however by the possibility of attending school has opened them doors for the future. But we should also remember how the process had begun and how it followed, which was very harsh and unfair.
Before they introduced a new law to Ainu, the Japanese ran tests to check if their children could be educated. In 1872, they selected thirteen boys and five girls, from Ainu families, and sent them to special schools created for them in Shiba, Tokyo (Sjöberg, 1997 : 128). After that, they opened 21 schools in Hokkaido; however, even here racial attitudes could be seen on every step. Ainu children ware treated differently than Waijin children, they ware educated in only Ainu classes and they received fewer years of elementary education. They did not learn about their culture and was taught in Japanese only. In results, they did not attend schools very often besides that schools ware not compulsory and their parents needed them to work in farmlands. Later on, Waijin schools and Ainu schools ware connected together so Ainu children spent as much time as Waijin in school. They ware forced to learn Waijin history and Japanese language, which was one of the causes of a racial situation because Ainu children did not always know how to use the Japanese language correctly. Later on, the government ran a survey and found out that by 1920s almost all the Ainu adults did not use their language anymore, and what is more concerned, neither of their children could use the native language at all (Stevens, 2001: 112). Because of the racial abuse or less concern about Ainu education, the only little part of Ainu went to secondary schools. Many of them simply gave up in a fight with their educational rights and accepted how they have seen their cultural status (Sjöberg, 1997 : 129). Even so, I believe, that introducing schools to them gave them chance to fight for a better future. The Ainu today have the same options in education like Japanese; however, most of the Ainu parents are financially unbearable to pay for high tuition fees (Hilger and Yamaha, 1971: 200). Whole law was abolished in 1997.
In addition to whole Ainu – Nihon relationship, we cannot forget about “tourist centers”. The whole idea about these centers can be treated like Japanese irony or making fun towards the Ainu. Tourist centers were supposed to play the role of a place where we can find information about somebodies culture and their pasts. However, in this case, it was more commercial interest, as Sjöberg pointed in her book (Sjöberg, 1997 ). Tourist’s centres ware created only to gain profit and whole Ainu culture ware showed in the most humiliating way as possible. Ainu people ware still taboo during that time and their only ware showed on posters that supposed to attract tourists to Hokkaido. Because of this, the Ainu people hardly ever wanted to work there. Things started to change after War World II when Ainu people willingly joined tourists’ centers. Even after that they still lack a true story of Ainu. It was caused because most of Ainu started to work there for profit and to avoid work in labour or agricultural field. Now the centres had a new role – to save Ainu culture. Today the main function of tourist centres is to create an awareness of Ainu identity, tell about their life in Hokkaido, and to increase knowledge about culture and tradition of Ainu. The way the Professor Ken’ichi Ochiai explained in the Ainu Pathways to Memory (2014) reveals that the show is not necessarily something negative.
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During the assimilation process, we can see a few more important dates for Ainu. Dates, which started changing things for the better. In 1930 was created the first Ainu’s association by Waijin authorities. In 1946 it was named Hokkaido Ainu Kyokai but Ainu did not agree with it because, how mention Maher in his book, ‘ “Ainu” was seen as a discriminatory term’ (Maher and McDonald, 2011: 152). In 1961, the name changed for Hokkaido Utari Kyokai and this time gained approval from Ainu. However, Kyokai never had confidence from Ainu population, even today Ainu members are very low inside of it. The main purpose of Utari Kyokai was to make those previous restrictions in Hokkaido Kyuudojn Hogono ware followed (Sjöberg, 1997 : 131).
Undoubtedly, Ainu in the past ware subject to racism and boxed into stereotypes. Sadly, these days occasionally they are still treated in the lower level with Japanese. However, I must agree with Sjöberg words,
When discussing an issue related to the acculturation of the Ainu, we must take into consideration that the Ainu in the first phase of the Meiji Restoration willingly adopted themselves to the new rules and ware more concerned with hiding their origin then emphasizing it (Sjöberg, 1997: 127).
This quote proves that not only Japanese are to blame for their situation. Most of the time they agreed with the decision made towards them. And as long they agreed then harder become to bring their culture back. These days we can see more Ainu movements. Like I mentioned in one of my paragraphs, I believe that education which was introduced to them by the Japanese government, however harsh and unfair it was at that time, gave the option to open new possibilities, not only towards a career possibility but what is more important for a fight for their voice. Because of that, they can share their side of a story and finally be proud of everything, which happens in the past. Today we can see Ainu in Japan in many positions: they are present in radio and TV and around Japan there are courses created for learning Ainu language.
To conclude, colonisation of Hokkaido was not straightforward like Japanese government wanted. Ainu people who lived, and still living, on territory of todays Hokkaido proved that it is impossible to erase someone nation. Even if Japan tried to erases they culture and language they did not had power over they thoughts, believes and tales, which they shared between them. All of the changes, which Japan did over the years, ware really unfair and inhuman in my opinion. Whole idea of imposing to be a one-race nation caused so much destruction to one population over the years. However, the Ainu people found a power to fight and in 2007 the United Nations approved the declaration on the rights of Ainu. Shortly after that the DIET finally officially recognized the Ainu as an indigenous people (Ainu Pathways to Memory, 2014).
- Hilger, M. Inez. 1971. Together with the Ainu – vanishing people. University of Oklahoma: Press Norman.
- Lewallen, Ann-Elise. 2016. “Clamouring Blood”: The Materiality of Belonging in Modern Ainu Identity” Critical Asian Studies, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies, University of California–Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA Routledge. Accessed 22.12.2018. http://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer.asp?EbscoContent=dGJyMNLe80SeqK44wtvhOLCmr1Cep7JSs6i4SLKWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGvrkiwqLFKuePfgeyx43zx1d%2BI5wAA&T=P&P=AN&S=R&D=a9h&K=113393879
- Maher, John C. And Macdonald, Gaynor. 2011 . Diversity in Japanese Culture and Language. New York: Routledge
- Morrison-Suzuki, Tessa. 1998. Re-inventing Japan- Time, Space, Nation. New York: An East Gate Book,
- Sjöberg, Katarina. 1993. The Return of the Ainu. UK: Harwood Academic Publisher
- Stevens, Georgie. 2011 “The Ainu and Human Rights: Domestic And International Legal Protections” Asia-Pacific Journal On Human Rights And the Law 2001, Volume 2, Number 2, 110-133.
- Beautiful Japan (Benjamin Brodsky, 1918)
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