Ethnography: Ainu

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Ethnography: Ainu


The Ainu, Japan’s native aboriginal people, are very much an isolated people, living now only in the northern island of Japan, Hokkaido. They number, as of a 1984 survey, 24,381, continuing a rise from a low point in the mid nineteenth century due to forced labor and disease, and have largely left their old ways and integrated into standard Japanese society, though even the majority of those still reside in Hokkaido. The animistic religion of the Ainu is firmly enmeshed with every other aspect of the culture.

Family and Kinship

Most Ainu organize in groups of nuclear families, the nuclear family being the basic social unit (Encyclopedia). Some groups, however, have extended families, but are not as common. Families are both patrilineal and matrilineal, the sons inheriting the father’s clan and the daughters inheriting the mother’s clan (. Both males and females do not marry cousins, but only from their mother’s family (Encyclopedia). Also, polygyny is practiced by the higher-status males in a community (Encyclopedia). During the bear ritual, relatives of the host in other settlements usually come to participate (Encyclopedia). Marriages traditionally were either arranged or of mutual consent (Museum, Life 1). Also, as a result of the twentieth century’s attempted Japanese integration, often through exogamy, now not even a third of all Ainu have four Ainu grandparents (Bowring 244).


The Ainu traditionally were hunters and gatherers, but rather than wandering nomadically, they settled in one location, on one section of a river, where they could fish and hunt (Museum People). However, in more recent times, Ainu seeking to integrate into Japanese society have taken jobs in ...

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... Apr. 2002.

Encyclopedia of World Cultures. CD-ROM. Old Tappan, NJ:


Forbis, William H. Japan Today: People, Places, Power. New

York: Harper, 1975.

Law to preserve Ainu culture was Passed. 1 Feb. 2002. Buraku

Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. 25 Apr.

2002. .

Takasugi, Shinji. Numbers in world languages. 25 Apr. 2002.


Thomason, Andy. “The Ainu of Japan.” 2 July 1999.

Inc. 25 Apr. 2002.


Wright, Mike. “Ainu-English Word List.” 13 Nov. 1999. Costal

Fog Net. 25 Apr. 2002.


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