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101 7 Is Ainu History Japanese History? David L. Howell Anyone who writes on the history of the Ainu necessarily grapples with big questions about the nature of membership in the Japanese national community . Indeed, for many authors these days, the whole point of writing Ainu history is to critique the modern Japanese nation-state and its foundational myths, particularly the idea of ethnic and cultural homogeneity. For such writers, the answer to the question posed in this essay’s title is an emphatic “yes”: Ainu history certainly is Japanese history, perhaps even more so than it is a discrete field of inquiry. Not all scholars share this view. Anglophone authors like Richard Siddle and Brett Walker might reasonably argue that by drawing on broader frameworks—such as the global history of race, environmental history, and systematic comparisons with colonial North America—they demonstrate how the centrality of Ainu agency for Ainu history effectively eschews such questioning (Siddle 1996; Walker 2001). However, I submit that even those who strive to write Ainu-centered histories struggle to overcome the nation-state’s centrality in discourses about the Japanese archipelago. The problem is particularly acute for students of premodern history. Given the institutional equation of Japanese history with national history in Japan, everywhere that is now part of Japan is subject to inclusion within Japanese national history. Ainu living in, say, the eighteenth century were not Japanese in any sense of the word, but their descendents today are citizens of the modern nation-state and hence are Japanese in a legal if not an ethnic sense. Many majority Japanese authors hesitate to exclude Ainu 102     David L. Howell history from their narratives of Japanese history out of a sense that doing so would implicitly suggest that Ainu citizens of Japan today do not genuinely belong to the national community. In their view, only Ainu-identified writers have the agency to exclude themselves—and hence Ainu history— from narratives of Japanese national history: to do it themselves would be presumptuous. To be clear from the outset, my goal in this essay is to place the study of Ainu history within Japanese scholarship into its own historical context. The Ainu people and their culture have been the object of scholarly interest in both Japan and the West for over two centuries, but the idea that the Ainu have a history worth studying is relatively new. When, in 1878, the British travelogue writer Isabella Bird dismissed the Ainu as a people who “have no history,” she was merely stating the obvious to her Victorian readers (Bird 1973, 75). Even without being so openly dismissive, narratives of Japanese history have until very recently generally ignored the Ainu or treated them as a minor historical curiosity—a footnote or passing reference at best, and too often a carelessly or condescendingly conceived one at that.1 Under the circumstances, it is not surprising to learn that serious scholarship on the history of the Ainu first appeared only around the middle of the twentieth century, and that the literature remained sparse until the last quarter of the century. Even today, when interest in Ainu culture is strong in Japan and elsewhere, no more than a handful of professional historians work principally on Ainu history. In the pages that follow I will survey the literature on Ainu history, focusing on Japanese-language scholarship published since the 1940s. Therefore, I will not address the work of non-Japanese scholars nor the histories authored by Ainu themselves. This is not to downplay their influence or import on sociopolitical issues or the discipline itself. Rather, I want to draw full attention to the work of Japanese historians and the question of how Japan imagines itself. Indeed, for this task space does not permit a comprehensive review of every major work.2 Instead, I will focus on introducing a handful of works that illustrate important themes in the development of Ainu historiography in Japan. In particular, I will dwell on the work of three scholars: Takakura Shin’ichirō, who founded and for decades embodied the field of Ainu history; and Iwasaki Naoko and Ogawa Masahito, who work on the Tokugawa and modern periods, respectively, and are the leading practitioners of what I shall call the New Ainu History. Is Ainu History Japanese History?     103 The Ainu in Northern History (Hoppōshi) The idea that the Ainu are the subjects rather than merely the objects of history gained credence in Japan in the late 1970s...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780824839185
Related ISBN
9780824836979
MARC Record
OCLC
870969958
Launched on MUSE
2014-02-24
Language
English
Open Access
No
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