Why are women banned from Okinoshima island in Japan?

Why are women banned from Okinoshima island in Japan?

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Okinoshima, a sacred Japanese island that just got World Heritage listing, is a place where men are expected to walk around naked that is off limits for women.

Why are women not allowed on it?

This article suggests that at least two other places, Mount Omine (Japan) and Sabarimala temple (India), ban women owing to "blood impurity" brought on by menstruation and childbirth. Might the reason for the ban on Okimoshima also be related to "blood impurity"? Might it be related to old Buddhist or Shinto traditions and attitudes towards women? Might it simply be related to the expectation of men to be walking around naked? Something else?


What I'm ideally looking for is some kind of answer that suggests which of the prospective explanations - or others - are most likely in light of sourced historical evidence and the specifics of the island. The latter being, once per year purification rituals with all men naked, as opposed to the more usual men allowed and women not that one can find (with varying degrees) in other Shinto sites.

(To answer suggestions in comments that this might not be the correct SE, I'd unfortunately expect not much more than bias on a religious SE, and speculation - however valid in theory writ large, but not necessarily true in the context's situation - on the CogSci SE.)

The wikipedia article on Women in Shinto offers a few potential explanations (none of them specific to Okinoshima):

Some historians suggest that the practice may have originated from folk tales about women who were turned to stone or brought on natural disasters as they approached sacred sites on mountains, or owing to the choice of religious ascetics that rejected interactions with women, and commonly lived high in the mountains. Others suggest the prohibition is influenced by Buddhist doctrine against sexual relationships between monks and nuns. [… ] Some shrines also ask recent mothers not to pass through torii gates to enter shrines for 72 days after childbirth.

Women's menstrual blood is a taboo in Shinto, thought to be influenced by the popularity of the Buddhist Blood Pond Sutra (血盆経 Ketsubonkyô). This doctrine preached that women were condemned to a blood pond hell for the sin of pollution through menstrual blood; only the prayer could spare them. Though Buddhist in origin, Shinto facilities emulated this practice in their teaching, encourage women, and men who had contact with menstrual women, to avoid shrines.

"Okinoshima Seen from Shintō", a paper by Norman HAVENS (Associate Professor at Kokugakuin University) available on the Okinoshima Heritage website, expand on the menstrual blood-related suggestion and offers a second possibility (h/t and thanks to Takahiro Waki's for the comment that led me to the doc):

The ordinary reasons cited for forbidding women from visiting Okinoshima are that (first) women's visit to the island would make the goddess feel “jealous,” and (second) that women experience menses. While the origin of the former explanation is unknown, the latter objection can be compared to a similar taboo at the Grand Shrine of Ise. During pilgrimage to the Grand Shrine of Ise, women who experience their menstrual period were prohibited from entering the sacred borders. In the legendary folk records titled “Okagemairi Bunsei jin'iki” (“records of the miracles of the kami at the occasion of the mass pilgrimages to Ise of the Bunsei era), one account saying that a woman on her pilgraimage to Ise became ill just after crossing the river Miyagawa. Upon investigation, it turned out that the women had experienced her menstrual period. As soon as she recrossed the river and departed the sacred precincts, she regained her strength. While this work is a collection of anecdotal tales stressing the miracle of the Ise gods, it shows that women's menstruation was a taboo event. Even at Ise, however, women who were not in their monthly cycles could visit the shrines in the same way as men. The taboo of blood is clearly an issue in modern Shintō (and Buddhism), but in that case the prohibition of blood at the Grand Shrine of Ise should be considered a general abomination of blood, rather than a specific taboo against women

Being a solitary island in the distant ocean, the ancient people who visited Okinoshima likely had to stay on the island for relatively long periods, in which case, the prohibition could be interpreted as meaning that women were prohibited from entering the island because they were likely to have a menstrual period during their stay.

The first Chinese immigrants began arriving in the United States in the 1850s. Many were fleeing the economic consequences of The Opium Wars (1839-42, 1856-60), when the British fought to keep opium trafficking routes open in defiance of China’s efforts to stop the illegal trade. An ensuing series of floods and droughts drove members of the lower classes to leave their farms and seek new work opportunities abroad.

When gold was discovered in California in 1848, more and more Chinese immigrants traveled to the West Coast to join the Gold Rush. Some worked on American farms or in San Francisco’s growing textile industry. Others were employed as laborers with the Central Pacific and Transcontinental railroads—railroads which would speed up Westward expansion and facilitate the movement of troops during the Civil War. 

Despite their pivotal role in building the infrastructure of the United States, racism directed at Chinese immigrants was a constant from the moment they arrived on American shores.

“Any woman who is now or may hereafter be married . . .”

The fact that women are not equally represented among the nation's early naturalization records often surprises researchers. Those who assume naturalization practice and procedure have always been as they are today may spend valuable time searching for a nonexistent record. At the same time, many genealogists do find naturalization records for women. The resulting confusion about this subject generates a demand for clear, simple instructions by which to guide research. Unfortunately, the only rule one can apply to all U.S. naturalization records--certainly all those prior to September 1906--is that there was no rule.(1)

There were certain legal and social provisions, however, governing which women did and did not go to court to naturalize. In general, immigrant women have always had the right to become U.S. citizens, but not every court honored that right. Since the mid-nineteenth century a succession of laws worked to keep certain women out of naturalization records, either by granting them derivative citizenship or barring their naturalization altogether. It is this variety of laws covering the history of women's naturalization, as well as different courts' varying interpretation of those laws, that help explain whether a naturalization record exists for any given immigrant woman.

