Contrary to common belief, in fact three different cultures
exist in the Japanese archipelago. One, it goes without saying, is the
"Japanese culture" fostered by the nation state centered on
the Emperor. The second is the Ryûkyû culture fostered in
the Ryûkyû kingdom centered on the Ryûkyû king,
and the third is the Ainu culture created by the Ainu people in northern
Japan. While each of these three cultures could be considered a "Japanese
culture", in the broad sense of the term, in fact that has not
been the case.
However, in recent years, studies and introductory materials from a
new vantage point have been exploring Ryûkyû culture as
being deeply related to previously more narrowly defined "Japanese
culture." On the other hand, Ainu culture has been left untouched
within the broader definition of Japanese culture.
There are three cultural regions within Ainu culture. Namely, the Hokkaido
Ainu who flourished on Hokkaido island, the Karafuto Ainu who flourished
on the southern part of Karafuto Island, present-day Sakhalin, Russia.
The third group, are the Chishima Ainu who flourished on Central Chishima
and Northern Chishima, two islands in the present-day Russian Kuril
Unique among these three groups of Ainu
peoples is the history of the Chishima Ainu. Absolutely none of the
culture or language of the Chishima Ainu has been handed down, and indeed,
we might even go so far as to say that even the Chishima Ainu themselves
can be said to have vanished. In the shadow of international diplomacy,
and indeed, extremely peaceful terms, this Japanese people has extinguished
as one of the cultures of this earth.
There is one text referring to these people. Let us examine it
closely given its deep connection to the topic of this paper.
"In 1884 a joint agreement between
the countries of Russia and Japan, assigned Karafuto island to Russia,
while the Chishima archipelago was assigned to Japan. Later, Japan showed
compassion for the pitiful state of these new citizens of the far north,
a mere 97 total population scattered in several locations on the various
islands, and sought to save them from extinction. As a result, the entire
population of these islands were transferred to Shikotan Island, with
its much richer, more temperate climate. This island is located between
Nemuro region in Hokkaido (Ezo) and Kunashiri Island, and is the southernmost
limit of the Chishima archipelago. And yet, was this island a paradise
for these pitiful people? No, the move was in vain ... . " (Torii
Ryûzô, from the Preface to Chishima Ainu).
According to the "Treaty of Exchange Regarding Karafuto and Chishima"
agreed between Japan and Russia, Karafuto was ceded to Russia, while
the entire Chishima archipelago became Japanese territory. At that time,
the Japanese government included the indigenous Ainu peoples as part
of their own citizenry. The Karafuto Ainu were forcibly resettled on
Hokkaido. At first they were moved to Meguma in Wakkanai, quite close
to Karafuto, but later they were moved to Tsuishikari, present-day Ebetsu
city, quite close to Sapporo.
The Chishima Ainu who lived on Shimushu Island, Horomushiri Island and
other such locales were moved, as noted in Torii's Preface, to Shikotan
Both these moves stemmed from the apprehensions harbored by the japanese government, that the Ainu peoples might eventually establish trade relations with the Russians and engage in an activity that would, as a result, be harmful to Japan.
As a result of the Russo-Japanese war
of 1903, the Karafuto Ainu were able to return to their homelands. However,
in spite of the fact that the Chishima Islands were part of Japanese
territory, the Chishima Ainu were not able to return to their own islands.
With dreams of their homeland in mind, all they could do was abandon
their own culture and be assimilated into the Japanese culture on Hokkaido
and its nearby islands. Today, not a single person remains who can hand
on the Chishima Ainu culture.
(Translated by Martha J. McClintock)