ato teaches at Hokkaido University’s Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies in Sapporo, more than 400 kilometers to the south.
An Ainu dance troupe performs for tourists in a traditional home at the Ainu Museum in Shiraoi.
The dancers wear the elaborately embroidered clothes traditional among their ancestors.
The patterns of swirls and twirls are typical of Ainu designs, and are meant to converse with their ever-present gods.
Over lunch, Yoshihara explains that the Nibutani museum is unique in Japan: It’s owned and operated by the people of Biratori.
Many are descendants of the people who created the fish hooks, the dugout canoes, the salmon skin boots, the intricately carved knife handles and prayer sticks in the display cases.
Kaizawa, the man talking to the high school students, is the great-grandson of a renowned 19th-century Ainu artist from Nibutani.
he Ainu arrived at this moment of pride from prejudice, through adaptation, resilience, and the sheer stubbornness of human will.
The little bear head in Kato’s hand represents their anchor to the past and their guide to the future, a stalwart companion, the immutable spirit of an epic journey.
But Kobayashi gave them a popular voice in the 1990s, when Japan’s economic bubble burst and the disenfranchised sought a target for their anger: Koreans, Chinese, Ainu.