While original U.S. nationality legislation of 1790, 1795, and 1802 limited naturalization eligibility to "free white persons," it did not limit eligibility by sex. But as early as 1804 the law began to draw distinctions regarding married women in naturalization law. Since that date, and until 1934, when a man filed a declaration of intention to become a citizen but died prior to naturalization, his widow and minor children were "considered as citizens of the United States" if they/she appeared in court and took the oath of allegiance and renunciation.(2) Thus, among naturalization court records, one could find a record of a woman taking the oath, but find no corresponding declaration for her, and perhaps no petition.

Barbara M. Baier applied for citizenship in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on January 29, 1892. The clerk had to alter the text to "a woman of good moral character." (NARA, Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21)

Unless a woman was single or widowed, she had few reasons to naturalize prior to the twentieth century. Women, foreign-born or native, could not vote. Until the mid-nineteenth century, women typically did not hold property or appear as "persons" before the law. Under these circumstances, only widows and spinsters would be expected to seek the protections U.S. citizenship might afford. One might also remember that naturalization involved the payment of court fees. Without any tangible benefit resulting from a woman's naturalization, it is doubtful that many women or their husbands considered the fees to be money well spent.

New laws of the mid-1800s opened an era when a woman's ability to naturalize became dependent upon her marital status. The act of February 10, 1855, was designed to benefit immigrant women. Under that act, "[a]ny woman who is now or may hereafter be married to a citizen of the United States, and who might herself be lawfully naturalized, shall be deemed a citizen." Thus alien women generally became U.S. citizens by marriage to a U.S. citizen or through an alien husband's naturalization. The only women who did not derive citizenship by marriage under this law were those racially ineligible for naturalization and, since 1917, those women whose marriage to a U.S. citizen occurred suspiciously soon after her arrest for prostitution. The connection between an immigrant woman's nationality and that of her husband convinced many judges that unless the husband of an alien couple became naturalized, the wife could not become a citizen. While one will find some courts that naturalized the wives of aliens, until 1922 the courts generally held that the alien wife of an alien husband could not herself be naturalized.(3)

In innumerable cases under the 1855 law, an immigrant woman instantly became a U.S. citizen at the moment a judge's order naturalized her immigrant husband. If her husband naturalized prior to September 27, 1906, the woman may or may not be mentioned on the record which actually granted her citizenship. Her only proof of U.S. citizenship would be a combination of the marriage certificate and her husband's naturalization record. Prior to 1922, this provision applied to women regardless of their place of residence. Thus if a woman's husband left their home abroad to seek work in America, became a naturalized citizen, then sent for her to join him, that woman might enter the United States for the first time listed as a U.S. citizen.(4)

In other cases, the immigrant woman suddenly became a citizen when she and her U.S. citizen fiance were declared "man and wife." In this case her proof of citizenship was a combination of two documents: the marriage certificate and her husband's birth record or naturalization certificate. If such an alien woman also had minor alien children, they, too, derived U.S. citizenship from the marriage. As minors, they instantly derived citizenship from the "naturalization-by-marriage" of their mother. If the marriage took place abroad, the new wife and her children could enter the United States for the first time as citizens. Again, if these events occurred prior to September 27, 1906, it is doubtful any of the children actually appear in what is, technically, their naturalization record. The lack of any record for those children's naturalization might cause some of them, after reaching the age of majority, to go to naturalization court and become citizens again.

Just as alien women gained U.S. citizenship by marriage, U.S.-born women often gained foreign nationality (and thereby lost their U.S. citizenship) by marriage to a foreigner. As the law increasingly linked women's citizenship to that of their husbands, the courts frequently found that U.S. citizen women expatriated themselves by marriage to an alien. For many years there was disagreement over whether a woman lost her U.S. citizenship simply by virtue of the marriage, or whether she had to actually leave the United States and take up residence with her husband abroad. Eventually it was decided that between 1866 and 1907 no woman lost her U.S. citizenship by marriage to an alien unless she left the United States. Yet this decision was probably of little comfort to some women who, resident in the United States since birth, had been unfairly treated as aliens since their marriages to noncitizens.(5)

By the late nineteenth century, marital status was the primary factor determining a woman's ability to naturalize. But other factors might have influenced a judge's decision to grant or deny a woman's naturalization petition. Some judges seemed unaware of legal naturalization requirements and regularly granted citizenship to persons racially ineligible, who had not lived in the United States the requisite five years, or did not display "good moral character." It may be that these judges also granted citizenship to women regardless of their husband's nationality. Women's naturalization records dating from the 1880s and 1890s can be found, for example, among the records of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Record Group 21), though these records do not indicate the women's marital status.

After 1907, marriage determined a woman's nationality status completely. Under the act of March 2, 1907, all women acquired their husband's nationality upon any marriage occurring after that date. This changed nothing for immigrant women, but U.S.-born citizen women could now lose their citizenship by any marriage to any alien. Most of these women subsequently regained their U.S. citizenship when their husbands naturalized. However, those who married Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, or other men racially ineligible to naturalize forfeited their U.S. citizenship. Similarly, many former U.S. citizen women found themselves married to men who were ineligible to citizenship for some other reason or who simply refused to naturalize. Because the courts held that a husband's nationality would always determine that of the wife, a married woman could not legally file for naturalization.(6)

There were exceptions to the 1907 law's prohibition against the naturalization of married women. Good examples can be found in the West and upper Midwest, where individuals were still filing entries under the Homestead Act in the early twentieth century. Many women filed homestead entries, either while married to aliens or prior to marrying an immigrant. Later, when they petitioned for the citizenship necessary to obtain final deed to the property, some judges granted their petitions despite their marital status. In these cases the judges held that if the government intended to deny the women citizenship it should not have allowed them to file entries with the General Land Office. In other homestead-related cases, the granting of citizenship to women seemed less a matter of principle and more a method, adopted locally, to acquire additional property.(7) Women's inability to naturalize during these years did not prevent them from trying. Many women filed declarations of intention to become citizens and may have even managed to file petitions before being denied. At least one woman's petition came before the court because she did not declare her marital status. Often women had no choice but to file at least a declaration of intent. In some states aliens could not file for divorce or other court proceedings. An alien woman seeking divorce might file the declaration simply to facilitate filing a separate suit.(8) Declarations of intention and petitions filed by women should remain on file with other court naturalization records.

