The Ainu are Japan’s oldest indigenous people, and they have survived and maintained their culture from the Late Paleolithic Period through today. However, the Japanese government did not formally recognize the Ainu until 2008. The visibility of the Ainu in literature is limited, especially in realism-based genres such as historical fiction and contemporary realistic fiction, but they do appear in fantasy stories and traditional folk literature. The Ainu play the role of familiar strangers in Japanese children’s literature. Arjun Appadurai argues that imagination has grown a collective social product while fantasies are private and even individual (7). The idea of the Ainu as neighbors in Japanese nationhood has appeared in the literary world as collective forms of imagination in which they are depicted as ancient, mysterious people who are deep parts of nature. Using Appadurai’s distinction between imagination and fantasy and a framework of postcolonial ecocriticism, we studied representations of the Ainu in Japanese picture books. Laura Wright examines the ways that authors of fiction represent postcolonial landscapes and environmental issues and how “the realm of the imaginary” is positioned within postcolonialism and environmentalism (1). Ecocritical themes in Ainu folk literature include respecting nature and appreciating what is given by the Earth. Ainu culture is viewed through its epics, myths, and folklore, and a range of ecocritical themes that mirror contemporary Ainu life are brought up. This paper concludes that Ainu fantasy texts for Japanese children convey ecocritical values and support cultural ecoliteracy. The development of cultural ecoliteracy leads to a critique of the anti-ecological effects of ruling-class culture, which requires that humanity be defined by its superiority over lesser humans, animals, nature, and all that is “other” (Gaard 326). The significant lack of Ainu presences in historical and contemporary stories reinforce the Ainu people’s long standing status as one of the most marginalized and stereotyped groups in the literature.
Ainu, postcolonial ecocriticism, ecoliteracy, marginalization and stereotype, Japanese indigenous
The Ainu are Japan’s oldest indigenous people, and they have survived and maintained their culture from the Late Paleolithic Period through today. The Ainu lifestyle has only partially survived due to difficulties caused by their patriarchal suppression in Japan, where the Ainu were racially excluded and forced by the government to assimilate to Japanese language and culture. The Ainu people were treated as an internally-colonized native population, and they were subjugated by the Japanese government (Heinrich 95). In 2007, the UN General Assembly passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. A year later, the [End Page 4] Japanese government formally recognized the Ainu (which means “human” in their native language) as indigenous to Japan. Until then, the Ainu were not even an official minority in Japan.
This belated recognition explains why the Ainu are virtually unknown globally and how even Japanese people know very little about the Ainu, who have been living for some 10,000 years on the island of Hokkaido. Hokkaido, which is situated at the northern end of the island chain of Japan, accounts for 21% of the entire landmass of Japan, yet Japanese maps that were drawn in the mid-nineteenth century are missing Hokkaido entirely (Walker 1); this is because the Ainu’s Hokkaido reservations were not a part of Japanese territory until Japanese settlers (the Yamato) took over the Hokkaido area for hunting in the 1850s. The Yamato people’s impact on the Ainu resembles that of Westerners’ invasions of indigenous lands. The Ainu’s socio-political conflicts with mainland Japanese people are similar to those of the Native American nations’ conflicts with the American, Mexican, and Canadian governments (Walker 75). Many Ainu avoid using the term Hokkaido today; instead, they prefer the indigenous term Ainu Mosir, which means “the peaceful land of the Ainu” (Heinrich 93). This paper uses the term Ainu Mosir to honor the Ainu and to inform the general audience.
Indigenous histories and cultures are often associated with Western conquest histories. For example, the histories of indigenous people in North America, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and Hawai’i are known primarily as part of the histories of European settlers. Accordingly, in a post-colonial situation, these indigenous nations are recognized and have the chance to come into their own. For peoples colonized by non-westerners the situation is different. Indigenous, colonized populations in Asian countries like Japan and Taiwan continue to be unrecognized and disadvantaged, since the idea of orientalism hides the fact that there is a history of colonialism within Asian countries as well. This article attempts to add a Japanese dimension to the postcolonial discussion.
