Hokkaido's Ethnic Tribe Gets Recognition; Indigenous Ainu Mark 'Turning Point'
Byline: Takehiko Kambayashi, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
URAKAWA, Japan -- In a country long proud of being ethnically homogeneous, a decision by Japan's parliament in early June to recognize the ethnic Ainu as the country's indigenous people was a major step. But for the minority that claims years of discrimination, it is not enough.
I'm glad to learn the resolution [passed], said Saki Toyama, an 80-year-old Ainu woman who lives in Urakawa, a serene outpost on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido that the ethnic group had dominated for centuries. But I'd also like the government to apologize and make way for the sake of the Ainu people.
The Japanese government should reflect on its previous Ainu policies, and should issue an official apology to the Ainu people in clear language in a public forum, according to an appeal from the Indigenous Peoples Summit in Ainu Mosir 2008, which was held prior to this year's summit meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Hokkaido. The Ainu call the island Ainu Mosir, which means Land of Human Beings.
In the late 19th century, Japan advanced north and established a development commission on the island, which they renamed Hokkaido. That led to the migration of Japanese and the island's acquisition - followed by the forced assimilation and relocation of the Ainu. The ethnic group was also banned from practicing certain traditions, including men wearing earrings and women getting tattooed, and they were forced to learn the Japanese language and adopt a Japanese name.
When I think of having been treated like trash and discriminated against because of our ethnicity, I grow infuriated and feel like screaming at the sky, said Mrs. Toyama.
While the Ainu worship nature, the Japanese government also ravaged the island's environment, they said.
My father, Shigeru, used to say the Japanese turned woodland areas into money, said Shiro Kayano, president of Nibutani Ainu Museum. The government has failed to apologize in a serious manner and also long resisted creating laws to protect the rights of the Ainu.
Shigeru Kayano, the first Ainu lawmaker to sit in the Japanese Diet, founded the museum.
Local government estimates show that 23,782 Ainu people remain on the island, while Ainu leaders and experts say the number could be much larger because of many other Ainu people who are thought to hide their identity for fear of discrimination or who may have left the island.
According to a 2006 local government survey, 38.3 percent of the Ainu in Hokkaido are on welfare, compared with the local average of 24.6 percent. In addition, only 17.4 percent of the Ainu receive a college education, while 38.5 percent of the locals do.
The government's assimilation policy has turned many Ainu people ignorant of their culture, language and history. Ainu leaders, however, hope the resolution and the Indigenous Peoples Summit could help change that.
We are at a turning point, said Koji Yuki, a secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples Summit, who is also an Ainu printmaker. …