Ainu - Encyclopedia

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AINU (" man"), a race inhabiting the northernmost islands of Japan. Little definite is known about their earliest history, but it is improbable that they are, as has been urged, the aborigines of Japan. The most accurate researches go to prove that they were immigrants, who reached Yezo from the Kuriles, and subsequently crossing Tsugaru strait, colonized a great part of the main island of Japan, exterminating a race of pit-dwellers to whom they gave the name of koro-pok-guru (men with sunken places). These koro-pok-guru were of such small stature as to be considered dwarfs. They wore skins of animals for clothing, and that they understood the potter's art and used flint arrow-heads is clearly proved by excavations at the sites of their pits. The Ainu, on the contrary, never had any knowledge of pottery. Ultimately the Ainu, coming into contact with the Japanese, who had immigrated from the south and west, were driven northward into the island of Yezo, where, as well as in the Kuriles and in the southern part of Sakhalin, they are still found in some numbers. When, at the close of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, Russian enterprises drew the attention of the Japanese government to the northern districts of the empire, the Tokugawa shoguns adopted towards the Ainu a policy of liberality and leniency consistent with the best principles of modern colonization. But the doom of unfitness appears to have begun to overtake the race long ago. History indicates that in ancient times they were fierce fighters, able to offer a stout resistance to the incomparably better armed and more civilized Japanese. To-day they are drunken, dirty, spiritless folk, whom it is difficult to suppose capable of the warlike role they once played. Their number, between 16,000 and 17,000, is virtually stationary. The Ainu are somewhat taller than the Japanese, stoutly built, well proportioned, with dark-brown eyes, high cheek-bones, short broad noses and faces lacking length. The hairiness of the Ainu has been much exaggerated. They are not more hairy than many Europeans. Never shaving after a certain age, the men have full beards and moustaches, but the stories of Ainu covered with hair like a bear are quite unjustified by facts. Men and women alike cut their hair level with the shoulders at the sides of the head, but trim it semicircularly behind. The women tattoo their mouths, arms, and sometimes their foreheads, using for colour the smut deposited on a pot hung over a fire of birch bark. Their original dress is a robe spun from the bark of the elm tree. It has long sleeves, reaches nearly to the feet, is folded round the body and tied with a girdle of the same material. Females wear also an undergarment of Japanese cloth. In winter the skins of animals are worn, with leggings of deerskin and boots made from the skin of dogs or salmon. Both sexes are fond of ear-rings, which are said to have been made of grape-vine in former times, but are now purchased from the Japanese, as also are bead necklaces, which the women prize highly. Their food is meat, whenever they can procure it - the flesh of the bear, the fox, the wolf, the badger, the ox or the horse - fish, fowl, millet, vegetables, herbs and roots. They never eat raw fish or flesh, but always either boil or roast it. Their habitations are reed-thatched huts, the largest 20 ft. square, without partitions and having a fireplace in the centre. There is no chimney, but only a hole at the angle of the roof; there is one window on the eastern side and there are two doors. Public buildings do not exist, whether in the shape of inn, meeting-place or temple. The furniture of their dwellings is exceedingly scanty. They have no chairs, stools or tables, but sit on the floor, which is 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 use chop-sticks and moustache-lifters when eating; the women have wooden spoons. Uncleanliness is characteristic of the Ainu, and all their intercourse with the Japanese has not improved them in that respect. The Rev. John Batchelor, in his Notes on the Ainu, says that he lived in one Ainu habitation for six weeks on one occasion, and for two months on another, and that he never once saw personal ablutions performed, or cooking or eating utensils washed.

