During my next trip to Japan I may end up in Hokkaido. I've read something about this mysterious indigenous group called Ainu/Aynu/Aino/Ezo, but I must admit my understanding of the whole thing is rather limited right now.

What I wish to know is: is there such a thing like an authentic Ainu village/town/whole-region where Ainu people live according to their tradition, as opposed to something staged for tourists?

Edit: given the comments below I wish to specify better what I mean with the word 'authentic'. Of course, I don't expect pristine landscapes and Ainu people living in blissful harmony with fluffy penguins (semi-quote) but I won't be surprised to find out there still are authentic villages in remote areas of Hokkaido where mass tourism is not an issue at all.

People are subject to tourist's attention (tourist coming from different countries, at least) everywhere, not only when they "made a conscious decision to live a traditional life". This doesn't actually mean anything. Indian people are surprisingly differents (in local customs) from Italians and Italians take a lot of pictures during their travels there, still the tourism isn't banned in India.

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    If it's truly authentic, they won't allow you to go there. Otherwise, it could not stay authentic. You'll have to be content with the staged stuff, just like all the other tourists. Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 12:18
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    If you had made a conscious decision to live a traditional life instead of a modern one, would you want groups of foreigners to come gawk at you and take pictures? People do not like being tourist attractions. They'll tolerate it only if it makes them money. Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 12:37
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    I think "traditional" can mean "resisting total assimilation" among other things and not just "living in a cave" or "living in a protected reserve". I know I can visit people living traditional lives in Mongolia for instance where living in a yurt that moves seasonally even if they might wear baseball caps and own a motorbike or a rifle or even a TV. I see no reason something analagous might not exist in Hokkaido. Commented Jun 8, 2013 at 14:35
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    @MichaelBorgwardt: Rubbish. I live a truly authentic suburban Australian lifestyle and anybody is allowed to go there, even you. "Authentic" in these contexts just means "not fake or overdone stuff put on just for tourists". Commented May 13, 2014 at 4:35
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    I think the two questions and their answers should be merged. I was quite shocked by the stuff I read in answers and comments on the older question, plus a few nonsequiturs. I like the answer here better than the old answers, which don't even cover Nibutani. Commented May 13, 2014 at 4:41

3 Answers 3


There is no such thing as Ainu culture "in the wild" in any amount in Japan. They were only allowed to practice of their culture freely in 1997. Before that, their language was banned, their land seized and an active assimilation was in place to make them disappear and integrate 100% into the Japanese society. Today there is hardly anyone speaking their language fluently.

The different known subgroups have seen most of their population disappear. Their largest remaining group has formed the Hokkaido Ainu Association.

The current population of Ainu is less educated compared to the Japanese average and the Ainu population is (likely because of the lack of education) in need of money:

The Current, Real Socioeconomic Conditions of the Ainu People

○ Presently, of Ainu people over the age of 55, only 60% are junior secondary school graduates as a result of needing to support their families.

○ The percent of people receiving welfare benefits in Hokkaido, after Osaka at 1.8 times greater than the national average, is 1.6 times greater than the national average.

○ The percentage of Ainu people attending college is at 17.4% less than the national average, which is at approximately 50%.

Your question tells me you are searching for Ainu people living in an Ainu village outside of non-Ainu Japanese towns. This does not exist, since they do not own their own territory, but are living among non-Ainu Japanese. So it is not possible to find see them "Live according to their tradition".

Due to the educational issue and and their financial situation (The Ainu association for example specializes in giving loans to needy people) they are not really in the position, geographically and financially to have their own area and money to live without making it a touristy place. The only things that you can see today are as touristy as most other things in Japan.

  • I'm sorry, but your interpretations of those figures are borderline offensive. Hokkaido has a population of 5.5 million, of whom maybe 20,000 (0.3%) identify as Ainu. For better or worse, most Ainu are not an oppressed minority, since they've mixed with the Japanese for generations and have more or less fully assimilated into Japanese culture. They do own land, in the same way that any other Japanese citizen can, and there was even a famous lawsuit spurred by their property rights vs dam construction: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ainu_people#Litigation Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 2:55
  • Kayano and Kaizawa's land was seized after a standard process of compulsory acquisition from an acknowledged landowner. Being Ainu had nothing to with it, and many ethnic Japanese also had their land seized. Now, plenty of territory (arguably all of Hokkaido) was taken from the Ainu from c. 1400 to the late 1800s, but that's a different kettle of fish. Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 4:17
  • this discussion is off-topic. I never intened to have a political debate. I simply stated that they don't have a special territory and amended my reply accordingly. downvote why you like, I will delete my reply above.
    – uncovery
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 5:00
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    The first half of your answer is fine, but your lines about "highly uneducated" and "urgent need of money" are sensationalist and incorrect. Yes, the Ainu are historically disadvantaged, poorer and less educated on on average, but they're not shunned landless squatters living outside society in shantytowns, begging for our handouts. Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 2:26
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    I think your answer here and your interpretation of what I wrote is just as or even more sensationalist than what I wrote. I am fine to have a factional discussion about how to word/write things, but your initial comments come across aggressive, defensive and not constructive. On top of this, you switch your point of disagreement across your comments. I am fine to revise the newly mentioned parts of the text, but I would hope for a more constructive way of doing this instead of what happened here, and even more so in chat than as comments.
    – uncovery
    Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 2:56

It appears that due to the assimilation and modernisation policies during the Meiji Era in Japan, the Ainu culture and traditions received a 'decisive blow'.

See the Promotion of Ainu Culture article and Ainu Museum information.

So it is very unlikely, and if enclaves did exist, they would be as Michael Borgwardt suggests, off limits to tourists.

It was only very recently, 2008, that the Ainu were officially recognised as indigenous people of Japan (see Wikipedia). (I remember hearing that on the news when I lived in Tokyo at the time).


The sad but true answer is nowhere, really. While some 20,000 people in Hokkaido identify as Ainu, virtually all have more or less assimilated into Japanese society. By some estimates there are less than a dozen native speakers of the language left, and the Ainu "villages" at Shiraoi and Akan are tourist traps.

Probably the closest you can get is the hamlet of Nibutani (二風谷), home to the Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum (site in Japanese only) and former home of outspoken Ainu activist Shigeru Kayano. Japan Today has a good description, which also mentions a few Ainu-run minshuku to stay at. This is also where Kayano set up Japan's first Ainu language schools, although I'm not sure any are open to the public.

  • Thanks for the (sad) answer. Did you watch the video? Can you pick out where the place they are talking about where they say everybody is welcome, Ainu, Japanese, and foreigners? Commented May 13, 2014 at 3:56
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    I met a successful Ainu artist and musician two days ago through an old local friend. He speaks highly of Nibutani. He might've mentioned Shiraoi but I'm sure he didn't mention Akan. My impression is there's at least a small Ainu resurgeance right now. They've gained even more official recognition this year and Ainu sites are being upgraded for the olympics. Most interesting for me is that there is now a guesthouse run by Ainu in Nibutani with dorm beds for 3000 yen. I hope to go there soon. Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 4:55

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