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.


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pp. 4-13
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