UNESCO: 8 languages in Japan could disappear [Asahi Shimbun]

With only 15 speakers left, the Ainu language is “critically endangered” while seven other languages in Japan are also at risk of disappearing, according to a UNESCO report.
(Go to the original article.)


Ramat and kamuy – two basic concepts of Ainu traditional culture

Here is an article by Alexander Yu. Akulov published in 2006 on a Russian forum for linguists.
It is the first scientific article to be written in Ainu and it was originally published on the Journal of Chiba University Eurasian Society № 9 (千葉ユーラシア言語文化論集).

To respect the author’s copyright we will post only some parts of it and its translation.

Ramat and kamuy – basic concepts of Ainu traditional culture, their ethnolinguistic interpretation, comparison with the European concept of god

Ramat newa Kamuy

Neil Gordon Munro nispa nuye-hi ene oka-hi: ramat newa kamuy aynu kamuy-uepakasnu moto itak ne. Munro anak ekasi utar ene ramat eitak-hi nuye. Aynu ekasi ene itak-hi: Kotanpira anak “Ramat newa Kamuy aynu kor kamuy-uepakasnu moto ne” sekor hawean, ine-hot-pa Hokkaydo emakasi wa ek Rennuikes “ramacihi isam yakun – nep ka kor eaykap” sekor hawean, Nisukrek “ramat anak nep ne yakka esik-te, ramat a-wen-te eaykap” sekor hawean, Uesanas “nei ta ne yakka ramacihi an” sekor hawean. [Munro 1963: 8]
Sinna kamuy ramat poron-no kor, sinna kamuy pon-no kor. Aynu opitta kamuy koraci-no ramat kor: sinna kur pon-no, sinna kur poron-no ramat kor. Yakun, ene itak-an easkay: ramat anak Porinesia un mana a-ye p ne koraci an pe ne wa. [Munro 1963: 10]

Ramat anakne tu sinna itak ani a-kar pe ne ruwe ne kuni ku=ramu. Ene an-i: ram + at. Ram anak nea itak sinrit ne. […]

Ram-at kor at anak “an” hene “oma” hene koraci ne kuni ku=ramu.
Ruwe ne kusu, ram-at anak “ram an” hene “ram oma” hene ne wa.

Kamuy anak otutanuno-an kamuy-uepakasnu moto itak ne. John Batchelor nuye-hi ene oka-hi: kamuy anak re sinna itak (ka+mu+i) ani a-kar itak ne; ka+mu+i anak “nep utar kurka” sekor ramu (Munro).

Kamuy anak Sisam itak kami or wa ek, sekor sisam ne yakka Yoroppa-un-kur ne yakka ramu kur poronno oka (Fritz Vos).
Aynu itak kamuy ne yakka Sisam itak kami ne yakka sine sinrit or wa hetukpa p ne, sekor a-ramu. Kamuy ne yakka kami ne yakka Arutay itak kam/kom sinrit ne kor pe ne nankor, sekor a-ramu. Kamuy sinricihi anak ene an-i: kam –> kam-i –> kam-us –> kam-uy. Naa Koryo itak kom – “iso”, komkkun – “kam ohaw” uneno-an sinrit or wa hetukpa itak ne, sekor a-ramu. (Sisam kami anak son-no Arutay kam – “tusu” wa ek nankor kuni ku=ramu. Korka tam-pe anak ku kor aitia patek an.)

Korka kamuy anak Arutay kam/kom sinrit or wa somo hetuku p ne ruwe ne.

Sisam itak hem Koryo itak hem Arutay itak sinrit ne kor. Kia kusu Sisam itak hem Koryo itak hem irwak itak ne ruwe ne. Sisam itak hem Koryo itak hem Arutay itak ne.

Korka Aynu itak anakne Sisam itak hem Koryo itak hem oro wa rit-itak-katu (“rit-itak-katu” anak-ne Inkiris itak ani “linear model of word form” ne.) ani earkinne sinnay-no an. […]

Tap-oka earkinne sinnay-no oka itak (Aynu itak, Sisam itak) anakne sine itak sinrit ne kor kuni-p somo ne (Akulov A.Yu.). Tan tu itak utur ta poro itak a-ukoesouk eaykap kuni ku=ramu. Kamuy anak Aynu kor iyotta husko, iyotta nupur itak or ta an ruwe ne. Tap-an itak oyak itak wa ek eaykap ruwe ne kuni ku=ramu.
Naa son-no nucaktek pe anak ene oka-hi: Aynu kampi anak Sisam kami or wa ek ruwe ne. Kia kusu ku=ramu hi ene oka-hi: kamuy anak Sisam kami or wa ek yakun kampi ne an wa, kamuy ne an eaykap ruwe ne.

