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11 Life of Ainu

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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 Ainu
12●Sacred Dances
13●Oral Literature
15●Ainu Museum


The Ainu people had various types of marriage. A child was promised in marriage by arrangement between his or her parents and the parents of his or her betrothed or by a go-between. When the betrothed reached a marriageable age, they were told who their spouse was to be. There were also marriages based on mutual consent of both sexes. In some areas, when a daughter reached a marriageable age, her parents let her live in a small room called "tunpu" annexed to the southern wall of her house. The parents chose her spouse from men who visited her.

The age of mdrriage was 17-18years old for men and 15-16 years for women, who were tattooed. At these ages, both sexes were regarded as adults.

When a man proposed to a women, he visited her house, ate half a full bowl of rice handed to him by her, and returned the rest to her. If the woman ate the rest, she accepted his proposal. If she did not, and put it beside her, she rejected his proposal. When a man became engaged to a woman or they learned that their engagement had been arranged, they exchanged gifts with each other. He sent her a small engraved knife, a workbox, a spool and other gifts. She sent him embroidered clothes, coverings for the back of the hand, Ieggings, and other handmade clothes. According to some books, many "yomeiri" marriages, in which a bride went to the house of a bridegroom with her belongings to become a member of his family, were conducted in the old days.

The yomeiri marriage was conducted in the following manner. A man and his father brought to the house of a woman betrothal gifts, including a sword, a treasured sword, an ornamental quiver, a sword guard, and a woven basket (hokai). If they agreed to marry, the man and his father would bring her to their house or the man would stay at her house for a while and then bring her to his house.

At the wedding ceremony, participants prayed to the god of fire. Bride and bridegroom respectively ate half of the rice served in a bowl, and other participants were entertained.


When a wife was two - three months pregnant, the gods of fire, birth, entrances, etc. were prayed to for the health of the wife and baby. At five months, the prayer for "cyakutai" (wearing a maternity belt) was performed. The loincloth of the husband or father-in-law was used as the maternity belt. When she was seven months pregnant, a ceremony was held to purify her body.




When a pregnant woman was near term, a delivery room was established at the left side (shiso) of the fireplace. The pregnant woman gave birth while holding on to an "over-the-shoulder" rope (a rope for delivery) hanging from an overhead beam. Another woman who had given birth delivered the child. While the pregnant woman was giving birth, even her husband and children were required to go outside. At the fireside, an elder supplicated various gods, including those of fire, birth, entrances and lavatories, for easy delivery.

If the delivery was a difficult one, various magic ceremonies would be carried out a different one in each geographic area. In the Shiraoi area, a woman who sat beside the expecting mother raised her in her arms and let the mother-to-be pound something in a mortar.


Child Rearing

The worn-out fabric of old clothing was used for baby clothes because soft cloth was good for the skin of babies and worn-out material protected babies from gods of illness and demons due to these gods' abhorrence of dirty things. Before a baby was breast-fed, he/she was given a decoction of the endodermis of alder and the roots of butterburs to discharge impurities. Children were raised almost naked until about the ages of four to five. Even when they wore clothes, they did not wear belts and left the front of their clothes open. Subsequently they wore bark clothes without patterns, such as "attush," until coming of age.


New born babies were named "ayay" (a baby's crying), "shipo," "poyshi" (small excrement), "shion"(old excrement), etc. Children were called by these "temporary" names until the ages of two to three. They were not given "permanent" names when they were born. Their tentative names had a portion meaning "excrement" or "old things" to ward off the demon of ill-health. Some children were named based on their behavior or habits. Other children were named after impressive events or after parents' wishes for the future of the children. When children were named, they were never given the same names as others.


Coming of Age

Men were regarded as adults at the age of 15-16. They wore loincloths and had their hair dressed properly for the first time. Women were also considered adults at the age of 15-16. They wore underclothes called "mour" and had their hair dressed properly and wound waistcloths called "raunkut," "ponkut," etc. around their bodies. When women reached age 12-13, the lips, hands and arms were tattooed. When they reached age 15-16, their tattoos were completed. Thus were they qualified for marriage.



Ainu families were nuclear ones which consisted of parents and children. When the children got married, they left their families and lived separately. Therefore, no more than one couple lived in a house.

tattooed woman

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