A few women successfully naturalized in these years, but they might have subsequently had their naturalization certificates canceled. Finnish-born Hilma Ruuth, for example, filed her declaration of intention to become a citizen in the U.S. District Court at Minneapolis, Minnesota, on December 1, 1903. In 1910 Hilma married Jaakob Esala, another Finnish immigrant, and in the same year she filed her petition for naturalization with the district court of St. Louis County, at Virginia, Minnesota. Her petition bore her married name, Hilma Esala, and the U.S. Naturalization examiner in St. Paul filed a formal objection to her petition under the 1907 law, which prohibited the naturalization of women married to aliens. The county judge overruled this objection and granted Hilma U.S. citizenship on November 19, 1910. The naturalization examiner responded by passing the case to the U.S. district attorney, who then filed suit in U.S. District Court on January 24, 1911, for cancellation of the certificate. The case was decided on July 11 at the Federal Building in Duluth, where Hilma's citizenship was canceled and she had to surrender her certificate of naturalization.(9) Federal court records of certificate cancellation proceedings are, like federal court naturalization records, found in Record Group 21. Unless there is a name index to the court's records, researchers will need to know the court's specific name (i.e., U.S. District Court, U.S. Circuit Court) and location, the type of case, and case number.

The era when a woman's nationality was determined through that of her husband neared its end when this legal provision began to interfere with men's ability to naturalize. This unforeseen situation arose in and after 1918 when various states began approving an amendment to grant women suffrage (and which became the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920). Given that women who derived citizenship through a husband's naturalization would now be able to vote, some judges refused to naturalize men whose wives did not meet eligibility requirements, including the ability to speak English. The additional examination of each applicant's wife delayed already crowded court dockets, and some men who were denied citizenship began to complain that it was unfair to let their wives' nationality interfere with their own.(10)

Forbidden Photos Reveal What Life In Hawaii Was Like After Pearl Harbor

It’s no secret that the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, which killed more than 2,000 Americans, changed the course of history for the United States and the rest of the world.

But it also dramatically altered the identity of the island paradise of Hawaii, changing everyday life for the people who lived there and bringing tourism, one of the islands’ most important industries, to a halt.

Hours after the attack, Hawaii, a U.S. territory at the time, was placed under martial law, and all of the islands’ residents were under the dictatorship of the U.S. military, according to Honolulu Bishop Museum historian DeSoto Brown.

Since Japanese-Americans made up 37 percent of Hawaii’s population, it was impossible for the military to incarcerate all of them, Brown told The Huffington Post. Instead, all residents of Hawaii — white, Native Hawaiian, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese — were forced to live under strict military rule.

“Everybody was under martial law and treated equally unfairly because the military couldn’t target just the Japanese, who were so important to the economy,” Brown said.

After all, Japanese-American residents had long-established themselves in Hawaii as business owners, teachers and community leaders. Without them, Brown added, Hawaii’s economy would have collapsed.

Under martial law, life in Hawaii became dramatically restricted, according to Brown. Immediately after the attack, civilians were mandated by the military to dig holes for makeshift bomb shelters and were ordered to place barbed wire around everything, including beaches, water pumping stations, electrical installations and government buildings.

While they were free to live their normal lives during the day, Hawaii residents were forced to black out their windows, and a curfew banned civilians from being outside at night.

All electricity was required to be shut off after sundown, and the military enforced the curfew every night. Any unauthorized civilian out after hours faced the risk of being shot. If civilians were permitted to drive after-hours for official purposes, they were required to paint their cars’ headlights black.

Food on the island was rationed to families. There was a ban on liquor, and bars were shuttered. Waikiki’s iconic beachfront hotels, once thriving with tourists and affluent locals, were closed to the public and taken over by the military.

The military even banned Hawaii civilians from taking photographs of any of the islands’ coastlines (to prevent the Japanese from finding points of entries) and anything with war- or military-related imagery. As a result, officials reviewed and confiscated any photographs that contained barbed wire, beaches or military bases.

The harsh military rule in Hawaii ended nearly three years after the Pearl Harbor attacks, but, according to Brown, the islands were forever changed.

The poor treatment of the residents in Hawaii fueled the case for bringing the islands into statehood. And the military continued to maintain a stronghold in Hawaii, with every branch of the military stationed there today.

As a historian specializing in World War II and the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Brown has collected many of the contraband images that were photographed in Hawaii despite martial law.

Many of these images are on display at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu for the 75th anniversary of the devastating attacks.

Below, see the forbidden photos and other World War II memorabilia that reveal what life in Hawaii was like for those who lived through that day “which will live in infamy,” Dec. 7, 1941.

Why Eating Meat Was Banned in Japan for Centuries

For centuries, Japanese people considered eating beef especially taboo. The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Public Domain

On February 18, 1872, a group of Japanese Buddhist monks broke into the Imperial Palace to seek an audience with the emperor. In the ensuing fight with the guards, half of them were killed. At issue was something the monks considered an existential spiritual crisis for their country. A few weeks earlier, the emperor had eaten beef, effectively repealing a 1,200-year-old ban on consuming animals. The monks believed the new trend of eating meat was “destroying the soul of the Japanese people.”

For both religious and practical reasons, the Japanese mostly avoided eating meat for more than 12 centuries. Beef was especially taboo, with certain shrines demanding more than 100 days of fasting as penance for consuming it. The story of Japan’s shift away from meat began with the arrival of Buddhism from Korea in the 6th century. At that time, the Japanese were meat eaters. Venison and wild boar (which was sometimes called yama kujira, or “mountain whale”) were particularly popular. Aristocrats enjoyed hunting and feasting on deer entrails and wild fowl.

