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Discover Japan Beyond Anime


Hokkaido, Japan. The Kayano Shigeru Nibutani Ainu Museum in Hokkaido displays a collection of folk artifacts from the indigenous Ainu people collected by Shigeru Kayano, the first Ainu member of the Japanese national legislature.

PHOTO BY YOMIURI SHIMBUN, AP


Marginalized since the late 1800s, the Ainu, an indigenous people from the northern region of the Japanese archipelago, were finally recognized in Japan in 2019. Currently, the majority of Ainu are concentrated in Hokkaido, the northernmost main island of Japan and, Although the country's new Ainu Promotion Law recognizes and prohibits discrimination against members of this ethnic group, according to indigenous activists, the legal instrument fails to help the people more directly. However, this may change as more Japanese and international tourists visit Hokkaido to learn about Ainu culture at Upopoy, the new complex that includes the Ainu Museum and National Park, which opened in 2020.


Upopoy has an urgent three-pronged mission: to promote, revitalize, and expand Ainu culture before it becomes extinct. The Ainu language is especially at risk, it is unrelated to Japanese or any other language and is considered by UNESCO to be critically endangered. Activities such as listening to colloquial Ainu and playing games to learn pronunciation are part of the new museum's permanent exhibition. Visitors can also learn about the great sustainable living lessons of the Ainu, whose spiritual beliefs are rooted in respect and gratitude for nature. After visiting Upopoy, drive 30 minutes southwest and find Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido's premier hot spring resort located in Shikotsu-Toya National Park.

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