Sisam ne yakka Yoroppa un kur ne yakka poroserke ramu hi ene oka-hi: kamuy anak Aynu itak kam sinrit or wa hetuku ruwe ne.
K=eyaykouepekennu hi ene oka-hi: hemanta kus kamuy anak iso oyak rehe ne a-ye? Tane nani a-eyayese hi ene oka-hi: iso anak kam poron-no kor kusu iso anak kam-us / kam-uy sekor a-ye easkay. Kia kusu kamuy anak kam sinrit or wa ek. Sekor Aynu-uepakasnu-kur poroserke ramu.

Korka nea aitia anak wen kuni ku=ramu. Otutanu-p ta a=nukar ro:

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney katkemat nuye hi ene oka-hi: kamuy anak oyak ta okay pe sonno sinnay no an pe ne ruwe ne. Yakun nep ne yakka a=e-oripak pe kamuy sekor a=reko ruwe ne.
Iyotta pon pe ne yakka, iyotta ipokas pe ne yakka (kikir, terke-p) a-e-oripak kusu kamuy sekor a-reko easkay. Naa ikkewe okay pe, wen pe, a-eoripak pe (uhuy nupuri, siri simoye, o-repun-pe) kamuy sekor a=reko ruwe ne. Naa pirka p, nupur pe (pirka mat-ne-po, retar-pe-us-onne-kur, emus, cip) kamuy sekor a-reko ruwe ne.
Tane anak a-nukar easkay hi ene oka-hi: kamuy itak anak-ne usa, kam tura-no okay pe patek a-reko ruwe ka somo ne. Kia kusu kamuy anak kam sinrit or wa somo hetuku p ne ruwe ne.


Tam-pe kusu a-eraman easkay pe ene oka-hi: hemanta kusu iso anak kamuy sekor a-ye? Tee-ta oka aynu ramu hi ene oka-hi: iso anak si-no ikkewe an pe ne wa si-no a-eoripak pe ne, si-no iso rehe a-ye yakun iso anak kotan ta san easkay. Naa iso anak iramante-kur kim ta ronnu easkay. Tam-pe kusu si-no iso rehe a-ye yakun wen nankor. Kia kusu si-no iso rehe iteki a-ye p ne. Iso a-e-oripak kusu kamuy sekor a-ye. Iso a-e-oripak kusu patek iso rehe ne kamuy sekor a-ye. Tam puri anak Porinesia un tapu puri koraci an. Kia kusu itak-an easkay hi ene oka-hi: nea puri anak iramante-kur tapu ne ruwe ne.

Yoroppa un Aynu uepakasnu kur poron-no ramu hi ene oka-hi: Aynu kamuy anak Yoroppa un itak deus /god / Gott / dios / deux ne-no an. Korka tan itak anakne pon-no wayru p ne ruwe ne:
Kamuy anak poron-no oka. Deus anak sinen-ne patek an.
Aynu anak kamuy mosir un mat-etun-an easkay. Yoroppa deus tura-no tam-pe anak a-ki eaykap ruwe.
Tam-pe kus kuni ku=ramu ene oka-hi: kamuy anak Yoroppa deus toyko sinnay no an. Kia kusu a-ye easkay ene oka-hi: kamuy anak Yoroppa itak ani deus ne an eaykap. Kamuy itak Yoroppa itak ani kamuy patek ne an easirki. Yoroppa itak ta kamuy itak anak-ne konteksto or wa a-eraman easkay ruwe ne.

Imaka-ke ta a-ye easkay pe ene oka-hi: ramat piye, kamuy piye a-uk wa a-eraman wa, aynu puri or ta okay pe ne yakka a-ki p ne yakka nep ne yakka peken-no a-eraman easkay.
Poron-no ramat kor pe pirka. Ramat poro-re easkay pe pirka. Ramat pon-te pe wen. Ramat a-siknu-re kusu wen pe a-esisi easirki.
Kia kusu Aynu puri or ta a-ki p opitta (inaw nuye, kamuy oman-te) ramat a-siknu-re kusu, ramat poro-re kusu a-ki p ne ruwe ne.

