AFP: Once “homogeneous” Japan will finally recognize Ainu as distinct ethnic minority


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

Omigod, Blog.  The surprises just keep on coming down these days.  A long last, goodbye “homogeneous Japan”.  Even the GOJ says so…  I don’t know what finally broke the ideological logjam, but I’m not complaining.  Bravos!  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


In landmark move, Japan to recognise indigenous people
by Shingo Ito

AFP/Yahoo News Wed Jun 4, 2008 9:06 PM ET;_ylt=Aps42dTS3o_bONBBTFuBgm7uOrgF

Courtesy of Chris Gunson

Japan is set this week to recognise the Ainu as an indigenous people, in a landmark move for a nation that has long prided itself as ethnically homogeneous.

The move comes ahead of next month’s summit of the Group of Eight rich nations on the northern island of Hokkaido, home to most of Japan’s estimated 70,000 Ainu.

Japan’s parliament is scheduled to adopt a resolution on Friday to urge the government to “immediately” provide support for the Ainu, who have long faced discrimination and income disparity, lawmakers said.

The resolution to be submitted jointly by ruling and opposition lawmakers stipulates for the first time that the Ainu “are an indigenous people with a distinct language, religion and culture.”

“It’s one of the steps forward, but it’s a major step,” Yukio Sato, an Ainu and director general of the Utari Association which campaigns for Ainu rights.

Hiroshi Imazu, head of a group of lawmakers submitting the resolution, said it was approved by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday and is likely to be adopted “unanimously” in parliament on Friday.

“The Ainu people have had bitter experiences such as discrimination,” Imazu told AFP.

“As a human being, I think it’s natural to recognise them as a small but real indigenous people like Aborigines in Australia and Indians in the States.”

The Ainu, who are fairer and more hirsute than most Japanese, observe an animist faith with a belief that God exists in every creation, respecting trees, hills, lakes, rivers and animals — particularly bears.

The Ainu, who lived by hunting and fishing, are believed to have first formed their society around the 13th century mainly in Hokkaido but also the Kuril and Sakhalin islands, which are now ruled by Russia.

Ethnic Japanese gradually settled Hokkaido and in 1899 enacted the Hokkaido Former Aborigines Act, under which the Ainu were forced to give up their land, language and traditions and shift from hunting to farming.

The act was repealed only in 1997 and replaced by legislation calling for “respect for the dignity of Ainu people.”

But the law stopped short of recognising the Ainu as indigenous or, as some activists have demanded, setting up autonomous areas along the lines of Native American reservations in the United States.

Ainu activists had vowed to press forward their demands as the spotlight turns to Hokkaido for the July 7-9 Group of Eight summit at the mountain resort of Toyako.

“The timing was quite favourable for the resolution,” said Kazuo Kato, professor of sociology and head of Shizuoka University of Welfare in central Japan.

“The environment is high on the agenda for the summit, and you can’t ignore the existence of indigenous people when you talk about the environment,” said Kato, an expert on the Ainu issue.

In May, representatives of the world’s 370 million indigenous people, closing up a two-week session at the United Nations, demanded a say in decisions on global warming, saying they were suffering the worst impact.

The United Nations last year adopted a non-binding declaration upholding the human, land and resources rights of indigenous people, including the Ainu.

Japan voted for the UN declaration but stressed it would not accept any moves by indigenous people for independence or unilateral demands for property rights.

Experts did not predict any change in stance by Japan, which has in modern times seen itself as homogeneous and firmly rejected large-scale immigration.

Ainu remain among Japan’s poorest people with only 17 percent graduating from university, half the national average, according to a survey by the Utari association.

Sato said the group would still fight for the “dignity of the Ainu people.”

“We have not reached our final goal,” he said.


11 comments on “AFP: Once “homogeneous” Japan will finally recognize Ainu as distinct ethnic minority

  • This is a good step in the right direction, but I also think there should be an acknowledgement and apology for past transgressions committed against the native population (The Ainu) as well. School textbooks should also reflect the plight of the Ainu.

  • Emanuele Granatello says:

    WTF is happening? Too many good news at once… be prepared for the worst! Anyway too bad they are almost extinct

  • and while we are at it how about all the other oppresed people like the chinese and koreans that were forced to come here during WW2? i guess that was just cheap labor OR slave labor DAH….these people are not even considered citizens and cannot even vote..priceless oops i forgot this is japan..

  • Philip Adamek says:

    It’s good step, sure, but let’s not neglect the article’s conclusion: The United Nations last year adopted a non-binding declaration upholding the human, land and resources rights of indigenous people, including the Ainu. Japan voted for the UN declaration but stressed it would not accept any moves by indigenous people for independence or unilateral demands for property rights. Experts did not predict any change in stance by Japan…
    In short, it’s a good SYMBOLIC step; but as symbols often precede concrete actions, I don’t think it should be dismissed as an entirely hollow gesture.
    Then again, notice the use of the word “unilateral” here; it suggests that the government is ready to cast as illegitimate any serious claims that the Ainu and their representatives might put forth, excepting that of their mere existence. “You feel you deserve something, or that its your RIGHT? How unilateral of you!”

