Ainu to launch new national group

The Japan Times

SAPPORO (Kyodo) The indigenous Ainu plan to launch a national organization possibly by the end of this month in an effort to urge the government to establish new legislation to improve their lives and promote their culture, sources said Tuesday.

The Sapporo-based Ainu Association of Hokkaido and the Ainu Utari Renrakukai, an umbrella body of groups of Ainu living in Tokyo and its vicinity, plan to hold an inaugural meeting of the new body in Tokyo later this month, the sources said.

The Ainu, who have lived for centuries in Hokkaido and Russia's Kuril and Sakhalin islands, have their own language and customs. But the government beginning around the late Edo Period (1603-1867) promoted their assimilation.

The Ainu population is currently estimated at about 25,000.

The Ainu Association of Hokkaido said the new national body is intended to share information among various Ainu groups, consolidate their opinions and build a consensus among them.

In July, a government panel on policies concerning the Ainu released a report that urged the state to take concrete steps to improve their lives and promote their culture through new legislation.

Many Ainu expect the next prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, to effect policies to promote their livelihoods and culture, the sources said, noting he hails from a Hokkaido constituency.

Hatoyama, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, is certain to become prime minister following his party's historic victory in Sunday's general election for the House of Representatives.

The past forced assimilation caused the Ainu to lose much of their land and become impoverished.

In the July report, the panel acknowledged that the introduction of land ownership and assimilation policies implemented while the government was modernizing the state dealt a serious blow to the Ainu and their culture.

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