Our interest in the Ainu people’s history and culture is due to the disconnect between global indigenous experiences and knowledge of Japan despite the Ainu’s long history. In this paper, we explore a range of Japanese children’s literature in which the Ainu culture is either represented or subtly embedded. Although the Ainu people and their culture were not officially recognized in Japan until 2008, their cultural influences and impact on mainstream Japanese culture are undeniable. The purpose of this study is to investigate how the Ainu are represented in a range of texts for young readers in Japan. Findings indicate that Ainu stories in Japanese children’s texts feature cultural ecoliteracy that involves Ainu ways of advocating for the environment, which is a central cultural ethos of the Ainu. The Ainu view the natural environment of Ainu Mosir as a sacred space where kamuy (gods) exist in abundance in the forms of animals, plants, fish, and even contagions (Walker 48).
Moreover, we aim to show that colonial attitudes continue to impact the depiction of the Ainu, showing them as a colonized people. In Japan, the Ainu are seen as belonging to the realm of the imaginary in folk literature, and the few available contemporary or historical narratives in books for young people are insufficient to advocate for the social and cultural awareness of the Ainu in Japan.
Theoretical Framework and Literature Review
In this paper, Arjun Appadurai’s concept of “the work of imagination” and postcolonial ecocriticism is used to identify the Ainu as the familiar strangers in Japanese children’s literature. The expression is borrowed from Lipman’s book, Familiar Strangers, which uses it to describe Chinese Muslims who resisted homogenization (Lipman 36). The marginalization and oppression of Chinese Muslims in China, despite their long history, is similar to the Ainu’s social status in Japan.
Ecocriticism is “the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment” (Glotfelty xviii). Ecocriticism is not necessarily restricted to environmental realism or nature writing, but it is attentive to any form of fictional or nonfictional writing in which nature and natural elements are highlighted (Huggan and Tiffin 13). Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin note that the task of post-colonial ecocriticism is to explore how different cultural understandings of society and nature are affected by the ongoing experiences of colonialism, sexism, and racism (15). Traditional fantasy stories about Ainu spirituality illustrate their ecocritical values in environmental discourses. This paper interprets the cultural understanding of the Ainu in children’s literature as “inflected by ongoing experiences [End Page 5] of colonialism and racism” (Huggan and Tiffin 15).
There is not a wide range of contemporary images of the Ainu in Japanese society. Depictions of the Ainu are mainly associated with ethnic tourism in villages and museums in the Ainu Mosir area, so much so, in fact that, among the Ainu themselves, concerns have been raised about the stereotypical image that is reproduced. Edward Bruner notes that “Tourism is conservative and even reactionary, frequently retelling outmoded stories, reproducing stereotypes, replicating fantasy, or simulating a discarded historical vision” (21). These stereotypes distract public attention away from the socio-political issues that the Ainu people face (Saito; Hiwasaki). Japanese children’s books mirror such touristic models to the point that the Ainu “[have become] part of “the common mental work” of ordinary Japanese people (Appadurai 5). Sayaka Saito’s study analyzes ideas about the Ainu people among children at three school sites: private, public, and an Ainu elementary school. Saito’s findings indicate that most of the children at the public schools had no idea what “Ainu” meant. Children who had learned about the Ainu previously drew images of nature, fish, traditional costumes, and animals. The positive element in these responses is that the Ainu are associated with the Ainu Mosir area, which reminds people of its rich natural environment and the Ainu’s closeness to nature. However, the children in Saito’s study did not draw a connection to modern Ainu children or their contemporary community—such as schools, plays, and other daily life—as if they were part of an old exhibition in a museum. Appadurai describes the imagination as an output of the special expressive space of art, myth, and ritual, and the output becomes part of the common mental work of ordinary people in many societies (5). The Ainu are misunderstood as people from “long ago” and part of an exotic, nature-based culture.
