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SOCIETY > Human Rights

Editorial: New Ainu-related bill should deepen understanding of their history, culture

  • March 25, 2019
  • , The Japan News , 9:44 p.m.
  • English Press

Deepening understanding of the history traced by the Ainu and their rich culture, and passing these along to the next generation are important.


During the current Diet session, the government aims to pass into law a new bill related to the Ainu. Stipulating the Ainu as “indigenous people” for the first time, the bill has considered that the central government and local governments are obliged to pass down Ainu culture. By setting up headquarters to promote measures related to the Ainu in the Cabinet, the government is also reinforcing preparations.


Such endeavors will carry significance in respecting the pride of the Ainu and in raising support for them.


Centered in Hokkaido, the Ainu formed their original culture in the 13th and 14th centuries. Their livelihood depended on activities such as hunting and fishing, and they spoke the Ainu language that was completely different from Japanese.


Since the Meiji era, they were forced to follow the government’s assimilation policy, under which they were restricted, for instance, in the use of their own language. But there are still many people today who recognize themselves as Ainu.


The bill incorporates the establishment of a system for central government subsidies of Ainu-related promotional measures, which local municipal governments will draw up. Among the envisaged measures are to open places for exchange activities between the Ainu and other local people and to hold programs to promote tourism.


In order to ensure that the Ainu can maintain their traditional rituals and fishing techniques, consideration is to be given to them for procuring timber and other materials in state-owned forests and to fish for salmon in rivers. It will also be made easier for them to register trademarks for their craftwork. Effective efforts are called for.


Consider realistic measures


The present law for the promotion of Ainu culture, enacted in 1997, is primarily aimed at promoting Ainu language and culture, and at spreading public awareness and enlightening of Ainu traditions.


What prompted the government to expand its Ainu-related measures was the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted in 2007. The following year, both houses of the Diet adopted a resolution to recognize the Ainu as indigenous people, and the government, for its part, has made clear its view to recognize them as indigenous.


Since then, the government has considered the improvement of an Ainu museum while it has repeatedly held public hearings to enact a new law.


The bill does not stipulate indigenous rights, which include the right to the land, that are enshrined in the U.N. declaration.


The Ainu cannot be treated like those indigenous people abroad who were massacred in large numbers by colonists. The effort of having the Ainu and settlers live in harmony has been progressing. Some have even pointed out that it would be difficult to confirm who is an Ainu.


On their own volition, municipal governments of cities, towns and villages as a regional unit will reinforce their support measures to the Ainu, while at the same time working to improve the Ainu’s living environment. The course of action of these measures is considered realistic.


The National Ainu Museum, under construction in the town of Shiraoi, Hokkaido, is slated to open in April next year. Together with other facilities that are to be created in areas surrounding the museum, visitors can learn about the history, beliefs, language and livelihood of the Ainu, and experience their culture such as traditional dance.


Having contact with the traditions of the Ainu will be an opportunity for people to think about the diverse cultures this country has nurtured over many years.

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