Eating game was often less problematic than eating domesticated animals. The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Public Domain

Yet Buddhism teaches that humans can be reincarnated into other living beings, including animals. Meat eaters run the risk of consuming their own reincarnated ancestors: not a very palatable thought. Buddhist principles of respect for life and avoidance of waste, especially in the case of food, slowly began to shape Japanese culture and seep into native Shinto beliefs.

In 675 A.D., Emperor Tenmu issued the first official decree banning consumption of beef, horse, dog, chicken, and monkey during the height of farming season from April to September. As time went on, the practice would be solidified and expanded into a year-round taboo against all meat eating.

But the meat ban also had secular roots. Even before Buddhism, meat wasn’t an essential part of the Japanese diet. As a nation of islands, Japan has always relied on fish and seafood as staples. Additionally, writes historian Naomishi Ishige, “protein was ingested from rice rather than from meat or milk.” Raising animals is resource-intensive, so Japanese farmers working with limited space in their mountainous island nation largely avoided it. It was also in the best interest of the country to discourage the eating of useful farm animals, since there were relatively few of them in Japan.

As a nation of islands, seafood was long the mainstay of Japanese cuisine. Minneapolis Institute of Art/Public Domain

While all meat was considered corrupt and unclean, eating wild animals wasn’t completely unheard of. Plus, the Japanese aristocracy never completely gave up the practice. There are records of taxes paid and gifts sent to emperors in the form of pork, beef, and even milk. Meat was still taboo among the upper classes, but it was often treated as a special food with medicinal properties. (Even Buddhist monks could occasionally consume meat on doctor’s orders.) In the 18th century, the Hikone Clan sent their annual gift of beef pickled in sake to the shogun in packages labeled as medicine. Birds were more acceptable as foodstuff than mammals, and dolphin and whale was frequently eaten, as they were considered fish.

Some mammals were more forbidden than others. According to Ishige, “the Buddhist concept of the transmigration of souls and the taboo on mammal meat became linked, and the belief spread that a person who ate the flesh of a four-legged animal would after death be reincarnated as a four-legged animal.” One government decree stated that anyone who’d eaten wild goat, wolf, rabbit, or raccoon dog (tanuki) was required to repent for five days before visiting a shrine. Those who’d eaten pork or venison, however, were required to repent for 60 days. For eaters of beef and horse meat, it was 150 days. On the rare occasions that they did eat meat, Japanese people cooked it on fires outside the home and avoided looking directly at their altars afterwards so as not to contaminate them.

Tempura has roots in a Portuguese style of frying. Norio Nakayama/CC BY-SA 2.0

When Portuguese missionaries arrived in Japan in the early 16th century, they had been counseled that the locals considered drinking milk to be like drinking blood and that eating beef was unthinkable. Even the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi supposedly questioned Portuguese missionaries on their practice of eating beef, as cows were so useful as farm animals. Nevertheless, the Portuguese were able to spread some of their cuisine to the locals, including sweets, tempura, and beef, which Kyotoites called waka, from the Portuguese vaca.

Dietary customs began to change faster in the late 19th century. After Emperor Meiji assumed power in 1868, the Japanese government moved to end their two centuries of isolation and adopt Western practices and technology as quickly as possible. Plus, many believed “that one reason why the Japanese had poor physiques compared to Westerners was that they did not eat meat or dairy products,” writes Ishige.

Mutsuhito, the Meiji Emperor, as he appeared in 1872. Metropolitan Museum of Art/Public Domain

The Meiji government began to chip away at the ancient dietary taboos. They set up companies to produce meat and dairy products. When the emperor himself ate meat to ring in the New Year in 1872, it went a long way toward convincing the Japanese to abandon their meatless customs. It wasn’t an easy transition. Devout Buddhists, such as the monks who attempted to break into the Imperial Palace and rural peasants who relied on their animals for farm work, had long accepted the idea that eating meat was a sin. One prefectural decree from 1872 reads “Although beef is a wonderfully nutritious food, there are still a great number of people barring our attempt at westernization by clinging to conventional customs,” adding, “Such action is contrary to the wishes of the Emperor.”

In the end, the wishes of the Emperor prevailed. As Japan opened up to the world, it began to absorb meat-based dishes from Korea, China, and the West. Soon, expensive Western-style restaurants serving meat popped up in cities, followed by affordable Japanese restaurants serving a medicinal beef stew, which would evolve into the dish sukiyaki. Today, the Japanese eat almost as much meat as they do seafood. While it took a few decades, meat is now as much a part of Japanese cuisine as sushi.

Gastro Obscura covers the world’s most wondrous food and drink.
Sign up for our email, delivered twice a week.

Differences in Relationships:

I personally know a few couples where either the man or the woman is foreign and I noticed quite a lot of differences in the kind of relationship they have.

Please note that the following is based on my personal experience and that not everybody out there is like that.

Foreign Man + Japanese Woman:

In relationships where the man is foreign, I noticed that they mostly speak his native language. Although they live in Japan and sometimes even have children together who also speak Japanese, the foreign guys don’t / can’t speak Japanese.

I also experienced that they’re unable to do anything on their own. Just one example is a co-worker of mine. When I asked him how he obtained his cellphone or credit card, he said his wife did everything for him.
Consequently, a lot of foreign men in Japan don’t see the need to study Japanese, because their wives will take care of all the important things.

One big problem seems to be the fact that in Japan the man earns the money, but the woman takes care of it! The man only gets a small allowance. He actually needs to ask his wife for permission if he wants to spend any of his own hard-earned money! Foreign guys often seem to struggle with this system.