Clare Bradford notes that ecocriticism has perceived a disconnect between human subjects and their natural environment because “Humanity’s anthropocentric assumptions privileged culture over nature” (81). Mainstream Japanese culture views itself anthropocentrically while viewing the Ainu as primitive and exotic. Representations of the Ainu in present day Japan are confined to images of traditional Ainu culture that are strongly tied to ethnic tourism. In addition to the lack of historical awareness of the Ainu, there is also a lack of awareness of the Ainu people who live in Japan today (Saito 143). Selective familiarity means that public knowledge of the Ainu is extremely limited, and that they are depicted as mysterious in children’s books. Japanese readers find it difficult to relate to Ainu culture, which is more nature-oriented than their own urban Japanese lifestyle.
The Ainu’s role as familiar strangers is shown in many pictorial fantasy texts that include the mystical creatures kamuy (gods) without clear Ainu connections. The kamuy’s supernatural power is a good motif for fantasy. An example of a kamuy’s mystical power is found in Ru Tatsuki’s Nyankoro Kamuy (2012). In this manga, a character named Poiyaupe’s appearance conveys that he is part god: he is half-human, half-cat, and also wears a traditional Ainu outfit. The illustrations in Nyankoro Kamuy show that this manga has appropriated various elements of Ainu stories and myths, including animal-kamuy. The illustrations also show Poiyaupe wearing a traditional Ainu outfit that enables him to gain godly superpowers with which to fight evil and protect humans.
We were unable to find studies of children’s books about the Ainu in Japanese literature studies or children’s literature studies in English, although there are nearly fifty Ainu picture books. A few Japanese scholars, such as Itsuhiko Kubodera and Kyosuke Kindaichi, have studied the Ainu people’s oral stories from linguistic and ethnographic perspectives. The number of studies that transcribe the Ainu’s oral stories or conduct research on children’s literature featuring Ainu culture is very limited. The study most relevant to this paper was Sakata’s study of traditional Ainu oral stories that have been told by the Ainu and their descendants, transmitted from generation to generation, and revived in picture book format. Minako Sakata’s study discovered a variety of versions of Ainu oral literature with sub-genres including epics, myths, folklore, and performance pieces, which have a dual nature, consisting of storytellers and audiences. Japanese picture books about the Ainu represent a continuation of their oral literature.
A total of forty-three picture books and seven chapter books featuring the Ainu were found for this study. Most of the authors are cultural outsiders who are not from the Ainu Mosir area and have no Ainu tribal entitlements. All in all, there were thirty-six [End Page 6] cultural outsiders and only twenty-five cultural insiders. Vivian Yenika-Agbaw studied representations of Africa in children’s literature, and she noted that “A bulk of literature about African children is published in the West and written by Western authors/illustrators” (113). Ainu stories are typically based on stereotypical ideas of the Ainu present in Japanese society’s collective imagination. Who tells the Ainu’s stories raises questions of how authors of fiction represent postcolonial landscapes and environmental issues within the realm of the imaginary.
Bradford lists several environmental themes that appear across genres and text formats and convey a range of environmental issues such as “habitat protection (celebration of wilderness), ecosystem conservation, pollution prevention, resource depletion, and advocacy of harmonic balance between human subjects and natural environments” (80). Children’s texts in the Ainu culture contain cultural ecoliteracy that invites young readers to explore the interconnectivity between nature and culture. The most common element of Ainu culture to appear in picture books about the Ainu is kamuy. Many picture books reflect the Ainu’s traditional cultural ethos of respecting nature and animals as divine beings. The Ainu culture’s close ties with nature resemble elements of traditional Japanese shamanism. There are few studies specifically exploring the relationship between Ainu spirituality and traditional Japanese Shintoism, and although several studies claim that Shintoism and Ainu spirituality are similar, they are different (Umehara 102; Sato). The major difference between Shintoism and the Ainu’s ecological belief is the existence of kamuy, which means “divine beings” in the Ainu language. Kamuy have different roles in terms of controlling ecological conditions, and “Kamuy can be animals, plants, minerals, or other geographical and natural phenomena that have a place on earth” (Fujimura 193). Unlike Western gods, which have godly privileges that differentiate them from humans, kamuy are not as radically different, even if they are not human. All animal species in the Ainu Mosir area are represented in the kamuy pantheon, such as the Ezo deer, the snowstorm bird, and the famous bears. (Ezo is another name for the Ainu Mosir and other Ainu territories.)
