Research on Shibetsu Icarpa and Regional Heritage
On June 17th, 2018, a traditional rite for Ainu people called icarpa was established out on the Ichani Karikariusu-iseki Ruins (nationally designated site) inside the Po-gawa River Historical Nature Park in Shibetsu Town, Hokkaido. Researchers of the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage also visited the site.
Shibetsu Icarpa is a memorial service for 23 Ainu people who were executed due to the Menashi-Kunashir rebellion in 1789, one of the resistance activities against the Wajin (the ethnic Japanese). The icarpa, organized by the Shibetsu municipal Ainu Association, was started in 2009, and it commemorated its tenth anniversary this year. For the first half of the rite, kamuinomi was established to offer sacred sake to the gods. For the last half of the rite, icarpa was conducted as a memorial service for the deceased. At the end of the rite, a song and a dance called upopo and rimse were performed.
Shibetsu Icarpa was carried out at the Ichani Karikariusu-iseki Ruins, where a settlement had been formed most probably in the period when the Tobinitai culture had flourished from an archaeological perspective (circa 9th – 13th century). Together with Shibetsu Wetlands spreading in front of the site, it is now preserved in the Po-gawa River Historical Nature Park. Strictly speaking, the zenith of prosperity in the site is not consistent with the time when the rebellion occurred. Given that the site was run by their ancestors, it seems to have been chosen as a ritual place for reviving the traditional rite for Ainu people.
In recent years, following the requirement of utilization of cultural properties, the case of Shibetsu Icarpa may become one of the good models in the utilization of relics. This is because utilization is realized by making good use of an intangible element of the site or “cultural space” as the land of the ancestors. That is, the historical value of the site can be considered utilized as a cultural resource in today’s cultural renaissance for the Ainu.
On the other hand, the value of the Ichani Karikariusu-iseki Ruins does not belong to Ainu people only. In time, with Shibetsu Icarpa, “Po-gawa River Festival” is held for local citizens by organizing a variety of events such as canoeing, historic spot guide touring by curators, and Jomon kids’ village. As part of the educational program, local school children continually participate in the icarpa in an attempt to understand the local culture. Although most of the residents in Shibetsu Town do not trace their roots to the Ainu, the site is utilized as a local cultural resource for these people too. At the same time, the site also serves as a place of interaction between people who have Ainu ancestry and non-Ainu ancestry.
Recently, one city and four towns in Eastern Hokkaido including Shibetsu Town (Nemuro City, Betsukai Town, Shibetsu Town, Nakashibetsu Town and Rausu Town) have started an activity to jointly nominate the heritage of this area as Japan Heritage. The Ichani Karikariusu-iseki Ruins is positioned as its key component. In Hokkaido, a region where people with diverse roots live in harmony, how to honor its local heritage is a difficult issue. We will continually pay attention to the movements in Eastern Hokkaido including Shibetsu Town.