2020 Tokyo Olympics drops Ainu performance from its Opening Ceremonies, despite 2019 law officially recognizing and promoting them as an indigenous people in Japan


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Hi Blog.  One thing I’ve been meaning to mention, now that it’s finally made the international news, is the fact that the Tokyo Olympics have decided to showcase Japan’s latent bigotry after all.  Despite being the first officially-recognized ethnic minority in Japan, the Hokkaido Ainu indigenous people, once included in the 2020 Opening Ceremonies, have found their performance dropped due to “staging production issues” (enshutsu no tsugou).

Debito.org’s take is that including the performance for the world to see would have too clearly contradicted the (postwar-created and carefully-curated) narrative of Japan as a homogeneous monocultural monoethnic society.  In contrast to how numerous Opening Ceremonies have showcased the diversity of the hosting country, this is an enormous slap in the face to the Ainu not only socially, but also legally, given the 2019 law that finally recognizes them as Japan’s indigenous people, and promises to help promote their culture. First chance they get, the GOJ fumbles it.

We’ve started talking about this on Debito.org elsewhere, but let me open up a dedicated blog entry for discussion.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.


I first saw this terse article in the Hokkaido Shinbun in early February:

東京五輪開会式でアイヌ舞踊不採用 「演出の都合」
北海道新聞 02/07/2020, courtesy of EJ




Weeks later, the overseas media finally picked up on it:


Tokyo Olympics: dance by Japan’s indigenous people dropped from opening ceremony
Move raises questions about status of Ainu ethnic minority, whose cultural identity Japan is legally obliged to protect
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
The Grauniad, Fri 21 Feb 2020 (excerpt)

Japan’s commitment to the rights of its indigenous people has been questioned after organisers of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics dropped a performance by members of the Ainu ethnic minority from the Games’ opening ceremony.

Members of the Ainu community, originally from Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, had been expecting to showcase their culture to the world in a dance at the Olympic stadium, but learned recently that the plans had been scrapped.

The Tokyo 2020 organising committee said the performance had been dropped from the ceremony due to “logistical constraints”.

“Unfortunately, this particular Ainu dance performance could not be included because of logistical constraints related to the ceremonies,” it said in a statement to the Guardian.

“However, Tokyo 2020 is still deliberating other ways to include the Ainu community. We are not able to provide further details of the content of the opening and closing ceremonies.”

The public broadcaster NHK said last week that an Ainu ceremonial dance would be included in a cultural exposition at the Tokyo National Museum in March, but Ainu representatives said performers, who had already started rehearsing, had been anticipating an appearance on a much bigger stage.

“Everyone was looking forward to performing at the Olympic stadium,” said Kazuaki Kaizawa of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, which started discussing the inclusion of an Ainu element in the opening ceremony with organisers three years ago.

“We are willing to talk to the organisers about how Ainu culture can be represented during the Olympics,” Kaizawa told the Guardian, adding that the Games’ organising committee had yet to explain its decision. “We’re hopeful something can be worked out.”

The decision sits uncomfortably with recent moves by Japan’s government to improve the status of the Ainu. In May last year, parliament passed a law that legally recognised them as Japan’s indigenous people, obliging the government to protect their cultural identity and ban discrimination in employment, education and other areas.

The law was intended to officially end more than a century of discrimination that began in the late 19th century, when Japan’s Meiji-era government took control of Hokkaido, where the Ainu had been hunting, fishing, practising an animist religion and speaking their own language since the 1300s, according to experts.

But after opening the island to Japanese settlers, the government forced the Ainu, who it referred to as “former aborigines”, to assimilate.
Rest of the article at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/21/tokyo-olympics-dance-by-japans-indigenous-people-dropped-from-opening-ceremony

Now Reuters via The Japan Times:

Olympic snub: Dance of Japan’s indigenous Ainu dropped from opening ceremony
REUTERS, FEB 22, 2020, courtesy of JDG

Olympic organizers have dropped a dance by Japan’s indigenous Ainu people from the opening ceremony of this year’s Summer Games, a representative of the minority group said on Friday.

