restricted access 8. Ainu and Hunter-Gatherer Studies
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117 8 Ainu and Hunter-Gatherer Studies Mark J. Hudson Any critical discussion of Ainu Studies needs to grapple with the question of hunter-gathering. Until the colonization of Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kurils by Japan and Russia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries , Ainu were primarily a hunter-gatherer people. Today, scholars have a renewed respect for the resilience and sustainability of hunter-gathering lifestyles. As environmental historian J. R. McNeill (2010, 362) notes, “The most ecologically sustainable societies in human history have been those that did not practice agriculture.” Ainu Studies, however, has seen hunter-gathering almost entirely in negative terms as a primitive form of economy that justified replacement through agricultural colonization. For some earlier researchers, the one remediating feature of hunter-gathering was that it seemed to place Ainu closer to nature, but this proved a doubleedged sword, leading to assumptions that Ainu lacked history and culture (cf. Segawa 2007). The status of “hunter-gatherer” has been used to bolster views of Ainu primitiveness in both academic and public perspectives. In Chapter 9 of this volume, Deriha shows how earlier scholars developed a limited vision of Ainu hunting that excluded trade and exchange. However, the most sweeping critique of Ainu hunter-gatherer discourse has been made by Canadian archaeologist Gary Crawford (2008). Crawford’s pioneering research on archaeological plant remains in Hokkaido in the 1980s demonstrated that sites of the Epi-Jōmon and Satsumon cultures that preceded the Ainu period contained remains of cultivated plants (Crawford and Yoshizaki 1987). Historical records show that this plant cultivation by 118     Mark J. Hudson no means disappeared in the Ainu period (Yamamoto 1996). Crawford criticizes scholars for emphasizing the view of Ainu as hunter-gatherers and ignoring this history of Ainu farming: “Uncritical acceptance of one particular historical perspective on the Ainu should be a concern considering the standing of the Ainu people in Japan. Discrimination against the Ainu and marginalizing them as colonial subjects is no secret and archaeologists should not be party to this process, even implicitly” (Crawford 2008, 457). Crawford raises the crucial question of how academic (in this case archaeological) discourse within Ainu Studies affects changing perspectives of Ainu people and thus ultimately affects their current status and wellbeing . In focusing on hunter-gathering in this chapter, it is not my intention to ignore Crawford’s critique, let alone to be party to the process of discrimination against Ainu. As discussed below, I do not deny that plant cultivation was a significant element in Ainu subsistence, although its exact dietary role is hard to reconstruct. Where I differ from Crawford, is that I still regard Ainu society as a hunter-gatherer society. Based on the archaeological record of plant remains, Crawford (2008) argues that it is difficult to classify Ainu as either foragers or farmers. My own approach to this question , however, is based on a social definition of farming such as that used by Spriggs (1996, 525), who writes that, rather than botanical evidence for cultivation or domestication, “It is more important to identify when dependence upon agriculture began, defined here in terms of the creation of agro-ecosystems that limit subsistence choice because of environmental transformation or labour demands.” From such a perspective, I do not see Ainu culture as moving toward a full-scale agricultural society prior to the Meiji era. Crawford is right that the hunter-gatherer label has often been used to disempower Indigenous peoples, yet this chapter argues that we need to re-think our assumption that farming is “better” than hunter-gathering.1 Ainu represent a rare example of an Old World, cold temperate foraging society that continued hunter-gathering until recent times. The long history of Ainu as hunter-gatherers is of enormous importance for a general understanding of human foraging behavior. Crawford is correct that Ainu have almost exclusively been perceived as hunter-gatherers rather than agriculturalists , yet there has been comparatively little actual research on Ainu foraging.2 In this chapter, I examine the development of research on Ainu as hunter-gatherers and discuss the contribution of the Ainu to huntergatherer theory. The chapter is divided into two main parts. The first part Ainu and Hunter-Gatherer Studies     119 attempts an overview of the history of research on Ainu as hunter-gatherers . The second half then presents short summaries of a number of topics related to Ainu foraging. These summaries are by no means exhaustive but are designed to sketch the range...


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Subject Headings

  • Japan -- Ethnic relations.
  • Ainu -- Study and teaching.
  • Ainu.
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