In the studied picture books, four cultural themes emerged within the framework of postcolonial ecocriticism. Specifically, Robert Young’s definition of post-colonialism as the “politics and philosophy of activism” (4) helped defined four themes: (1) ecocritical warnings from animals and nature to prevent pollution, (2) seeking life and becoming whole, (3) locating postcolonial ecocriticism in time and space, and (4) continuity of colonization: missing stories of the real Ainu. These themes illustrate the disparity between mainstream Japanese and Ainu culture and continue the anti-colonial struggles of the past.
Ecological Warning Signs from Animals and Nature for Pollution Prevention
The Ainu Mosir area is known for its rich natural resources, and traditionally, hunting was a major means of survival for the Ainu people. The Ainu greatly depended on nature for food, health, and life. In the summer and fall, the rivers of Ainu Mosir filled with a variety of fish that were essential for all river-based Ainu chiefdoms’ survival and rituals (Walker 51). When the Ainu did not perform the necessary prayer rituals to the kamuy, animals and vegetation sent direct and indirect warning signs to the Ainu people. The theme invoked here is taking responsibility for pollution prevention. The consequences of not taking such responsibility are suffering. In Chyuku Chebu (2011, titled in the Ainu language), an elder Ainu’s [End Page 7] story for his grandchildren is a cautionary tale about keeping the river clean for fish. The Ainu people catch and eat the salmon that the fish god releases into the river in autumn, but the fish-kamuy will discontinue releasing salmon if the river is polluted, and the people will suffer from a food shortage.
Another example of this theme is a story in which an extinct being warns the Ainu people about pollution. Sebu to Okami no Yakusoku (A Promise of Sebu and Wolf) is a story about a little Ainu boy and the wolf god. In this story, destruction of the ecosystem has resulted in the wolf’s extinction. When the boy gets lost in the forest, the wolf-kamuy leads him back home. Knowing that the wolf is an extinct animal, his family does not believe his story. The story concludes with the boy taking action to conserve the ecosystem, and the moral of the story is that human beings and animals should be able to coexist. This particular theme shows that humanity is both foolish and clever and that the animal-kamuy play important roles as guides for the Ainu. Ainu culture is very protective of the Earth and respects what nature does for the Ainu people. What all of these environmental warning signs suggests is that postcolonial ecoliteracy performs “advocacy function[s] both in relation to the real worlds it inhabits and to the imaginary spaces” (Huggan and Tiffin 15).
Locating Postcolonial Ecocriticism in Time and Space
Seasonal ecological changes serve as a natural clock for the Ainu people. Linda Tuhiwai Smith emphasizes the importance of indigenous views of both time and space when Western ideas about history are examined by saying, “Different orientations toward time and space, different positioning within time and space, and different systems of language for making space and time ‘real’ underpin notions of past and present, of place and of relationships to the land” (55). From the Ainu people’s point of view, the divine beings, kamuy, appear as indigenous markers of time and space in their land.
Different kamuy share stories of different seasons, and wilderness is celebrated in their stories. In Haru wo hashiru Ezoshika (Wintertime Journey of Ezo Deer), surviving the winter means family togetherness [End Page 8] in situations such as endless blizzards. Spring is the time when survival through the harsh winter and availability of food are celebrated with playing and dancing rituals. For instance, after the snowstorm stops, a snowstorm bird plays and dances with other wild animals in Fubuki no Tori (The Snowstorm Bird). Two stories, Haru no Chou (Spring Butterflies) and Tobidase Nihiki no Koguma (Two Bear Cubs Set Forth) illustrate celebrating the warm spring and enjoying the exploration of natural wonders after a harsh winter.
