Ainu (ī´nōō), aborigines of Japan who may be descended from a Caucasoid people who once lived in N Asia. More powerful invaders from the Asian mainland gradually forced the Ainu to retreat to the northern islands of Japan and Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands in what is now the Russian Far East; today, they reside mainly on Hokkaido. Reduced in number, they traditionally lived by hunting and fishing, which they were gradually forced to abandon in favor of small-scale farming. The Ainu have attracted the attention of tourists, and some make a living by selling reproductions of their cultural artifacts. Physically, they seem related to European peoples, i.e., they have much more body hair than typical East Asians, but intermarriage has introduced Asian traits among them. Contact with the Japanese, who insisted that they not speak the Ainu language and taught them only Japanese history, also led to culture change and assimilation, which the Ainu resisted in the past, with decreasing success. Their traditional religion is highly animistic and centers on a bear cult; a captive bear was sacrificed at an annual winter feast and his spirit, thus released, was believed to guard the Ainu settlements.

See N. G. Munro, Ainu Creed and Cult (1963); I. Hilger, Together with the Ainu (1971).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Ainu: Selected full-text books and articles

Ainu Creed and Cult By Neil Gordon Munro; B. Z. Seligman Columbia University Press, 1963
An Introduction to Japanese Society By Yoshio Sugimoto Cambridge University Press, 2003 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: "Indigenous Ainu" begins on p. 202
Beyond Primitivism: Indigenous Religious Traditions and Modernity By Jacob K. Olupona Routledge, 2003
Librarian's tip: Chap. 16 "Rethinking Indigenous Religious Traditions: The Case of the Ainu"
Endangered Peoples of Southeast and East Asia: Struggles to Survive and Thrive By Leslie E. Sponsel Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "The Ainu of Japan"
Hunters and Gatherers in the Modern World: Conflict, Resistance, and Self-Determination By Peter P. Schweitzer; Megan Biesele; Robert K. Hitchcock Berghahn Books, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 11 "Political Movement, Legal Reformation, and Transformation of Ainu Identity"
The Ainu of Northern Japan: A Study of Conquest and Acculturation By Shinichirō Takakura; John A. Harrison American Philosophical Society, 1960
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