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”.

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