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12 Sacred Dances

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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

Sacred Dances

It was believed that every day of life was made possible, and that peaceful harmonious life was ensured only by the gods' protection and supply to man of food for subsistence. Therefore, the Ainu dedicated various dances to the gods by holding various festivals that would enable families and "kotan " (villages) to live peacefully. Furthermore, dances were meant for people to share the feelings of joy and sorrow with the gods, and therefore played an important role in daily life.

Dances on festival occasions include basic ones accompanied by songs such as "upopo" performed by sitting singers and "rimse" sung by dancing participants, many of which are performed in groups.

For "upopo", women sit in a circle and sing to the rhythm created by beating the lids of "shintoko" (hokai). It is a prelude to various dances to make the occasion merry.

"Rimse," which originally meant to make a banging sound, refers to a dance and song combination derived from a dance parade. When something disastrous or catastrophic happened in a village, the villagers would brandish their swords up and down while beating the ground with their feet to scare away evil spirits.
For example, during "iyomante" ,a ceremony for sending bears' spirits back to Heaven, people would celebrate the departure of the bear god, performing various dances during the ceremony. Furthermore, in a feast which would last far into the night, the participants would stand one after another and begin dancing. As the excitement mounted, the circle would grow bigger and they would begin dancing "iyomante rimse," a dance to send bears' spirits back to heaven.

There are sorts of work-related dances which are performed when people prepare for a festival ; these include a "brewing dance" which symbolizes the actions of pressing steamed rice grains and filtering the juice, and a "pounding dance" representing the actions of pounding grains in the mortar. In the Shiraoi district, for example, the shout of the "pounding dance" is "hessa ho" or "hessa oh ho." It is said that adding such a rhythm to what seems a simple action seeks to enhance participants' delight or the efficiency of work. However, if "hessa" is considered a transformation of "fussa," it is assumed that this dance is certainly possessed of magical elements, for "fussa" is a kind of magical word.
There is also a dance to act out the "intimidation of evil gods", which is performed on festive occasions. It is called "emush rimse," a sword dance. This soul-stirring dance is performed by men who brandish their swords vigorously, crossing their blades violently with each other to the accompaniment of courageous shouts, and occasionally beating the beams of their houses. Like "ku rimse," a bow dance, it is one of the few men's dances.

For attraction on festive occasions, there is "hekurisarari," a tray passing dance in which women sing "upopo" in a circle and throw or pass a tray to compete with one another. It is suggested that as dances which had originated from worship gradually grew into entertainment, new forms were developed.


"iyomante rimse"

"emush rimse"

"ku rimse"

In addition, there are various other dances : a group dance in which participants demonstrate their individuality and continue to dance until their stamina is exhausted, with the last dancer winning the competition, a narrative dance, a work dance, and many more representing plants and animals indispensable to a hunting and gathering people.
"Sarorunchikap rimse "/ "Sarorunrimse"With a crane motion theme

"Hanchikap rimse" With a water bird theme

" Chak peeyak" With a rain swallow theme

" Chikapne"/"Hararki" With a bird theme

" Chironnup rimse"With a fox theme

"Isepoupopo" With a hare theme

"Erum upopo"With a mouse theme

"Fumpe rimse/Fumpenere"With a whale theme

"Ponkenetay"A dance symbolizing a black alder grove

"Sir kor kamuy"An acorn-collecting dance

"Hanchikap rimse"

"Sarorunchikap rimse"
Of these, "Fumperimse" begins with a scene in which an old woman finds a "visiting whale," a weak whale which has been beached. Hearing the news, villagers gather at the scene and begin to butcher the "godsend," and a flock of crows then hovers about in the hope of a morsel from the feast. It is said that to realize people's wishes, the villagers in the story dramatized a desirable result, and thus that this is a form of magical dance to pray for a plentiful hunt.

Just as do songs, the aforementioned dances constitute forms unique to individual districts and are numerous in variety. They are even today being transmitted and preserved throughout Hokkaido, some now designated as important intangible cultural properties.

"Hanchikap rimse"

"Sarorunchikap rimse"


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

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