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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

Village Location

A village is called "kotan" in the Ainu language. Kotan were located in river basins and seashores where food was readily available, particularly in the basins of rivers through which salmon went upstream. A village consisted basically of a paternal clan. The average number of families was four to seven, rarely reaching more than ten. In the early modern times, the Ainu people were forced to labor at the fishing grounds of the Japanese. Ainu kotan were also forced to move near fishing grounds so that the Japanese could secure a labor force. When the Japanese moved to other fishing grounds, Ainu kotan were also forced to accompany them. As a result, the traditional kotan disappeared and large villages of several dozen families were formed around the fishing grounds.

Ainu house in the Taisho era


Kotan houses were made of cogon grasses, bamboo grass, barks, etc. The length lay east to west or parallel to a river. A house was about seven meters by five with an entrance at the west end that also served as a storeroom. The house had three windows, including the "rorun-puyar," a window located on the side facing the entrance (at the east side) , through which gods entered and left and ceremonial tools were taken in and out. The Ainu have regarded this window as sacred and have been told never to look in through it. A house had a fireplace near the entrance. The husband and wife sat on the fireplace's left side (called "shiso") . Children and guests sat facing them on the fireplace's right side (called "harkiso"). The house had a platform for valuables called "iyoykir" behind the shiso. The Ainu placed "shintoko"(hokai) and "ikayop" (quivers) there.

Inside of Ainu house in the Edo era


Outbuildings included separate lavatories for men called "ashinru" and for women called "menokoru", a "pu" (storehouse) in which food was stored, a "heper set" (cage for young bear) , and drying-racks for fish and wild plants. An altar "nusasan" faced the east side of the house (rorunpuyar). The Ainu held such ceremonies there as "lyomante. " a ceremony to send the spirit of a bear to the gods.

"pu" and "heper set"

Ainu Museum 3-4, Wakakusa-cho 2-chome, Shiraoi-gun, Hokkaido, JAPAN 059-0902

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