This past January 27th, the Keio Plaza Hotel hosted the "2013 Hokkaido Ainu Forum" event to give attendees a deeper understanding of Ainu history, culture, and recent policy changes.
The event featured unique Ainu puppet shows like "Yamabiko" and "Koguma," an "Ainu Culture Stage" operated by the Ainu People Museum, and a wide range of programs and activities which helped to share different aspects of Ainu culture with guests. The venue was designed for all ages, from children and parents to older guests and allowed everyone to get a taste of traditional Ainu culture and history without the stiff feeling of a lecture.
Located in front of the entrance to the event was a corner featuring demonstrations by master Ainu craftsmen and a panel which helped outline some of the unique history and culture. When people think of Ainu culture, they usually think of the unique Ainu designs that decorate their textiles, however these designs also decorate amulets and talismans giving them special meanings which are passed down through the generations.
The Ainu puppetry performance "Fundari Kettari Kumagami-sama" (a play about a bear god) was one of the main events.
In traditional Ainu thinking, plants, animals, and all things created and used by humans contain a unique "spirit" which comes to earth from the world of the gods. These spirits change their appearance and bear the burden of a mortal life in order to carry out their purpose. Using pictures to help illustrate the message, I will try to outline this ancient tale which has been passed down through the years.
"Every year Kuma-gami (Bear God) and his wife lived happily together, catching and eating their fill of salmon. This year began the same as every other year and one day, after catching a particularly large amount of salmon, Kuma-gami decided to take the shortcut home to surprise his wife. The shortcut took him across a small river, which was normally easy to cross, but on this day Kuma-gami was caught in a flood!"
"This made Kuma-gami angry, but as he hurried back home suddenly two beautiful women appeared before him. They invited him to a feast where Kuma-gami ate until he was completely stuffed."
"However, it seemed that the two beautiful women had some mischief in store for Kuma-gami."
"Kuma-gami wasn't sure why, but he soon found himself being attacked by a dog!"
"Wondering why his luck was so bad, he decided to ask uncle fox and uncle crow if they knew anything, but they wouldn't listen to a thing he said."
"In the end, he was shot by an Ainu hunter and returned to the world of the gods."
"The Ainu hunters who shot him were extremely thankful for the meals that the bear would provide as they took his body back to the village."
"Kuma-gami went to visit the God of Fire after returning to the world of the gods."
"There the God of Fire presented Kuma-gami with a single salmon and sent him back to the village."
But wait, I hear you ask, why did the bear get sent back to the village? What is the meaning behind the single salmon present? Well, if I told you that, there would be no reason for you to go see the play! Rest assured that the meanings behind these symbols are all thoroughly explained at the play, but for today, that is where I will end the story.
The event also included many different educational activities and projects for visitors to enjoy, and I'd like to tell yo you about a few of them.
The "Ureshipa Project" is an initiative which helps foster the younger members of the Ainu people, helping to impart knowledge of Ainu culture to its future culture bearers.
If you really want to get some hands on experience with Ainu culture, nothing beats the "Night of the Porotokotan" event held every summer at the Ainu Museum in Shiraoi Town.
Musical performance was featured at this year's event.
We've written about the Porotokotan event before, so if you would like to learn more please follow the link below.
The Ainu people have lived in peace and harmony with nature on the island of Hokkaido for many years. During the Meiji period the island took on the name Hokkaido, changed from Yezo, and many different cultures entered the region.
People from Tokyo, Kyoto, Shikoku, and Honshu all brought their own history and culture with them when they moved to the island. This is what makes events like this so valuable, learning the ancient history and culture of the island is an asset to all residents and allows us to live in harmony with a better understanding our roots.
In collaboration with 札幌法務局 and 北海道人権擁護委員会
(Hokkaido Likers - Iwasaki)