Because of all that I’ve seen couples who got divorced, even when there were kids involved. I noticed that those kinds of relationships seem to work out better if they live in his home country and not in Japan.

Foreign Woman + Japanese Man:

For the opposite constellation, you’ll see that in most(!) cases the woman speaks Japanese. She has studied Japanese properly or puts in a lot of effort to improve her Japanese ability even if the Japanese man can speak her native tongue.

They know how to survive in Japan even without the help of their Japanese partner who is at work most of the time anyway.

The man seems to accept that she wants to keep working even after marriage. Most of the time those kinds of Japanese men who get into a relationship with a foreign woman are more open-minded and have some experience with foreign culture because they’ve lived or studied abroad for a while. And even those who haven’t, seem to accept that there are cultural differences. So, they don’t expect the same they would from a Japanese woman.

All the couples I know of have a relatively harmonic relationship. Of course, there are enough reasons for disputes, but all in all, they seem to manage better than couples where the man is foreign.

Top 10 strange laws in Japan

In light of the recently overturned ban on dancing in Japan and the slightly bizarre enforcement of bicycle laws, we&rsquove compiled a list of 10 strange laws in Japan. How many of these did you know about?

1. You can be fined for not reporting an explosive to the police &ndash when the law was written, the fine was a grand total of ¥100. (Unfortunately this has now increased to up to ¥10,000).

2. Women (note: not men) who get divorced must wait six months before marrying again. If you give birth to a child during these six months, that child is legally your ex-husband&rsquos. The Black Widow has probably only reinforced this law&hellip

3. If a child is born to a foreign mother out of wedlock, the father must officially &lsquorecognise&rsquo the child while it&rsquos still in the womb for it to become a Japanese citizen. Otherwise, the father has to &lsquorecognise&rsquo the child before he or she reaches the age of 20.

4. If you discover life in outer space, including the moon, that may be hazardous to public health, you are required to immediately report it to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, as well as to the international scientific community. (To be fair, 103 countries have ratified this treaty.)

5. It is forbidden to damage or throw away money (if you do, you could be fined up to ¥200,000 or spend a year in prison) &ndash so no coin pendants for you.

6. If you die in a dual, the national insurance companies (health/life insurance etc) won&rsquot pay out to your next of kin.

7. You need to obtain a licence or certificate before being able to handle fugu (pufferfish). The emperor is also banned from eating it, just in case he gets a poisonous bit. The rest of the imperial family can, however.

8. Those engaged in campaigning for an election can be reimbursed up to ¥12,000 for hotel stays, ¥3,000 for food and ¥500 for snacks per day.

9. You can&rsquot brew alcohol stronger than one percent at home. (Not even beer for you, m&rsquodear.)

10. Marriage will be invalidated if you married the wrong person. (Probably related to former arranged marriage traditions. We&rsquore curious how this works out nowadays.)

What happened after the plastic ban

Future Planet explores the solutions to the greatest environmental challenges of our time.

What happened after the plastic ban

The tiny island of Vanuatu in the South Pacific is waging war on plastic, one piece at a time.

How the Earth's core could help save us

How one of our oldest and most reliable forms of energy could help lead us to a greener future.

The art and science of eating insects

Eating insects can be a part of the solution to our planet&rsquos growing food and climate crises.

How mammoths could fight climate change

Could reviving a creature that has been extinct for thousands of years help secure our planet's future?

The miraculous power of seaweed

This fast-growing ancient organism could become the super-material of the future.

The tiny island with a population of 16

During the winter, islanders must cope with extreme weekly floods.

Wild city: The case for biophilia

A revolutionary movement is seeking to reset the relationship between man and nature.

Will Paris ever be the same?

Paris is rethinking its future. Ideas range from a ban on cars to a new '15-minute city'.

She went undercover to expose an insane asylum’s horrors. Now Nellie Bly is getting her due.

When she went undercover in a New York City insane asylum in 1887, Nellie Bly was surrounded by a world of grim horror.

“Nearly all night long I listened to a woman cry about the cold and beg for God to let her die. Another one yelled, ‘Murder!’ at frequent intervals and ‘Police!’ at others until my flesh felt creepy,” Bly wrote about her first night at the institution in her exposé for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.

Bly’s covert operation exposing abuses at the asylum at Blackwell’s Island, now Roosevelt Island, pioneered a path for women in newspapers and launched what morphed into serious investigative journalism. The account by the 23-year-old “girl detective” shocked the public with its depiction of brutality and violence.

Now the journalism pioneer is getting her own monument — at the very site she wrote about.

With the city looking to create more public art celebrating women, Roosevelt Island leaders plan to pay tribute to the groundbreaking reporter, according to art news site Hyperallergic.

“She was an extraordinary woman,” Susan Rosenthal, president of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp., said of Nellie Bly in a phone interview.

Rosenthal said her organization is sponsoring a competition for an artist to create the memorial, which can be a standard sculpture or a digital or interactive creation. The group plans to unveil the piece, which has a budget of $500,000, in the spring of 2020.

For 10 days, Bly, who was born Elizabeth Cochrane outside of Pittsburgh, lived side-by-side with women who were suicidal, violent and psychotic, as well as perfectly sane women who were mistakenly confined to the institution.

Writing as Nellie Bly, a pen name taken from a Stephen Foster song, she was a courageous crusader to let herself be committed into an insane asylum with no guarantee that she’d be able to leave, said Brooke Kroeger, author of “Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist,” in an interview.

“She was part of the ‘stunt girl’ movement that was very important in the 1880s and 1890s as these big, mass-circulation yellow journalism papers came into the fore,” Kroeger said.

After working for the Pittsburgh Dispatch for a few years, Bly got the dangerous assignment to infiltrate the infamous asylum from Joseph Pulitzer himself, after she blustered her way into his offices, according to Kroeger’s book.