“Ainu dancers will not be included in the opening ceremony in Tokyo,” said Kazuaki Kaizawa, an official at the Hokkaido Ainu Association in Sapporo.

They were told there wasn’t room to fit the dance into the July 24 performance, Kaizawa said.

“We had been preparing and it is a disappointment, but we hope there will still be a chance for us to show Ainu culture elsewhere.”

Officials at the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rest of the article at https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/02/22/national/ainu-dance-olympics/

Debito.org Reader HJ is critical of the portrayal of the issue:
HJ:  What an atrociously shoddy article, full of double-speak and outright mistakes. Reuters should be ashamed.

“The Ainu people, a hunting and gathering people thought to be descendants of early inhabitants of Japan…”

“Thought to be?” What nonsense! They are an ethnic minority that has unequivocally been present in Japan just as long or perhaps longer than Wajin.

“…who were later displaced mainly to Hokkaido…”

Good grief, what painful abuse of language. They were not “displaced.” They were murdered and had their land stolen, then forcefully assimilated into Wajin society, much the same as the native peoples of North America were done by white invaders.

“The Ainu people…have recently been getting more official attention from a state that had once colonized them.”

Again, egregious misuse of language. They were murdered in droves, had their land stolen, then were forcefully assimilated, then had their very existence denied all the way up to the level of the national government. Referring to that as “colonization” is maliciously dishonest.

“…many Ainu fear identifying as other than Japanese…”

How did this make it past an editor? Newsflash: ALL AINU ARE BOTH AINU AND JAPANESE. “Ainu” and “Japanese” are not mutually exclusive terms. How incompetent must one be to write an article about a (finally) state-recognized Japanese ethnic minority group and simultaneously describe members of said group as if they were somehow not Japanese? […]

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4 comments on “2020 Tokyo Olympics drops Ainu performance from its Opening Ceremonies, despite 2019 law officially recognizing and promoting them as an indigenous people in Japan

  • The last time Japan planned a fascist summer Olympiad, 1940, it was cancelled due to WWII. Wonder if 2020’s ‘ein Volk’ Olympiad will meet a similar fate due to Coronavirus?
    But seriously, it’s all just bread and circuses; the Japanese summer is the ‘perfect climate for athletes to perform’ has been exposed as rubbish, the argument about the compact, cheap games has been exploded, the idea that there will be a corresponding increase in tourist visitors has been shown to be untrue, any temporary economic benefits dwarfed by the debt incurred in preparation, and the ‘showcasing’ of rebuilding Tohoku seems to have been forgotten…
    It’s just a mechanism to legally allow policy makers to transfer wealth from the state to private sectors.
    Of course, despite all of this, the people pride themselves on their ability to endure abuse rather than throw out the abusers from office.

    • This- the people pride themselves on their ability to endure abuse rather than throw out the abusers from office.
      Part of my Japan is….. series.

  • Dr. Arudō, thank you for bringing this to the forefront with a dedicated blog post. The Guardian article you included looks like it was written by someone with a tiny bit more sense.

    “…many are reluctant to identify themselves as Ainu…They are half as likely to attend university as other Japanese…”

    Here Justin McCurry properly acknowledges the Ainu as Japanese, which was extremely refreshing to read.

    On the other hand, he writes,

    “The law was intended to officially end more than a century of discrimination that began in the late 19th century…”

    Uh, no, absolutely not. The discrimination has been around for a long, long time.

    “…when Japan’s Meiji-era government took control of Hokkaido…”

    No, the Meiji government invaded and took control of ainu mosir, then re-named it Hokkaidō.

    “…where the Ainu had been hunting, fishing, practising an animist religion and speaking their own language since the 1300s, according to experts.”

    I don’t know what Justin McCurry considers to be an expert, but I do not consider myself an expert and yet still know about Sakanoue no Tamamurō’s subjugation of the Ainu (“Emishi”) in the 800s. There were additional subsequent clashes as Wajin continued to drive the Ainu people north and out of Honshū.

    Let’s do a little better with basic history next time, Justin.


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