‘The threat of the Ainu to Japan’s monocultural image is defused through this very research, which constructs Ainu culture as being separate from reality, a world of dreams and rituals and mythology. This emasculates the Ainu as a political entity, and allows Japan’s centralised, modernised state to remain unblemished in its colonial uniformity.’

The quote comes from the title link site. The ideological bias has been bothering me for a while. In fact, I half woke up this morning with counter-arguments rattling round my head and infusing my dreams.

I agree that ‘Japan’ has (against all common sense and evidence) attempted to present itself as a monoethnic and monocultural nation, and has generally oppressed the Ainu. However, I disagree that Ainu culture has been routinely constructed by researchers as ‘separate from reality’. I cannot comment on Japanese and Ainu scholarship directly as I am unable to read either, but below is a sample of research available in English that tends to refute the accusation.

First of all, studies of mythology, ritual and symbolic structures do not necessarily imply a departure from reality, nor must they represent imposed colonialist constructions. For example, even Donald Philippi‘s work on the Yukar presents an excellent summary of Ainu history in his introduction, relating archaeology and ethnohistory to the Ainu construction of their own traditions and universe through their epic narratives.

Emiko Ohnuki Tierney situates Ainu culture firmly in the ‘real’ world, whilst examining their cosmological traditions in relation to geography and socioeconomic organisation.

Brett L Walker examines Ainu resistance to Japanese Colonial expansion and situates this history within a wider ecological context.

Recent genetic research connects the Ainu to population groups across the North Pacific region, for example the Nivkh and Kamchadal, even with the Tlingit as well as (of course) to the ‘Japanese’.

Kirsten Refsing‘s volumes on European documents relating to the Ainu represent a rather more complex historical picture of European attitudes and representations than is sometimes imagined.

Then there is Richard Siddle‘s work. And I found this thesis by Scott Harrison.

So go easy on the scholars! Maybe they aren’t part of a sinister imperialist plot to ’emasculate’ and perhaps they do have some genuine interest in Ainu people and in reality.


Advertisements