She promised Pulitzer she could deliver a major story, and impressed by her moxie, he gave her a whopper of an assignment: to go undercover at the asylum with no guidance even on how to gain entry, never mind how to get out.

In her first piece for a major metropolitan daily, in late September 1887, Bly threw herself into the role of a deranged woman to get committed.

Bly practiced looking insane in front of a mirror with the idea that “far-away expressions have a crazy air,” she wrote in her article. Then she checked herself into a working class boardinghouse, hoping to frighten the other boarders so much that they would kick her out.

Using the name Nellie Brown, she pretended she was from Cuba and ranted that she was searching for “missing trunks.” Her ruse worked and the police were called. She had a hearing at a New York City court, where a judge ordered her to Blackwell’s Island, which at that time held a poorhouse, a smallpox hospital, a prison and the insane asylum.

The horrid condition of the food in the mess hall was her first dose of deprivation. Tea “tasted as if it had been made in copper,” she writes. Bread was spread with rancid butter. When she got a plain piece it was hard with a “dirty black color. . . . I found a spider in my slice so I did not eat it.” The oatmeal and molasses served at the meal was “wretched.” The next day she was served soup with one cold boiled potato and a chunk of beef, “which on investigation, proved to be slightly spoiled.”

To add to the torment, Bly wrote, the building was freezing. “The draught went whizzing through the hall,” and “the patients looked blue with cold.” Within her first few days, she was forced to take an ice-cold bath in dirty water, sharing two “coarse” towels among 45 patients.

“My teeth chattered and my limbs were goose-fleshed and blue with cold. Suddenly I got, one after the other, three buckets of water over my head — ice cold water, too — into my eyes, my ears, my nose and my mouth. I think I experienced the sensation of a drowning person as they dragged me, gasping, shivering and quaking, from the tub. For once I did look insane.”

Despite the autumn chill, Bly and the other inmates were given threadbare dresses with poorly fitted undergarments after the frigid baths.

“Take a perfectly sane and healthy woman shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours . . . give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck,” Bly wrote.

Bly made a point of talking to as many women as she could. Among the sane ones, she found that many were immigrants who didn’t understand English and seemed to have been mistakenly committed to the island. Others were just poor and thought they were going to a poorhouse, not an insane asylum, she wrote. All related horrible stories of neglect and heartless cruelty.

Mrs. Cotter, “a pretty, delicate woman,” told Bly that, “for crying, the nurses beat me with a broom-handle and jumped on me, injuring me internally, so that I shall never get over it.” She said the nurse then tied her hands and feet, threw a sheet over her head to muffle her screams and put her in a bathtub of cold water. “They held me under until I gave up every hope and became senseless.”

The Untold Story of Japan’s First People

In the 20th century, Japanese anthropologists and officials tried to hide the existence of the Indigenous Ainu. Then the Ainu fought back like their cousins, the bears.

This article is from Hakai Magazine, an online publication about science and society in coastal ecosystems. Read more stories like this at hakaimagazine.com.

Itek eoirapnene . (You must not forget this story.)
—Tekatte, Ainu grandmother, to her grandson Shigeru Kayano


G et our newest stories delivered to your inbox every Friday.

T he bear head is small. Cradled in Hirofumi Kato’s outstretched palm, its mouth a curving gap in bone, the little carving could be a child’s toy, a good luck charm, a deity. It may be 1,000 years old.

V oices swirl around Kato, a Japanese archaeologist. He stands in the middle of a school gym that now serves as a makeshift archaeological lab on the northern Japanese island of Rebun. The room is filled with smells: of earth, with an undertone of nail polish, overlaid with an aroma that takes a minute to decipher—the pungence of damp bone drying.

T he racket around us is different from anything I experienced as an English teacher in Japan almost 30 years ago, when my students lived up to their reputation for quiet formality. So much is going on in this gym. There is, simultaneously, order and chaos, as is the case whenever students and volunteers pad the workforce. These recreational archaeologists sit cheerfully amidst the grit, cleaning debris from sea lion scapulas with toothbrushes, even as the bones fall apart in their hands.

A bear’s head carved from sea mammal bone was found by a volunteer on the first day of the three-week dig at Hamanaka II in 2016. Tyler Cantwell/Andrzej Weber/University of Alberta

K ato teaches at Hokkaido University’s Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies in Sapporo, more than 400 kilometers to the south. But since 2011, he has directed an archaeological dig here at the site known as Hamanaka II. Buried beneath the sediments, Kato and his colleagues have found clear, continuous layers of occupation that date back as far as 3,000 years before present.

T he ambitious scale of this excavation—40 square meters—is unusual in Japan. Archaeology is typically focused on “telephone booth” digs, and often archaeologists are merely swooping in for rescue projects, working quickly to record what’s there, save what’s worthwhile, and clear the way for construction to begin. But at Hamanaka II, Kato has taken a very different approach. He thinks earlier archaeologists misrepresented the dynamism and diversity of Rebun and the larger neighboring island of Hokkaido. They simplified the past, lumping the story of the northern islands in with that of Honshu to the south. More importantly, they paid little attention to traces of a northern Indigenous people who still call this land home—the Ainu.

F or much of the 20th century, Japanese government officials and academics tried to hide the Ainu. They were an inconvenient culture at a time when the government was steadfastly creating a national myth of homogeneity. So officials tucked the Ainu into files marked “human migration mysteries,” or “aberrant hunter-gatherers of the modern age,” or “lost Caucasoid race,” or “enigma,” or “dying race,” or even “extinct.” But in 2006, under international pressure, the government finally recognized the Ainu as an Indigenous population. And today, the Japanese appear to be all in.

