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Japan: Ainu recognized as indigenous people

On 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. While this development marked a historical turning point for the Ainu, bloggers were far from unanimous in their responses to the passage of the resolution.

Blogger abe-iw welcomes the Diet resolution:


June 6, 2008 will go down in the pages of history as a groundbreaking memorial day. On this day, the Diet resolution calling for the government to recognize the Ainu as an indigenous people and to further implement related measures was unanimously passed and approved during the Upper House plenary session.


[…]Finally, Japan has complied with the spirit of Article 14 of the Constitution, which ensures equality before the law. Although the passion and the efforts of people and organizations that have been involved [in this movement] are worthy of respect, the passage of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the United Nations on September 13the of last year, and the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit scheduled for this coming July, helped [make possible] the realization of the passage, as reported in the media. In the world of today, with horrible wars and extreme violence that never ends, the recent move to respect the sovereign rights of indigenous people and enthnic minorities offers a glimpse of the decency at the bottom of people's hearts, and this makes me so happy.[…]

While appraising the resolution as a milestone, Eunheui thinks that there is something missing:


However, this document does not include any concrete policy recommendation to ensure the rights of the Ainu [people]. And although it mentions the historical recognition, this is a cowardly text that does not intend to atone for mistakes [of the past]. I don't doubt the goodwill and conscience of the people who wrote the resolution. But unfortunately, I don't get the impression from this text that when it is read again in a few decades from now, what we will find is something [that can be considered] a declaration defending human rights.

Photo by Flickr user Okinawa Soba
Photo by Flickr user Okinawa Soba (used under CC-BY-NC-SA ).

Akio Ikeuchi, however, questions the goverment's involvement in preservation of an indigenous culture. He agues that it is the Ainu people's role, not that of the government, to show their commitment in restoring their culture and ethnic identity:



On June 6th, “a resolution to recognize the Ainu as an indigenous people” was passed in the Diet. However, perhaps I am insensitive, but I just don't understand why such a resolution is necessary now.

I am not trying to oppose recognizing the Ainu as an indigenous people. However, why is it necessary to isolate the Ainu, who have nearly been assimilated into Japanese society, now?




[…]If the Ainu people want to regain their own identity, an identity that is clearly distinct from that of Japan today, then that is one stance. In such a case, it would be fair to say that the land that used to belong to the Ainu people should be returned to them. Japan should in such circumstances support the autonomy of the Ainu.

However, the Diet resolution calls for the government to acknowledge the indigenous people with their language, religion and culture, and to comprehensively implement Ainu policies, consulting experts’ opinions. This is naive thinking, and the question arises as to how determined the Ainu people are to become autonomous in order to preserve their own culture.



Preservation of ethnic culture demands that the people have a zest for life, or in other words a “life energy”. However, that they are asking the government for help just demonstrates their lack of this energy.

If they seriously want to recover the Ainu culture, first they need have the guts to say that they do not need the help of the government.

Blogger Yu argues that this resolution suddenly introduces the notion of ethnicity and reshapes the definition of the citizen:



Until last week, Japan was an ethnically homogeneous nation.
This may be a strange way to say it, but this is real.


America, too, has been an ethnically homogeneous nation since its foundation.
This is because although America ensures the “rights of individuals”, it does not recognize the “rights of ethnic groups”.
The country is made up only of Americans.




Japan was exactly the same [in the past].
Arguments have been raised that Japan is a multi-ethnic country, consisting of zainichi Koreans, Ainu, and Ryukyu, but this is just the perspective of critics.
Zainichi Koreans have been defined as foreign residents and not as “Japanese citizens”, and a “citizen” was defined not based on ethnicity but at the level of the individual.


For better or for worse, Japan is a country that has successfully unified its citizens.
The Ainu and the Ryuku are now no more than mere local traditions.






The situation has changed.
The Ainu are recognized as an indigenous people and a line called ethnicity has been drawn between the citizens.
If the Ainu are an ethnic group, then the rest [of the Japaense people] automatically become the Yamato people, and the Ryukyu who do not belong to either group become yet another ethnic group.
Neither the mass media nor the net[izens] seem to be interested, but this is a grave issue.
A framework for “ethnicity” has suddenly emerged between the “citizen” and the “individual”.




This also means that ethnic rights will be ensured and the right to self-determination will be recognized.
In other words, if the Ainu claim their independence, the Yamato people have no right to deny it.
What happened on June 6th was, in fact, much more significant than the amendment of the Constitution […] and is an event that could change the shape of the nation.


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