The Ainu people are the native population of northern Japan and the eastern part of Russia, mostly in the Amur river region, Sakhalin, the Kuril islands and on the Kamchatka Peninsula. The term is also used for their culture and language in the Ezo region (Hokkaido).
The majority of their ancestors, the Jōmon people, arrived in Japan about 30,000 – 15,000 years ago from Central Asia and southern Siberia. They were largely replaced by the proto-Japanese which arrived from southeastern China about 2,000 years ago. The Ainu have strong similarities with Palaeolithic Europeans and people of the Middle East as well as with Native American groups of the northwestern coastal culture area in North America. Some scholars think they were related to the Emishi of northern Honshu.
During and after the Yayoi period they were attacked by the early Japanese people. The Ainu and relative tribes lost most of their land in Honshū, many were killed or ensalved by the Yayoi-Japanese. After the rise of the Yamato, few Ainu were left in Honshu. After the Meiji restoration in the late 1800s, the Japanese began to colonize Hokkaido, sending their own people to live there. They forced the Ainu to leave the warm coast of Hokkaido and try to live in the mountains in the middle of the island. The Ainu were not allowed to fish for salmon or hunt deer. The Ainu were required to speak Japanese and use Japanese names. Japanese scientists and treasure hunters would dig up Ainu graves and steal the bodies and artifacts.
In April 2019, the Ainu became recognized as native population of northern Japan, and the rest of Japan has started to think of their culture as good and valuable. However, the Ainu still face discrimination in Japan. Most Japanese outside of Hokkaido mistake the Ainu for foreigners or tourists.
Their culture is based on the ancient Jomon culture of northern Japan and eastern Russia. Their native folk religion has some similarities to early Shinto. Their gods are named kamuy, similar to the Japanese Kami. They practiced agriculture but were also hunter gatherers. The Ainu are famous for their wood work and art.
The Ainu lived in villages called kotan and were often built along rivers or lakes. Every villages consisted of at least four to seven families, sometimes more than ten. The traditional house was called cise or cisey.
They speak the Ainu language. The Ainu language is classificated as language isolate, although there exist several theories about a genetic relation. Some linguists suggest a relation to Altaic languages while others suggest a link to Indo-European languages. Some similarities also exist with northern native American languages.
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- Zgusta, Richard (July 10, 2015). The Peoples of Northeast Asia through Time: Precolonial Ethnic and Cultural Processes along the Coast between Hokkaido and the Bering Strait. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-30043-9.
- Refsing, edited in 5 volumes by Kirsten. "Origins of the Ainu language : the Ainu Indo-European controversy". 新潟大学OPAC. Retrieved December 21, 2019.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ainu.|
- The Ainu Museum Archived 2005-08-28 at the Wayback Machine
- Smithsonian Institute
- Nippon Utari Kyokai
- Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Ainu
- Ainu-North American cultural similarities Archived 2003-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
- Spirit Cave Man May Rewrite Continent's History[permanent dead link]
- Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture Archived 2012-03-08 at the Wayback Machine
- Ainu Lineage
- The Boone Collection Archived 2009-03-18 at the Wayback Machine