The Ainu’s cultural ethos focuses on kamuy’s time concepts in nature. The theme of patience and endurance are part of the ecological values of kamuy’s calendar in the Ainu’s stories. Ainu discourses do not encourage advance preparations for possible food shortages or harsh winter weather. This stands in stark contrast to Western values, such as those demonstrated in Aesop’s fables—like The Grasshopper and the Ants, which promotes a moral lesson that hard work and food storage pay off. Smith notes that “The belief that ‘natives’ did not value work or have a sense of time provided ideological justification for exclusionary practice[s]” (54). Western fables project a connection between time and “work,” while the kamuy in Ainu folk literature show humans how to make meaning out of a life-cycle through both good and bad seasons. Each season is respected because, if it does not occur, the Ainu people will encounter resource depletion when natural stocks are consumed. In Shimafufkuro no Kamisama ga Utatta Hanashi (The Story of Blakiston’s Fish Owl God), the Blakiston’s fish owl-kamuy warns the Ainu against their ungratefulness towards food. The fox in Ainu to Kitsune (The Fox and the Ainu) tells the selfish Ainu people that the kamuy created salmon for not only the Ainu but also for other animals, including foxes, so it should be shared. The Ainu’s ecological awareness in the children’s texts connects to cultural ecoliteracy, which as Gaard notes, “develops an understanding of the ways that local, regional, and global ecologies interact for better and for worse” (326). The value that the Ainu find in sharing in both better and worse times implies an “absence of hierarchy among diverse human-animal-nature communities” (Gaard 327), and it represents ecocritical attitudes about connection, community, and interdependence in Ainu cultures. [End Page 9]
Seeking Life and Becoming Whole
Gregory Cajete introduces the indigenous ideal of living a good life “as respectful and spiritual life, a wholesome life” (46). Despite Cajete is a Tewa Indian scholar in North America, his definition of “good life” has a global indigenous connection with Ainu culture especially through children’s books. The stories illustrate the Ainu life cycle in which a wide range of life experiences (such as love, happiness, aging, loneliness, death, and relationships) are reflected upon by the kamuy. All of the stories share the theme of seeking life and becoming whole. Humanity is validated in the Ainu’s traditional stories that seek life completeness through natural changes. After all, death is a final journey through which the spirit returns to nature. In Isopo Kamuy: Kamigami no Monogatari (Isopo Kamuy: A Story of the Gods), the rabbit-kamuy gets old, his eyesight becomes weaker, and even a basic ritual is hard to arrange by himself. Eventually, he accepts that he cannot stop aging, but he enjoys the rest of his life. This story illustrates that aging is a part of the cycle of life. Two books, Shimafufkuro Ikiru (The Life of an Owl Couple) and Kita kitsune no Shiawase (The Happy Life of a Northern Red Fox), describe death and separation as steps toward becoming whole. Becoming whole does not mean looking for perfection in one’s life but living a “good life” as defined by the Ainu. In The Life of an Owl Couple, a female owl loses her partner, and the story depicts the feeling of being left alone. Her soulmate’s sudden death seems too dramatic for her to accept. After a lot of struggle, she learns to do her best to live the rest of her life. In The Happy Life of a Northern Red Fox, a male fox lives alone after his wife passes away. The fox is aging and decides to see his daughter and grandchildren before he dies. After his death, his spirit becomes a floating cloud and says, “I lived such a happy life. Life is so beautiful” (31). This story shows that both the good and bad parts of life have value. The Ainu’s indigenous spirituality values a wholeness that incorporates good and bad both. Shigeru Kayano’s memoir provides a good example of how happiness is defined in Ainu culture. His mother sought happiness in aging. She said, “as I got older, I would experience more and more happiness. So when it’s time, I’m going to die kamuykar onne [soundless as a withered tree falling]” (138).
