Ainu History and Culture are the Pride of Hokkaido

The Saru River originates in the northern part of the Hidaka Mountains. In the river basin, many Ainu place names remain to this day, and prehistoric stoneware artifacts have been excavated from the tributaries. The Saru River, and the vast forests on its banks, have supported human industry since ancient times. The Nibutani region of Biratori Town is located along the middle reaches of this river.

The Wajin (dominant ethnic group of mainland Japan) only began to develop Hokkaido in earnest in the Meiji era (1868-1912). For this reason, Hokkaido is often misunderstood to have no deep connection to historical and cultural tourism. However, Hokkaido is home to the long and rich history of the Ainu, a heritage that should be treasured. In April of this year, the National Ainu Museum and Park Upopoy will open on the shore of Lake Poroto. On the occasion of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, it is expected that many international visitors will also take the opportunity to visit the newly-opened Upopoy.

Biratori is just a short trip from Shiraoi, and offers an even deeper experience of remaining Ainu culture. The Nibutani region is Hokkaido’s only place of production of the traditional folk crafts, Nibutani-ita and Nibutani-attus. Even today, these artisans carve and embroider Ainu patterns, and create attus garments.

Here in Nibutani, in the area in front of the Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum, a new Nibutani Kotan has been created to serve as a hub for Ainu history and culture. This kotan features cise dwellings built using traditional construction techniques, separated by a small flowing stream. At the on-site folk craft hall, visitors can purchase authentic Ainu folk crafts.

In this special edition, we begin a journey of Ainu history and culture tourism, starting at Nibutani Kotan.

Words by Ida Yukitaka
Translation by Xene Inc.