We were guided around the cise by Sekine Kenji of the Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum. As a specialist in the instruction of the Ainu language, he carefully explained aspects of the lifestyle that forms the background to the language.
Usually there was one poro cise (large cise) in each kotan; it was a special cise where the family of the head of the settlement lived and where people gathered for rituals. The interior is spacious with a high ceiling. There are two holes out of which the smoke is emitted; one window on the east side and two on the south side. The structure is almost the same as that of the cise in which normal families lived.
In the middle of the room is an open hearth, which formed the focal point of life around which the family ate, worked and conversed. Dried salmon and other preserved foods are hung above the fire.
There is usually one female on duty in the poro cise, who does craftwork while conversing with the visitors. Also, regular Ainu language events are held, and there are opportunities to listen to stories about Nibutani traditions and legends. In a separate poro cise, a broth containing lots of ingredients is wormed in an iron pot on the fire and, on some days, is offered to visitors.
According to Sekine, “When Ainu from other regions come to Nibutani, they are often surprised at and envious of the substantiality of the kotan. We all propose ideas and think about how we can make use of such excellent cise.”
One of the characteristics of the Nibutani Kotan cise is the fact that each day, different traditional Ainu artisan come to create their crafts. Approximately 14 artisans carry out wood carving, embroidery and the like in two cise, and visitors there can watch them work. One of the artisans is Kaizawa Mamoru, who runs the Kaizawa Mingei craft shop opposite the Kotan.
“Demonstrations of the crafts have continued in the cise for almost 10 years. I’m usually there on Wednesdays. It’s a great opportunity for the visitors who come to Nibutani, to see our work.” Many of the beautiful works of art and crafts exhibited in the museum are those of Kaizawa and his colleagues; not “things from the distant past” but Ainu traditions that have been handed down and that are being worked on now on an everyday basis by the people who live here.
Aza Nibutani 75-2, Biratori-cho, Saru-gun, Hokkaido, Japan
Hours: 8:00 to 18:00