Eternally Vanished: The Chishima Ainu and their Culture
—Japan's Own Long-buried and Forgotten Foreign Culture

Toshikazu Sasaki
Tokyo National Museum

     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 Islands.
     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 Island.
      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)