TOKYO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Jan. 21, 2022–
The northernmost of Japan’s main islands, Hokkaido, is well known for its world-class powder snow, tasty cuisine and unspoiled nature. However, few people outside the country are aware of one of the most unique aspects of Hokkaido, which is that the island is home to an ethnic group indigenous to northern Japan known as the Ainu.
Traditional Ainu dance performed at Upopoy © The Foundation for Ainu Culture
The Ainu culture is estimated to have emerged between the 12th and 13th centuries, and it embodies the belief that spirits are present in every part of the natural world. Its inhabitants have become experts in various crafts, including woodcarving, embroidery, knitting and weaving; they also developed a series of traditional dances that performed at social gatherings.
However, it has proven difficult to preserve these traditions, the members of the Ainu community, able to transmit them, becoming increasingly rare; hence the limited understanding we refer to around the Ainu culture. The Ainu language is unrelated to Japanese, and the number of people who speak it has declined.
To preserve and promote Ainu culture, the National Ainu Museum and Park, also known as Upopoy, opened in Shiraoi, Hokkaido in July 2020. “Upopoy” means “who sings in a large group” in the Ainu language; and this reflects the institution’s mission to provide a place where people can come together and learn as a community, thereby fostering a culturally diverse society in which Indigenous peoples are treated with respect.
The Upopoy facility, the first of its kind dedicated to Ainu history and culture, includes a museum, an outdoor cultural center and a memorial site, offering everyone, visitors the opportunity to discover and interact with Ainu culture. The permanent exhibits explore six themes, including the Ainu language, spirituality and customs, as well as the interaction of the Ainu with other ethnic groups.
At the National Ainu Park’s outdoor cultural center, visitors can watch traditional dances and participate in hands-on activities related to performing arts, cooking, and crafts. The external environment is an essential aspect of the Ainu culture for which coexistence with nature is fundamental.
The restaurant and food court offer excellent menus representative of Ainu cuisine, including deer meat and salmon dishes. They rely on traditional cooking methods and use authentic Hokkaido ingredients to create flavorful and invigorating meals.
Only an hour’s drive from Upopoy, several sites dating from the Jomon period in the southern part of the prefecture immerse visitors in an earlier period of Japanese history, and are among the 17 sites in the north of the country, having been added to the Cultural Heritage Sites World Heritage Site, in July 2021. The Jomon period began around 15,000 years ago, before ending 2,400 years ago.
Burial sites dating from 3,500 to 800 BCE are located at Irie and Takasago in Toyako City, southwest Hokkaido, facing scenic Uchiura Bay. Irie was a residential area and a burial site; shells, bones of fish and mammals, and remains of deer antlers have been discovered there; as for the Takasago site, it provided grave goods such as pots and stone tools, some of which are colored with red powdered pigment. These sites offer a fascinating insight into the life of the inhabitants in ancient times, and a spiritual culture marked by the natural beauty of the four seasons.
Both the Jomon and Ainu cultures have played a significant role in shaping the island of Hokkaido as it exists today. JNTO wants to encourage overseas visitors, once COVID-related travel restrictions are lifted, to embark on exploring this lesser-known part of Japanese history, in the northernmost parts of the country.
The text of the press release resulting from a translation should in no way be considered official. The only authentic version of the press release is that of the press release in its original language. The translation will always have to be compared with the source text, which will set a precedent.
Weber Shandwick, JNTO Team
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SOURCE: Japan National Tourism Organization
Copyright BusinessWire 2022.
PUBLISHED: 01/21/2022 10:18 PM / DISK: 01/21/2022 10:18 PM
Copyright BusinessWire 2022.