New Post Series ‘Ainu Currents’

Welcome to a comprehensive new series of posts ‘Ainu Currents’. In this collection, we navigate through recent news and events, shedding light on the pressing concerns, advancements, and cultural revitalization efforts within the Ainu community. Our goal is to provide insights into the Ainu community and a platform for Ainu voices, fostering awareness, respect, and solidarity, all while making this content readily accessible. Join us on this journey to stay informed and support the Ainu in their ongoing quest for recognition and justice.

Ainu Currents Post 1
Ongoing Repatriation Efforts in Eniwa, Hokkaido

On October 15th, the Eniwa Ainu Association held a ceremony to welcome home the remains of eleven Ainu ancestors. Deputy Mayor Yoshitaka Yokomichi and members of the Chitose Ainu Cultural Tradition Preservation Society joined the Eniwa Ainu Association in paying homage to their ancestors. As chairman of the Eniwa Ainu Association, Ketatsu Fujiwara led a sacred prayer in the Ainu language before an altar (nusasan) of inau, a ritual wood-shaving stick. The ceremony was followed by a traditional Ainu dance, ‘Holippa’, performed by members of the Preservation Society.

The ancestral remains were repatriated from the ossuary at the National Ainu Museum and Park, more commonly known as “Upopoy,” in Shiraoi, Hokkaido, in early January of this year. This event marked the first-ever repatriation of Ainu ancestral remains from the Upopoy Memorial Site since its establishment in 2020. Uncovered in 1987 and 2013 during road construction and a river engineering project, the ancestral remains were initially held at Sapporo Medical College, while their associated grave goods were stored locally in Eniwa. The remains, like many in university collections throughout Japan, were transferred to the ossuary at Upopoy following its construction. Through the repatriation process, the ancestral remains are to be reunited with their grave goods and placed in a dedicated facility managed by the city.

The Eniwa Ainu Association began discussing the return of the remains with the relevant authorities several years ago. The association gained the support of the city’s Board of Education and others in the development of mortuary facilities, which has hastened the timing of the repatriation. Chairman Fujiwara, acknowledging the complexity of legal and local circumstances, stressed the importance of returning these remains to their rightful homeland, a significant step towards acknowledging the rights and cultural heritage of the Ainu people.

Since the Meiji era(1868-1912), many ancestral remains were exhumed without permission and stored in universities and museums for research purposes. Over the last few decades, a few were returned to local communities following protracted restitution lawsuits. According to the Hokkaido Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, 1,348 identifiable remains and 294 boxes of unidentifiable remains are stored in Upopoy, including those returned this time. The repatriation of these Ainu ancestral remains is a step towards reconciling historical injustices and recognizing the profound importance of cultural heritage within Ainu communities and their rights as Indigenous people.