Japan’s parliament has adopted a resolution that, for the first time, formally recognises the Ainu as “an indigenous people with a distinct language, religion and culture”. In a nation that has always preferred to perceive itself as ethnically homogenous, it is a highly significant move.
Traditionally the Ainu lived off the land, worshipping natural landmarks and animals, especially bears. Japanese settlers started moving into Hokkaido in the 15th Century and gradually pushed the Ainu north. In 1899, the Japanese government passed an act which labelled the Ainu “former Aborigines”. The idea was that, henceforth, they would assimilate. This act stood for almost 100 years. Successive governments held that there was no “Ainu issue” and insisted that Japan did not have any ethnic minority groups.
The parliamentary resolution will give the Ainu formal recognition. It will also call on the government to establish an expert panel to advise on Ainu policy. (Excerpted from a BBC report)