Walked around and found it


Why I came from Tokyo to Biratori to get married

Editor's note: The following is a transcript of an account Korin Kawanano gave KAI.
Words by Azusa Yajima
Photographs by Keiji Tsuyuguchi
Translation by Xene Inc.

'Are there really still Ainu in Nibutani?'

While enrolled in Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, I traveled in Hokkaido, learned that there are still Ainu there and became interested. A student I met during my trip told me, "If you want to learn about the Ainu, go to Nibutani." It was the summer of 1993, when I was 19 years old.
The first time I visited Nibutani was four or five days after the end of the meeting of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. I met Shigeru Kayano in front of the Kayano Shigeru Nibutani Ainu Museum. I was surprised by his looks, which were different from the looks of other Japanese people I know.
I am a third generation Chinese in Japan. I grew up in the house of a cook. I have lived with the problems and sadness that accompany being viewed as different even though I was born and grew up in Japan. I don't remember being discriminated against, but once I couldn't get a visa. I also don't understand my own identity. That's what it was like when I visited Nibutani. There was a series of coincidences and I wound up being treated to dinner at the Kawanano house, and starting the next day I stayed there. I later would visit it many times, using my time off.

The deciding factor in my decision to marry was the warmth of the people

After graduating from college, I worked at a publisher, and I entered graduate school at age 28 to research Ainu culture. One day near the end of my studies, the woman who is now my mother-in-law guessed that I was worried about my career and encouraged me to marry her son Hisao. I came to this town to marry, the deciding factor being the warmth of the people here who kindly accepted a traveler.


Feeling the spirit of the Ainu in my life

While living in Biratori, I realized there are more people here than in Tokyo who smile with happiness. Also, bartering is done here. If someone gives me fish or vegetables, I come up with a delicious dish, because I am the daughter of a cook.
In Biratori, everyday conversation teaches me surprising and important things. For example, when a ceremony is held for the first time in more than 10 years, word spreads from person to person and village to village, and Ainu gather from far away. I learned that ceremonies are occasions for people to interact.
Various people living in towns where Ainu live come, and I feel I am being put to use too. If it were another rural town, I don't think I could have lived there this long.



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