A-eiwanke a-nuye-p

Here follows the English translation:

Ramat and Kamuy

This short text is devoted to the analysis of ramat and kamuy which are the key words/basic concepts of Ainu religion and Ainu traditional life. This text is written in Ainu language and it is the first scientific article in Ainu language during the whole history of Ainu studies.

Ramat is the first and the main concept of Ainu religion. According to my data this word consists of two morphemes: ram which means “soul”/”mind”/”heart” and at which is similar to such verbs as an/oka and oma which mean “to be”/”to exist”. So the concept of ramat can be interpreted as “soul exists”.
Ramat exists everywhere and fills everything. Every thing and every being has ramat. One thing has a lot of ramat, another – little but nothing can exist without ramat. Ramat cannot be annihilated. When beings die or when things are broken their ramat leaves them but doesn’t disappear and goes to another place. Following to Neil Gordon Munro it is possible to state that ramat is very much alike to the Polynesian mana.
Kamuy is the second basic concept of Ainu religion. According to my data word kamuy doesn’t have any connection to the Japanese kami “deity” because kamuy belongs to the most important and old part of Ainu lexics.

Moreover it is worth noting that the Ainu had not known paper before they met Japanese, so in the Ainu language the word for paper was borrowed from Japanese. In Japanese paper sounds the same way as “deity”, i.e. kami but in Ainu it became kampi. In this connection I think that Ainu kamuy cannot originate from Japanese kami because Japanese kami would become kampi but not kamuy in Ainu.
Also I don’t think that kamuy has any connection with the Ainu word kam – “meat” as many anthropologists believe. This point of view is usually explained in such a way: kamuy is often used in connection with bear because bear has a lot of meat, i.e. kamuy originated from kam + us which later became kam+uy.
And from this point of view it is possible to understand: why kamuy is used as another name of bear or another awful or beautiful beings or things. According to Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney kamuy should be distinguished from other beings. And it is important to know that the word kamuy is often used to name some beings and things, which real names are tabooed. In the case of bear the word kamuy is used just in order to express respect to bear and in order to avoid the use of the real name of bear cause it may bring different troubles to people.

Also it is important to note that kamuy is not similar to the European concepts deus /god / Gott / dios / deux cause European god is a transcendental being while kamuy exist in the neighborhood of people and people can easily get kamuy mosir. […]
At least it is possible to state the following: ramat is the basis.
Having picked up the essence of ramat and kamuy, having understood their meaning we can interpret every thing and every act of the Ainu tradition. Every event of Ainu traditional life can be described in terms of ramat and kamuy. Any act of Ainu tradition is intended to save and to magnify the existing ramat. Because of it a thing which has much ramat and which can magnify ramat is good thing; while thing which takes ramat away is bad. Because of it people should escape things and beings which take ramat away. And every act of Ainu tradition (carving inaw or bear feast) is performed in order to save and magnify the existing ramat.

Akulov A.Yu. On the typological characteristics of Ainu language in connection with its possible genetic relationship // CES № 8, 2005,
Koreisko-russkii slovar’ (Korean-Russian Dictionary) / Kholodovich A.A., Moscow, 1951,
Munro N.G. Ainu Creed and Cult, London, 1962,
Nevski N. A. Ainskii fol’klor (Ainu folklore), Moscow, 1972,
Ohnuki-Tierney E. Ainu of North-West Cost of Southern Sakhalin, Waveland Press, 1984,
Vos F. Japanese Loan Words in Ainu // Rocznik Orientalistyczny, T. XLVI, Z. 2, 1990,

(あれくさんどる あくーろふ・Russian Christian Humanitarian Academy)

Old photos of Ainu

1900s Ainu Fishermen

1900s_Ainu Fishermen

The website OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN (in English, Japanese and Dutch) has a collection of rare photos of Ainu people taken in the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods (between the 1860s and the 1930s). Very interesting also the detailed commentaries below each photo.

Being Ainu for Mina Sakai, leader of the “Ainu Rebels”.

Screenshot of Mina's blog

Screenshot of Mina's blog

Mina Sakai (酒井美奈), leader of the group Ainu Rebels and cultural advisor working for the Foundation of Research and Promotion of Ainu culture (アイヌ文化振興・研究推進機構), explained what “being Ainu” means to her in a conference held at the Ainu Culture Center in Tokyo, on the 16th of January.

