Hokkaido Island in Japan, and Sakhalin and Kuril Islands in Russia
The Ainu (アイヌ, Aynu アィヌ), also called Ezo in historical texts, are indigenous people or groups in northern
Japan and . Historically they spoke the Ainu language and related varieties and lived in Russia Hokkaidō, the Kuril Islands, and much of Sakhalin. Most of those who identify themselves as Ainu still live in this same region, though the exact number of living Ainu is unknown. This is due to ethnic issues in resulting in those with Ainu backgrounds hiding their identities and confusion over mixed heritages. In Japan , because of intermarriage over many years with Japanese, the concept of a 'pure Ainu' ethnic group is no longer feasible. Official estimates of the population are of around 25,000, while the unofficial number is upwards of 200,000 people. Japan
Until the twentieth century, Ainu languages were also spoken throughout the southern half of the
island of Sakhalin and by small numbers of people in the Kuril Islands. All but the language are extinct, with the last speaker of Sakhalin Ainu having died in 1994; and Hokkaidō Ainu is moribund, though there are ongoing attempts to revive it. Hokkaidō
Ainu culture dates from around 1200 AD and recent research suggests that it originated in a merger of the
Okhotsk and Satsumon cultures. Active contact between the Wajin (the ethnically Japanese) and the Ainu of Ezochi (now known as ) began in the 13th century. The Ainu were a society of hunter-gatherers, who lived mainly hunting and fishing, and the people followed a religion based on phenomena of nature. Hokkaido
During the Tokugawa period (1600–1868) the Ainu became increasingly involved in trade with Japanese who controlled the southern portion of the island that is now called
. The Bakufu government granted the Matsumae family exclusive rights to trade with the Ainu in the Northern part of the island. Later the Matsumae began to lease out trading rights to Japanese merchants, and contact between Japanese and Ainu became more extensive. Throughout this period Ainu became increasingly dependent on goods imported by Japanese, and suffered from epidemic diseases such as smallpox. Hokkaido
The turning point for Ainu culture was the beginning of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. A variety of social, political and economic reforms were introduced by the Japanese government, in hope of modernising the country in the Western style, and included the annexation of
Their most widely known ethnonym is derived from the word ainu, which means "human" (particularly as opposed to kamui, divine beings), basically neither ethnicity nor the name of a race, in the Hokkaidō dialects of the Ainu language; Emishi, Ezo or Yezo (蝦夷) are Japanese terms, which are believed to derive from the ancestral form of the modern Sakhalin Ainu word enciw or enju, also meaning "human". Today, many Ainu dislike the term Ainu because it had once been used with derogatory nuance, and prefer to identify themselves as Utari (comrade in the Ainu language). Official documents use both names.
The Ainu were distributed in the northern and central islands of Japan, from Sakhalin island in the north to the Kurile islands and the island of Hokkaidō and Northern Honshū, although some investigators place their former range as throughout Honshū and as far north as the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula in what is now Cape Lopatka. The
was known to the Ainu as Ainu Moshir, and was formally annexed by the Japanese at the late date of 1868, partly as a means of preventing the intrusion of the Russians, and partly for imperialist reasons. island of Hokkaido
Well-known by: men's beards.
Never shaving after a certain age, the men had full beards and moustaches. Men and women alike cut their hair level with the shoulders at the sides of the head, trimmed semicircularly behind. The women tattooed their mouths, and sometimes the forearms. The mouth tattoos were started at a young age with a small spot on the upper lip, gradually increasing with size. The soot deposited on a pot hung over a fire of birch bark was used for color. Their traditional dress was a robe spun from the inner bark of the elm tree, called attusi or attush. Various styles of clothing were made, and consisted generally of a simple short robe with straight sleeves, which was folded around the body, and tied with a band about the waist. The sleeves ended at the wrist or forearm and the length generally was to the calves. Women also wore an undergarment of Japanese cloth.
In winter the skins of animals were worn, with leggings of deerskin and in
Sakhalin, boots were made from the skin of dogs or salmon. Both sexes are fond of earrings, which are said to have been made of grapevine in former times, as also are bead necklaces called tamasay, which the women prized highly.
Their traditional cuisine consists of the flesh of bear, fox, wolf, badger, ox or horse, as well as fish, fowl, millet, vegetables, herbs, and roots. They never ate raw fish or flesh; it was always boiled or roasted.
Their traditional habitations were reed-thatched huts, the largest 20 ft (6 m) square, without partitions and having a fireplace in the center. There was no chimney, only a hole at the angle of the roof; there was one window on the eastern side and there were two doors. The house of the village head was used as a public meeting place when one was needed.
Instead of using furniture, they sat on the floor, which was covered with two layers of mats, one of rush, the other of flag; and for beds they spread planks, hanging mats around them on poles, and employing skins for coverlets. The men used chopsticks when eating; the women had wooden spoons.
Some words in Ainu language:
thank you: Iyayraykere
my name is ___: Kurehe anakne ___ ne
how are you?: Eiwanke ya?
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