Video | Ainu cultural revival: Maintaining a “critically endangered” language in an ocean of diversity – Japan


If you were to ask people to describe “Japan” or “the Japanese” in one word, there’s a pretty good chance that you’d hear one word over and over again: “homogeneous.” The Japanese have long prided themselves on the homogeneity of their nation, and it sure is easy to believe that is the case, but the truth rarely lies on the surface. In reality, Japan, like any other nation, is an ocean of diversity, home to multiple minority groups. One of these groups is Japan’s indigenous people, or the Ainu. […]

However, with the government’s (long awaited) official recognition of the Ainu as Japan’s indigenous people in 2008, it appears that there has been a revival of Ainu pride among the few Ainu that remain, as they desperately try to preserve what culture they have left. […]

The indigenous language of Japan is, much like the Ainu people, of unknown origins. With the restrictions placed on the use of the language in 1899, Ainu speakers have all but disappeared. Today the language is said to have less than 15 “native” speakers, all of which are above he age of 60, making Ainu a “critically endangered” language. Originally, the Ainu language had three main dialects: Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and Kuril. However, the Hokkaido dialect is the only one that survives today.

One interesting point about Ainu is that it does not have a written form. The language has lived by being passed down from parent to child for countless years and has historically been transcribed using Japanese kana. The lack of a writing system has of course hindered the ability of the Ainu to preserve their language after it was banned, and the use of Japanese kana has even influenced some Ainu pronunciations. Even so, the language has been able to live in the tradition of Ainu story telling, or Yukar, the language of which is mutually understood by all Ainu groups and is known as Classical Ainu.

Here is an example of a Yukar, or epic story, using Classical Ainu:

Although the Ainu culture is on the brink of extinction, it seems that more and more effort is going into bringing it back to life. These days, young Ainu such as The Ainu Rebels are doing their best to create a new identity for their people and a Japan more open to minorities. Since the depth of the Ainu culture and language can’t be expressed in so few words, I recommend reading more about them or, if possible, experiencing Ainu culture for yourself.

Source: The Ainu: Reviving the Indigenous Spirit of Japan – Tofugu
Date Visited: Wed Apr 08 2015 16:00:14 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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