Not having been at any period acquainted with the art of writing, they have no literature and are profoundly ignorant. But at schools established for them by the Japanese in recent times, they have shown that their intellectual capacity is not deficient. No distinct conception of a universe enters into their cosmology. They picture to themselves many floating worlds, yet they deduce the idea of rotundity from the course of the sun, and they imagine that the "Ainu world" rests on the back of a fish whose movements cause earthquakes. It is scarcely possible to doubt that this fancy is derived from the Japanese, who used to hold an identical theory. The Ainu believe in a supreme Creator, but also in a sun-god, a moon-god, a water-god and a mountain-god, deities whose river is the Milky Way, whose voices are heard in the thunder and whose glory is reflected in the lightning. Their chief object of actual worship appears to be the bear. Miss Isabella Bird (Mrs Bishop) writes: "The peculiarity which distinguishes their rude mythology is the worship of the bear, the Yezo bear being one of the finest of his species. But it is impossible to understand the feelings by which this cult is prompted, for although they worship the animal after their fashion and set up its head in their villages, yet they trap it, kill it, eat it and sell its skin. There is no doubt that this wild beast inspires more of the feeling which prompts worship than the inanimate forces of nature, and the Ainos may be distinguished as bear-worshippers, and their greatest religious festival or saturnalia as the Festival of the Bear.. .. Some of their rude chants are in praise of the bear, and their highest eulogy on a man is to compare him to a bear." They have no priests by profession. The village chief performs whatever religious ceremonies are necessary; ceremonies confined to making libations of wine, uttering short prayers and offering willow sticks with wooden shavings attached to them, much as the Japanese set up the wellknown gohei (sacred offerings) at certain spots. The Ainu gives thanks to the gods before eating, and prays to the deity of fire in time of sickness. He thinks that his spirit is immortal, and that it will be rewarded hereafter in heaven or punished in hell, both of which places are beneath the earth, hell being the land of volcanoes; but he has no theory as to a resurrection of the body or metempsychosis. He preserves a tradition about a flood which seems to be the counterpart of the Biblical deluge, and about an earthquake which lasted a hundred days, produced the three volcanoes of Yezo and created the island by bridging the waters that had previously separated it into two parts.

The Ainu are now governed by Japanese laws and judged by Japanese tribunals, but in former times their affairs were administered by hereditary chiefs, three in each village, and for administrative purposes the country was divided into three districts, Saru, Usu and Ishikari, which were under the ultimate control of Saru, though the relations between their respective inhabitants were not close and intermarriages were avoided. The functions of judge were not entrusted to these chiefs; an indefinite number of a community's members sat in judgment upon its criminals. Capital punishment did not exist, nor was imprisonment resorted to, beating being considered a sufficient and final penalty, except in the case of murder, when the nose and ears of the assassin were cut off or the tendons of his feet severed. Little as the Japanese and the Ainu have in common, intermarriages are not infrequent, and at Sambutsu especially, on the eastern coast, many children of such marriages may be seen. Doenitz, Hilgendorf and Dr B. Scheube, arguing from a minute investigation of the physical traits of the Ainu, have concluded that they are Mongolians; according to Professor A. H. Keane the Ainu "are quite distinct from the surrounding Mongolic peoples, and present several remarkable physical characters which seem to point to a remote connexion with the Caucasic races. Such are a very full beard,. shaggy or wavy black or dark-brown hair, sometimes covering the back and chest; a somewhat fair or even white complexion, large nose, straight eyes and regular features, often quite handsome and of European type. They seem to be a last remnant of the Neolithic peoples, who ranged in prehistoric times across the northern hemisphere from the British Isles to Manchuria and Japan. They are bear-worshippers, and have other customs in common with the Manchurian aborigines, but the language is entirely different, and they have traditions of a time when they were the dominant people in the surrounding lands." It should be noted finally that the Ainu are altogether free from ferocity or exclusiveness, and that they treat strangers with gentle kindness. See Rev. John Batchelor, The A inu and their Folk-lore (London,' 901); Romyn Hitchcock, The Ainos of Japan (Washington, 1892); H. von Siebold, Uber die Aino (Berlin, 1881); Isabella Bird (Mrs Bishop), Korea and her Neighbours (1898); Basil Hall Chamberlain, Language, Mythology and Geographical Nomenclature of Japan viewed in the Light of Aino Studies and Aino Fairy-tales (1895).

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