These Ainu ways of thinking about a good life stand in contrast to Japanese animal stories in which happiness is found in materialistic abundance. For example, a Japanese folktale called The Tongue-cut Sparrow (Ishii and Akaba) measures happiness with size of treasure and a feast you receive as a consequence of your behavior. The tree pig brothers in the Western children’s story The Three Little Pigs finally find happiness in a strong, safe brick house. While Ainu’s attitudes and beliefs about life include strong ecological values, in contrast, anthropocentric values that privilege culture over nature, body over mind, matter over spirit, and reason over emotion are more common in physical and “mental” Western cultures (Bradford 87), including Japanese mainstream culture.
The Past and Present: Missing Stories of the Real Ainu
The Ainu had a long struggle for recognition as indigenous citizens of Japan and for land rights, which explains why there are so few realistic children’s texts about Ainu culture. Besides picture books, manga, and anime, chapter books also focus on Ainu folklore and fantasy stories rather than realistic stories. Only one book, Kamuy Kotan Matsuri ni (At the Kamuy [End Page 10] Kotan Festival), contains a contemporary Ainu story. It depicts a young Ainu girl’s lost heritage and her journey to discover her Ainu identity. The historical fiction books Kamuy Kenta Monogatari (The Story of Kamuy Kenta) and Ainu no Shonen Ikitsuka: Jiyu no Mori ni Nogarete (An Ainu Boy and the Freedom Forest) portray the historical conditions of people in Ainu Mosir. Although these three books fall into two different genres, they share postcolonial perspectives on the Ainu’s past and present. Bill Ashcroft notes that postcolonial studies is “a way of addressing the cultural production of those societies affected by the historical phenomenon of colonialism” (21). These books are cultural productions affected by the Ainu’s colonial history in Japan.
Nakagawa notes that when the Colonization Commission was established, the Ainu were discouraged from speaking their language. After 1871, Ainu children received a “Japanized” education in school, and the number of children who learned the Ainu language in their homes rapidly approached zero (371). Contemporary voices describing the lost Ainu heritage of young people is a social consequence of Ainu’s mere recognition. In At the Kamuy Kotan Festival, the protagonist does not know that she is Ainu until she goes to the cultural event called Kamuy Kotan Festival. Like many minority groups in Japan, Ainu speakers hide their heritage by not using their language in public, especially in the presence of Japanese people. In Hiroshi Nakagawa’s study, Ainu parents who were fluent in Ainu language never spoke a word of it in front of their children (372), and this language hiding is still common. The Kamuy Kotan Festival portrays such prevalent cultural issues through a young Ainu girl’s discovery of her true Ainu identity, which suffers from cultural and social boundaries. Identity hiding is a common individual and collective practice in contemporary Ainu families and communities (Nakagawa; Bukh). The discovery of a young girl’s cultural identity invites young readers in Japan to think of social racism and discrimination against the Ainu. Postcolonial ecocriticism involves “aesthetics committed to politics with its historical understandings of the socio-political origins of colonized group (Ainu)” (Huggan and Tiffin 12).
As mentioned above, there are two historical fiction pieces about the Ainu: Kamuy Kenta Monogatari (The Story of Kamuy Kenta) and Ainu no Shonen Ikitsuka: Jiyu no Mori ni Nogarete (An Ainu Boy and the Freedom Forest). Historical fiction illustrates Ainuness through the wild landscapes of Ainu Mosir that portray Ainu’s ecological spirit positively. The Story of Kamuy Kenta is a story about an Ainu boy named Kenta who rides with people and wild animals in the harsh climate of Ainu Mosir. An Ainu Boy and the Freedom Forest is based on an important true event, Shakushain’s War in 1669. Ikitsuka, an Ainu boy, lives in Ainu Mosir when the Matsumae clan becomes the rulers of Ainu Mosir. When the Matsumae clan comes to power, Ikitsuka and his family members are forced to relocate to an unfamiliar town to perform hard labor. Ikitsuka’s story reflects on the struggles of the Ainu chiefdoms during Shakushain’s War, when the Ainu faced an ethnic war perpetrated by the Japanese army. The war was a significant event in both Japanese and Ainu history, because it was the last attempt to drive the Japanese military out of the Ainu’s homeland by forming a type of pan-Ainu alliance (Walker 49). But the fact that there is so little published historical fiction about Shakushain’s War is just a further indication that the Ainu people and their history is forgotten. At best they can hope to be Japan’s “familiar strangers.”