Cally Steussy and Meriah Dainard clean animal bones recovered at the Hamanaka II site with toothbrushes in a school gym. Jude Isabella

I n the prefecture of Hokkaido, the traditional territory of the Ainu, government administrators now answer the phone, “Irankarapte,” an Ainu greeting. The government is planning a new Ainu museum, meant to open in time for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. In a country known for its almost suffocating homogeneity—to outsiders anyway, and not always fairly—embracing the Ainu is an extraordinary lurch into diversity.

T he Ainu arrived at this moment of pride from prejudice, through adaptation, resilience, and the sheer stubbornness of human will. The little bear head in Kato’s hand represents their anchor to the past and their guide to the future, a stalwart companion, the immutable spirit of an epic journey.

R ebun Island is 80 square kilometers of rock in the Sea of Japan. Hamanaka II snuggles between a mountain and Funadomari Bay, a basin formed by outcrops that reach out to sea like scorpion pincers.

O n a clear day, Russia floats on the sea in the distance.

The site itself is a big, gaping hole about a half-hour walk from the school gym. It crawls with over 30 volunteers, from Japanese high school students to retirees from California, a diverse cast chattering away in Japanese, Russian, English, and English tinged with Finnish, Chinese, and Polish accents—another departure for Japanese archaeology.

Archaeologists examine a particularly rich find of sea mammal bones at the Hamanaka II site. The Ainu of Rebun Island relied almost entirely on marine protein, especially sea mammal. Jude Isabella

A rchaeologists have dug on Rebun since the 1950s. During a break, Kato takes me on a short tour around this corner of the island, where homes, gardens, and small fields surround the archaeological site. Laundry flutters on clotheslines and climbing roses flavor the air with a fleeting essence. We see no one aside from the archaeological crew, partly because it’s a major Japanese holiday—Obon, a day to honor the spirits of ancestors—but also because many of the islanders moved away in the 20th century, starting in the 1950s with the crash of the herring fishery and intensifying in the 1990s with Japan’s recession.

T oday, fewer than 3,000 islanders remain, relying economically on tourists, fish, and an edible kelp known as konbu. Each of these makes seasonal appearances and not always in great quantities. In contrast, the giant site that Kato and his crew are digging brims with visual and tactile reminders that Rebun was once loaded with people who lived off the land and sea for thousands of years: Some gathered abalone, some hunted sea lions, and some raised pigs and dogs probably imported from Siberia. These people were the ancestors of the Ainu.

H umans first landed on Hokkaido at least 20,000 years ago, probably arriving from Siberia via a land bridge in search of a less frigid environment. By the end of the last ice age, their descendants had developed a culture of hunting, foraging, and fishing. Large-scale rice farming was a southern phenomenon the north was too cold, too snowy. The northerners’ ancient culture persisted largely unchanged until the seventh century, when the traditional Ainu way of life became more visible in the archaeological record on Hokkaido, Kamchatka, and nearby smaller islands, such as Rebun, Rishiri, Sakhalin, and Kuril. A nature-centered society of fishers, hunters, horticulturalists, and traders emerged.

T he Ainu, like their ancestors, shared their land with an important predator. The brown bears of Hokkaido, Ursus arctos yesoensis, are closely related to the grizzlies and Kodiaks of the New World, though they’re on the smallish side, with males reaching 2 meters in height and fattening to almost 200 kilograms.

I n the north, the lives of the Ainu and their ancestors were closely entwined with the bears, their fiercer cousins. Where bears fished, humans fished. Where bears picked monkey pear, humans picked monkey pear. Where bears tramped, humans tramped. They were kindred spirits, and so strong was the connection between humans and bears, that it lasted across time and cultures. The people honored bear spirits through ritual for thousands of years, deliberately placing skulls and bones in pits for burial. And in historical times, written accounts and photographs of a bear ceremony show that the Ainu maintained this deep kinship.

R ebun Island’s sites are crucial to authenticating the relationship. Excavating the island’s well-preserved shell middens can reveal much more than volcanic Hokkaido with its acidic soil that eats bone remains. And it appears that ancient islanders, bereft of any ursine population, must have imported their bears from the Hokkaido mainland. Did they struggle to bring live bears to the island, via canoe? A big, seagoing canoe with oars and a sail, but still.

K ato points down a narrow alley between two buildings. At a site there, an archaeological team discovered bear skull burials dating between about 2,300 and 800 years ago. Nearby, at Hamanaka II, Kato and his colleagues uncovered buried bear skulls dating to 700 years ago. And this year, they found the little 1,000-year-old bear head carved from sea mammal bone.

Hamanaka II on Rebun Island is full of animal remains—sea mammals, deer, dogs, and pigs—some dating back 3,000 years before present. Bones preserve well in the island’s sandy soil. Bone preservation in the acidic soils of neighboring Hokkaido, a large volcanic island, is rare. Jude Isabella

T he newly discovered carving is doubly exciting: It’s an unusual find and it suggests an ancient symbolism undiminished by time. The bear has likely always been special, from millennium to millennium, even as the islanders’ material culture changed and evolved long before the Japanese planted their flag there.

T he environment, economy, and traditions may all metamorphose over time, but some beliefs are so sacrosanct, they are immortal, passing as genes do, from one generation to the next, mixing and mutating, but never wavering. This bond with the bears has survived much.

A t age 49, with hair more gray than black, Kato is still boyish. On this hot summer day on Rebun, he sports a ball cap, an orange plaid short-sleeved shirt, and chartreuse shorts and sneakers. And as he speaks, it’s clear he has a lingering sense of injustice when it comes to the Ainu, and the curriculum he was fed in grade school.

“ I was born in Hokkaido, 60 kilometers east of Sapporo,” he says. Yet he never learned the history of Hokkaido. Schools across the nation used a common history textbook, and when Kato was young, he only learned the story of Japan’s main island, Honshu.