    As for Daniel J’s comment, I am not convinced that the Ryukyuan people are hirsute enough to warrant special consideration.

    And, yes, that last comment was facetious.

  • The move comes ahead of next month’s summit of the Group of Eight rich nations on the northern island of Hokkaido

    So, G8 Summit in Japan is not such a bad idea after all, huh? Indeed quite a few good things happened on the dawn of it.

  • Let’s keep in mind that a lot of these “positive” developments [maybe signing Hague Convention in 2010, recognizing the Ainu are different] in advance of the G8 are just words on paper, or mere promises to put words on paper in the future.

    Concrete steps are another matter, which, in any country (perhaps in Japan even more so) take much longer, if they happen at all.

    Meanwhile, Japan seems to want to nip any aspirations the Ainu might have to getting some land back, while a the same time, dying remote towns in Northern Japan are giving away land for free to anyone who promises to live there. Does the government not see the irony?

  • “A landmark move”? It was May 14, 1997 that the Diet of Japan enacted Law on Promoting the Culture and Tradition of Ainu. (アイヌ文化の振興並びにアイヌの伝統等に関する知識の普及及び啓発に関する法律(平成九年五月十四日法律第五十二号))
    I do not think the news contains anything new.

    –1997’s law did not recognize Ainu as a distinct ethnic minority within Japan under UN definitions. PM Fukuda is moving to rectify that. That is landmark.

    You’re apparently well-read, HO, in two languages. The media didn’t miss this, then or now. Not sure how you could have.

  • Thank you, Debito.
    >1997’s law did not recognize Ainu as a distinct ethnic minority within Japan under UN definitions.

    I am beginning to understand the point. UN declaration says;
    “Article 4 Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.”
    “Article 28 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.
    2. Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.”

    In Japan’s 1997 law, there is a passage “アイヌの人々の民族としての誇りが尊重される社会の実現を図り” “intending to realize a society where the pride of Ainu people as an ethnic group is respected”, which is not enough from UN view point.

    So, Japan goes by UN standards, Hokkaido will be governed by Ainu government. But I think that is going too far given the population of Ainu to non-Ainu in Hokkaido today. I do not know how GoJ can solve this issue in light of UN declaration. Sorry, my position is inconclusive.

    By the way, 4 countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and US) voted against the UN resolution.

  • Japan’s Ainu hope new identity leads to more rights
    Japan’s parliament identified the group as the country’s indigenous people on Friday.

    By Takehiko Kambayashi | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
    from the June 9, 2008 edition
    Courtesy of the author

    URAKAWA, JAPAN – While Friday’s parliamentary decision to recognize the ethnic Ainu as Japan’s indigenous people is a major step for a country long proud of being ethnically homogeneous, for many members of the long-discriminated-against minority it’s not enough.

    “I’m glad to learn the resolution,” says Saki Toyama, an 80-year-old Ainu woman who lives in Urakawa, a serene outpost in Hokkaido, the northern island 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 established a development commission on the island in 1869, which led to the migration of Japanese and the island’s acquisition. That was followed by the forced assimilation and relocation of the group. The Ainu were 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 feel like screaming at the sky,” says Ms. Toyama.

    “You see so many place-names on this land are from the Ainu language,” says Koji Yuki, a secretary-general of the upcoming Indigenous Peoples Summit in Ainu Mosir. The government “had better come clean.”

    Local government estimates show that 23,782 Ainu people remain in Hokkaido, while Ainu leaders and experts argue the number could be much larger because of those who are believed to hide their identity for fear of discrimination or who may have left the island.

    “Japan modernized itself while denying its diversity and multiculturalism. However, the nation, which aspires to a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, has already risen to an international stage where they have to acknowledge it,” says Hideaki Uemura, a professor and expert of indigenous people’s rights at Keisen University, and director of Citizens’ Center for Diplomacy.

    The resolution recognizing the Ainu comes just weeks before this year’s meeting of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations in Hokkaido. It’s no coincidence that the decision comes ahead of the meeting, as Japan does not want any protests to detract from the high-profile gathering.

    Japan was among the 144 nations that supported the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly last September. The government, however, had stopped short of recognizing the Ainu, claiming that “official” definition of indigenous people does not exist.

    “While the resolution is not satisfactory, it is significant in that it urges the government to refer to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Uemura says, adding that the recognition of the indigenous Ainu could also make them an interested party when it comes to the issue of the disputed Northern Territories between Japan and Russia.

    The Ainu people also hope the move could help upgrade their living and educational standards. 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. Moreover, only 17.4 percent of the Ainu receive a college education while 38.5 percent of the locals do.

    The government’s assimilation policy made even many Ainu themselves ignorant of their culture and history, say Ainu leaders. But they hope the resolution, as well as the Indigenous Peoples Summit, could change that. “We are at a turning point,” says Mr. Yuki, who is also an Ainu printmaker. “Whether we are proud of being Ainu or we hide our identity makes a huge difference to our children.”

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    And five years later, we even have 1/3 of people surveyed believing that Ainu are subject to discrimination. Hell, 95% were even aware of the existance of Ainu, and 68& were aware of Ainu being indigenous.






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