Born in 1983 in a small village of Hokkaido, Obihiro, from an Ainu father (who passed away when she was 5) and a Japanese mother, she confessed to have always been surrounded by objects belonging to Ainu culture at home, although she has never received any proper education as Ainu.
Awareness of belonging to Ainu people, then, came little by little along with maturity and, only after the encounter with some representatives of an aboriginal people of Canada during her first year of high school, it turned to the necessity of knowing much about her roots and the will to communicate the beauty of Ainu culture to people.

Active in the promotion of Ainu culture among the Japanese and of Ainu awareness among the Ainu minority, since she was a university student Mina has organized several events and participated to numerous conferences, always spreading a positive message about the “being Ainu”.
“What Ainu have been deprived of are the land, the language and their pride” she said “but the worst thing is the self-denial (自己否定)”, that is thinking that it is normal to be discriminated and be ashamed of your own origins instead of fighting the prejudices.

One of the reasons why Mina, together with the other members, decided to start the Ainu Rebels project in 2006, was indeed to give a shake to the state of oblivion in which Ainu identity was about to sink into.
Believing in the power of music and dance as effective means of gaining the attention of the people (especially of the younger generations) and communicating with them at a deeper level, from the beginning of this adventure the group has made its way in the music industry by introducing elements of Ainu traditional dance and music mixed up with elements of the contemporary youth culture, such as pop and hip-hop.

As they have already been criticized, this kind of project, a band made of members belonging to an aboriginal people, is not new, nor original. It is already twenty years that bands formed of people from minorities living in Canada, New Zealand etc. have been making their voice heard experimenting any possible crossover between traditional, folk and rock or hip-hop music.
Not for this, however, the challenges that Ainu Rebels have to face every day in Japan are fewer. Criticisms, in fact, arrive especially from the elder generations of Ainu who have suffered for all their life of the impossibility to live their culture freely and who, now that they have been finally recognized as aborigines of Japan, would like their traditions to be passed on in a more “orthodox” way.

But even if not in the most orthodox way, Mina and her group, do believe in the potentiality of an alternative way to present the Ainu culture, also feeling that the influence of Japanese contemporary culture for them who have grown up as many other Japanese youngsters is inevitable.
Besides, considering themselves as “just become Ainu” with many things left to learn yet, they know that they belong to two cultures, Japanese and Ainu and that denying their Japanese origin would be meaningless as well as refusing to accept their Ainu origin.

Risk is also part of this adventure started by Mina and her friends some years ago but it seems to be worth it, as she made clear at the end of the conference when she declared “Once Kayano Shigeru [萱野 茂, one of the major Ainu cultural and political leaders] said something like “things that go ahead get wet before” (先に行くものはぬれる), well, I myself want to get wet”.

“TOKYO Ainu”. Contributions needed to complete the documentary.

Director Hiroshi Moriya (森谷博) will give voice to the Ainu community living in Tokyo in his new documentary TOKYOアイヌ (“TOKYO Ainu”).
Thanks to this precious document, Ainu younger generations (as well as everybody else in the world who has ignored Ainu’s existence so far) will be able to know more about this people’s identity, tradition and the Tokyo community’s every day life.

“TOKYO Ainu” features the Ainu, an indigenous people of Japan, living in Greater Tokyo (Tokyo and its surrounding areas), who are active in promoting their traditional culture in a metropolitan environment away from their traditional homeland, Hokkaido. Shedding a common assumption that all Ainu live in Hokkaido, the film captures the feelings, thoughts and aspirations of Ainu that try to follow the Ainu way no matter where they live.

The documentary is scheduled to be completed by March 2010 but, as its production relies entirely on donations and private contributions, the “TOKYO Ainu” Film Production Committee started the distribution of individual or group cooperation vouchers that can be purchased online.

TOKYOアイヌ promotional video

Please refer to official website to read more about the “TOKYO Ainu” project.

November 1st, 2008. Charanke Festival.

These pictures were taken at the Charanke Festival in Nakano (Tokyo) during the Kamuy Nomi, an Ainu ceremony to offer prayers to the God of Fire.

June 6, 2008. Ainu recognized as indigenous people

265px-flag_of_the_ainu_people_svg5On June 6, a couple of months prior to the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, the Japanese Diet passed a resolution to officially recognize the Ainu as an indigenous people. Immediately following the passage of the resolution, a government panel held its first meeting to start working on a plan to put these words into action. […]

Original article by Hanako Tokita