Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Ainu are a group of people in northern Japan who used to earn their living mainly by combining hunting, fishing, and plant gathering. Their traditional homeland was the northwest coast of southern Sakhalin Island, a region historically contested by Russia and Japan. At the end of World War II, this land became part of the USSR and the Japanese government relocated many Ainu families to the nearby Hokkaido. Over the years since then, the Ainu as a distinct group have almost disappeared.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Asia --East Asia



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

In addition to this culture summary, the AB06 Ainu collection consists of 8 documents, all of them in English, including three books which were translated from Japan for HRAF. They contain a variety of cultural and historical information collected from two widely contrasting time periods. The first is the period covering the years 1877 to 1924 when most Ainu were living in their traditional homeland in southern Sakhalin. The second is from the 1960s-1970s after the Ainu almost disappeared as a distinct group following their relocation in the Hokkaidō Island by the Japanese government during World War II.

The oldest materials in the collection were compiled by Batchelor (1927, no. 2), an English missionary who lived among the Ainu for fifty years in 1877-1924, Piłsudski (1910, no. 8), a German ethnologist who conducted fieldwork there from 1895-1905, and Munro (1963, no. 7), an English Physician who lived in Japan in 1900-1942. These works provide first hand accounts of pre-relocation Ainu culture and society, covering religion, ceremonials, mythology, folklore, economic activities, life cycles, health issues and related themes.

Three of the books in the collection were authored by Japanese scholars focusing on Japanese conquest and assimilation of the Ainu (Takakura, 1960, no. 1), ecological and economic effects of relocation (Watanabe, 1964, no. 11), and features of Ainu kinship system (Sugiura, 1962, no. 6). The remaining two books were by Ohnuki-Tierney (1974, no. 12, and 1981, no. 13), an American anthropologist who, in 1965-1969, sought to retrospectively reconstruct the "Ainu way of life" through extensive ethnographic fieldwork among elderly informants in Sakhalin. Ohnuki-Tierney's works, which also provide extensive review of previous works on the Ainu in Sakhalin, Hokkaidō and the neighboring islands, are the most comprehensive sources to be consulted. Ainu people who lived in Kurile and the other islands taken over by the USSR during World War II are not covered in the collection.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Asirankore, kinsmen - use "KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602)"

Bear house (shelter for housing bear raised for public ceremonial) - use "RELIGIOUS AND EDUCATIONAL STRUCTURES (346)", with "OUTBUILDINGS (343)"

Deities kamuy - use "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)"

Evil spirits and demons, called variously oyasi, wenkamuy - use "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)", possibly with "THEORY OF DISEASE (753)"

Haĉire - use "GAMES (524)" and "ATHLETIC SPORTS (526)"

(Inaw), altar on a pole decorated with ritual wood shavings - use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

Katan, settlement (local groups) - use "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)" and "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"

Keĉima, skin disease of the head - use "MORBIDITY (164)" with "THEORY OF DISEASE (753)"

Nusu, sled pulled by dogs - use "VEHICLES (493)"

Si:monso, right-hand side of the house- use "BUILDING INTERIORS AND ARRANGEMENT (353)"

Talisman, an object believed to produce supernatural effects of advantageous character to the possessor - use "MAGIC (789)"

Yayasirika, reborn (person, soul, etc.) - use "ESCHATOLOGY (775)", possibly with "LIFE AND DEATH (761)"

This culture summary (including the bibliography) is based on the article, "Ainu in East Asia" by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 5. East and Southeast Asia, 1993. Paul Hockings, ed. MacMillan Reference, USA. It was revised by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney in January 2007. Teferi Abate Adem wrote the synopsis and indexing notes in December 2006.

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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