Many of the recurring themes in books about the Ainu are similar to those found in the books of other global indigenous people, especially perhaps when it comes to ecological concerns and conservation. The Ainu’s nature dialogue is tied to the ecology of Ainu Mosir’s ecology, and the kamuy represent a confluence of Ainu cultural and ecological thinking. The kamuy have a deep understanding and empathy for humanity. In Ainu communities, most of the kamuy have quotidian status, such as animals and natural phenomena, because the Ainu people respect their surroundings as divine beings.
The fact that more than half of the authors of the picture books are cultural outsiders who are not from Ainu Mosir may indicate that they are works of imagination more than fact. Imagination-based ideas about the Ainu in Japanese children’s texts explain the insufficiency of counter-narratives based on history and current issues. The Ainu have historically been victims of uneven power relations. They were excluded from the racialized national communities and treated as an internally colonized native [End Page 11] population (Siddle 27). Such exclusion continues in the literary world with a near absence of stories of the socio-political issues with which the Ainu communities have struggled. For example, twice the number of Ainu are on social welfare compared to the Japanese majority population, and the education level of the Ainu is significantly lower (Irvine). Societal Ainu issues are not highly publicized or discussed in mainstream Japan. Instead, Ainu culture is depicted traditionally through the literary genre of fantasy. Such a fantasy-oriented overrepresentation leads to a symbolic incarceration of the Ainu in one of the most tourist-exploited sites in Japan, Ainu Mosir, or in imagined worlds like manga. However, as Appadurai says, “one man’s imagined community is another man’s political prison” (6). Representing Ainu culture in epics, myths, and folklore without sufficient counter-narratives in historical and contemporary realistic fiction imprisons Ainu culture while erasing the possibility of authentic contemporaneous coexistence of Japanese and Ainu in Japan /Ainu Mosir today.
The Ainu people have been victims of internal colonization and the social illusion of homogeneity in Japan. As Michael Weiner notes, Japan is a home to diversity despite the common narratives of racial and cultural homogeneity, which preclude the existence of minorities (xii). Successive Japanese governments have excluded the “other” in notions of Japanese homogeneity and purity for the sake of the social construction of the “self” (Weiner xii). When children of the Ainu do not have a secure position in society and remain as the “other,” they learn to hide their heritage. As long as children of the ethnic mainstream are not aware of the Ainu as a part of the whole picture of Japan’s past and present, intolerance against ethnic minority groups like the Ainu will not disappear. Many of the picture books discussed can serve as tools to invite young readers to learn and think about the Ainu culture. We also hope that more discussions of the contemporary and historical narratives of the Ainu people are proactive, as national and local curriculums continue to add chapters about the Ainu to history books in Japan.
YOO KYUNG SUNG is an Associate Professor in the Department of Language Literacy & Sociocultural Studies at the University of New Mexico. She is a committee member of the “Notable Books in Global Society.” Her most recent book chapter is entitled, “Sliding Glass Doors that Open South Korea for American Children” in Teaching Globally: Reading The World through Literature (2016).
JUNKO SAKOI is a teacher-educator and curriculum developer at the Multicultural Center in Tucson Unifi ed School District, Arizona. She has developed multicultural school curriculum and instruction with K-12 teachers and administrators. Her publications focus on Japanese pictorial texts and in & out of school literacy in addition to Kamishibai and Japanese visual storytelling.