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6 Agriculture

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Ainu History and Culture

1●Ainu People
2●Eating Habits
3●Wild Vegetable
10●Religion/"Sending Spirits Back"
11●Life of the Ainu
12●Sacred Dances
13●Oral Literature
15●Ainu Museum

We know from archaeological remains that, in Hokkaido, primitive small-scale agriculture existed in the period of the Satsumon ware (scratch-pattern pottery) culture. Foxtail millet, Chinese millet, deccan grass and so on were cultivated in this period.

The Ainu engaged in agriculture as a secondary activity to supplement hunting, fishing and gathering plants in the forests. The cultivated areas thus were small. Women raised crops as a part of housework, and men never took part in agriculture, being principally occupied in hunting and fishing.


The cereals that the Ainu raised were deccan grass, foxtail millet, Chinese millet, wheat, buckwheat, beans and so on. The Ainu regarded foxtail millet and deccan grass as the male and female cereals respectively and set a high value on them as the sacred crops of husband and wife.

The cultivation of vegetables started relatively recently. Potatoes, for example, are believed to have been raised when the Japanese introduced some seed potatoes in 1798 (10 th year of Kansei era). Japanese radish, Ieek, cucumber and pumpkin have been raised since the Edo era. This is said to be because of the influence of the Japanese who engaged in fishing in the area. Other vegetables which the Ainu have raised since ancient times include a kind of turnip called "atane."

From Preparing the Land for Cultivation to Harvesting

For cultivation, the Ainu selected land with fewer grasses and trees. They frequently selected riverside land. For cultivation, they used a sickle called "toytayokpe."

Preparing the Land for Cultivation
They could rake up the soil while removing the grass-roots and allwith the sickle. Then they used a digging tool called "shittap," which was made with a deer antler or a tree bough, to remove the stumps and to crush the clods of earth. Finally, they leveled the ground with a fine rake called "areuwematapurip."

When sowing cereals, for example, they spread the seeds onto the field from a bowl or a container made of bark.

They never fertilized the fields because of their religious attitudes to their gods, nor did they actively weed them.

The ears of the cereals were picked with an "ichasey" (ear-picking tool) made with a freshwater pearl-oyster shell. They seldom harvested cereals by cutting the plants from the root. As for crops other than cereals, they seldom used tools to harvest them, instead harvesting them by hand.

They used a "nisu" (mortar) and a "iyutani" (pestle) to thresh the cereals and removed the husk with a "muy"(winnower) to sort out the edible grain from the chaff.

Foxtail millet


Chinese millet





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