Friday, June 26, 2009

Ainu Okay An Wa (The Indigenous Ainu are here)!: TOKYO Ainu explores lives of Ainu living in Tokyo

The Ainu live in the 21st century, still remembering our elders freely roaming the wilderness of Hokkaido with a deep ingrained sense of harmony with nature. I would like to have the flesh and blood and the voices of these contemporary Ainu be documented in a film which will look into the heart of the Ainu living in this moment and weave their aspirations for the future.

- Excerpt from TOKYO Ainu website
As evidence of their continued resistance to a propagandized understanding of the Ainu people, TOKYO Ainu, a film highlighting the struggles of the Ainu Diaspora, will be completed by March 2010.

Inspired by the words of a huci (Ainu female elder) requesting that her people’s story be passed on to future generations, TOKYO Ainu will shed light on how the Ainu living in Tokyo perpetuate their culture and lifestyle against the urban backdrop of Tokyo.

The film is based on a series of in-depth interviews with Ainu Tokyoites who have taken part in the movement to claim their rights to practice their culture, deconstructing the myth that Ainu are a “dying race” confined to Hokkaido. It is a culture that varies across the landscape of present day Japan and Russia transforming, like other cultures, with time.* The TOKYO Ainu website:
The film aims to show how the aspirations of each individual Ainu has been formed in the context of the history of the Ainu movement in Greater Tokyo, and how he or she has inherited the aspirations of their ancestors.
The fact that many Ainu relocated to Tokyo from Hokkaido, which they call Ainu Mosir (the domain of humans) is not common knowledge in Japan. The film shows they were in search of a life without discrimination where being Ainu would not prevent them from leading a prosperous and spiritual life. What they often faced was more discrimination than they had experienced at home. Not all Ainu moved to Tokyo by choice. The film also exposes how the Japanese government abducted 38 Ainu to attend the Hokkaido Aboriginal Training School in Tokyo in 1872, resulting in the death of five Ainu. Currently there are an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 Ainu living in Tokyo, but this number might be higher as some Ainu do not acknowledge their background in surveys for fear of discrimination.

As a testament to the enduring resistance of the Ainu people who have faced forced assimilation, expropriation of property, and internal displacement by the Japanese government for hundreds of years, Japan declared the Ainu people the indigenous peoples of Japan in June 2008. Despite this declaration, the overarching paradigm that Japan is a homogenous nation (tan’itsu minzoku) still permeates the country, and the government has only just started to deliberate on future policy through an Expert Advisory Panel (including only one Ainu). However, as you will see from the film, assuming the Ainu people have been passive victims in the process would be an oversimplification.

To see the preview for TOKYO Ainu, discover more about the Ainu movement, and find out how to support the filmmakers’ entirely donation-based endeavors, please visit the film's website.

- Jen Teeter

No comments: