Japan's policy toward Ainu language: Does the revitalisation of Ainu language mean language emancipation?


Wednesday 6 November, 15.00-15.30, E0104

Kayano Shigeru, who devoted himself to the revitalization of Ainu language and culture, and became the first Ainu member of the Diet in 1994, once said as follows: It is the modern Japanese state that, from the Meiji era on, usurped our land, destroyed our culture, and deprived us of our language under the euphemism of assimilation. In fact, regulations that prohibit Ainu culture and language including the Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Act of 1899 had been enacted and brought into effect since the late 19th century. In 1980 the Japanese Government still declared that no linguistic minority are present in its report to the Human Rights Committee. 

In 1983 the first Ainu language class was, however, established by the enormous efforts of two Ainu elders: Kayano Shigeru and Kaizawa Tadashi in their community named Nibutani Hokkaido as a first step for the revitalisation. In 1984 the Ainu Association of Hokkaido unanimously adopted at the regular general assembly a draft of New Ainu Law which was expected to replace the Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Act. The preamble begins with an appeal for official recognition of Ainu’s indigenousness, respect for their ethnic pride and protection of their collective rights under the Constitution of Japan. Among the six objectives of the main text is adoption of comprehensive measures for the education and research of the Ainu including the systematic introduction of Ainu language education. 

In 1997 the Act on Ainu Culture Promotion finally replaced the Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Act. It led to the establishment of the Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture in Hokkaido funded by the Japanese Government. Since then the Foundation has taken the lead in revitalising Ainu language as well as promoting Ainu culture by providing some language programs for the Ainu in cooperation with the Ainu Association of Hokkaido. As a result, the situation faced by Ainu language and culture seems to be slowly but gradually improving. Nevertheless, the Act on Ainu Culture Promotion is only applied to cultural properties such as music, dance and handicraft. Language is part of those properties. Furthermore, the Act stipulates no indigenous rights of the Ainu. 

This presentation examines the initial stage of the revitalisation of Ainu language led by Kayano and Kaizawa in Nibutani and the impacts of Japan’s current policy on the revitalisation of Ainu language under the Act on Ainu Culture Promotion through interviewing people concerned. Further, the presentation explores the relationship between the revitalisation of Ainu language and language emancipation defined by Dr. Leena Huss and Dr. Anna-Riitta Lindgren. In addition, I sometimes had visited Kayano’s home and have worked with Kaizawa’s son Koichi for Ainu’s indigenous rights. If time permits, I would be happy to talk about them.