H onshu is densely populated and home to the country’s largest cities, including Tokyo. Hokkaido, just north of Honshu, retains more natural wonder and open spaces it’s a land of forests and farms and fish. On a map, Hokkaido even looks like a fish, tail tucked, swimming away from Honshu, leaving a wake that takes the local ferry four hours to track. Today, the two islands are physically connected by a train tunnel.

O n the surface, there is nothing about Hokkaido that is not Japanese. But dig down—metaphorically and physically, as Kato is doing—and you’ll find layers of another class, culture, religion, and ethnicity.

F or centuries, the Ainu lived in kotan, or “permanent villages,” comprised of several homes perched along a river where salmon spawned. Each kotan had a head man. Inside the reed walls of each house, a nuclear family cooked and gathered around a central hearth. At one end of the house was a window, a sacred opening facing upstream, toward the mountains, homeland of bears and the source of the salmon-rich river. The bear’s spirit could enter or exit through the window. Outside the window was an altar, also facing upstream, where people held bear ceremonies.

E ach kotan drew upon concentric zones of sustenance by manipulating the landscape: the river for fresh water and fishing, the banks for plant cultivation and gathering, river terraces for housing and plants, hillsides for hunting, the mountains for hunting and collecting elm bark for baskets and clothes. Coaxing food from the earth is tough at the best of times, why not make it as easy as possible?

I n time, the Ainu homeland, which included Hokkaido and Rebun, as well as Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, now part of Russia, joined a large maritime trade. By the 14th century, the Ainu were successful middlemen, supplying goods to Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and later Russian merchants. Paddling canoes, with planked sides carved from massive trees, Ainu sailors danced across the waves, fishing for herring, hunting sea mammals, and trading goods. A pinwheel of various cultures and peoples spun around the Ainu.

F rom their homeland, the Ainu carried dried fish and fur for trade. In Chinese ports, they packed their canoes with brocades, beads, coins, and pipes for the Japanese. In turn, they carried Japanese iron and sake back to the Chinese.

And for centuries, these diverse cultures struck a balance with one another.

W hen I lived on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu in the late 1980s, I was struck by the physical diversity of the people. The faces of my students and neighbors sometimes reflected Asian, Polynesian, or even Australian and North American Indigenous groups. The Japanese were aware of these physical distinctions, but when I asked them about the origins of the Japanese people, the answer was the same: We’ve always been here. It made me wonder what my students had learned about human origins and migrations.

T oday, science tells us that the ancestors of the ethnic Japanese came from Asia, possibly via a land bridge some 38,000 years ago. As they and their descendants spread out across the islands, their gene pool likely diversified. Then, much later, around 2,800 years ago, another great wave of people arrived from the Korean Peninsula, bringing rice farming and metal tools. These newcomers mixed with the Indigenous population, and, like most farming societies, they kick-started a population boom. Armed with new technology, they expanded across the southern islands, but stalled just short of Hokkaido.

Then around A.D. 1500, the Japanese began trickling north and settling down. Some were reluctant immigrants, banished to the southern part of Hokkaido to live in exile. Others came willingly. They saw Hokkaido as a place of opportunity during times of famine, war, and poverty. Escaping to Ezochi —a Japanese label meaning “land of barbarians”—was an act of ambition for some.

Hirofumi Kato, an archaeologist with Hokkaido University’s Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies in Sapporo, began the Hamanaka II dig in 2011. Jude Isabella

Kato tells me that his family background reflects some of the turbulent changes that came to Hokkaido when Japan ended its isolationist policies in the 19th century. The feudal shogunate (military dictatorship) that long dominated Japan lost control at that time and the country’s imperial family returned to power. The influential men behind the new emperor unleashed a modernization blitzkrieg in 1868. Many of Japan’s samurai, stripped of their status, like Kato’s maternal great-grandparents, left Honshu. Some had fought in a rebellion, some wanted to start over—entrepreneurs and dreamers who embraced change. The wave of modern Japanese immigrants—samurai, joined by farmers, merchants, artisans—had begun. Kato’s paternal grandfather left for Hokkaido to raise cows.

Kato thinks his family’s story is fairly typical, which means that maybe the ethnic Japanese on Hokkaido are also more open-minded than their kin in the rest of Japan.

As insular as Japan seems to be, it has always been bound up in relationships with others, particularly with people on the Korean Peninsula and in China. For centuries, the Japanese have identified their homeland from an external perspective, calling it Nihon, “the sun’s origin.” That is, they have thought of their homeland as east of China—the land of the rising sun. And they have called themselves Nihonjin.

But the word Ainu signifies something very different. It means “human.” And I’ve always imagined that long ago, the Ainu gave entirely natural replies to a visitor’s questions: Who are you and where am I? The answers: Ainu, “we are people” and you are standing on “our homeland,” Mosir.

The Ainu call ethnic Japanese Wajin, a term that originated in China, or Shamo, meaning “colonizer.” Or, as one Ainu told a researcher: “people whom one cannot trust.”

B ack at the dig at Hamanaka II, Zoe Eddy, a historical archaeologist from Harvard University, stands atop piles of sandbags, surveying the crew. She’s one of a handful of Ph.D. candidates Kato relies on to manage the volunteers and students. She flips between Japanese and English, depending on who is asking a question.

“ Is this something?” I ask, pointing with my trowel to a curved hump, covered in sandy soil.

“ Maybe sea lion vertebrae? And it might be part of that,” she says, pointing to another bump a couple of handbreadths away. “Just go slow.”

Someone else calls out and she hustles over to assist. Eddy splits her time between Boston, Washington, D.C., and Sapporo. The tall, curly-haired brunette stands out central casting circa 1935 would have hired her to play the role of feisty female archaeologist in some exotic locale.

Eddy’s Ph.D. research focuses on cultural representations of bears among the Ainu. “You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a bear,” she says of Hokkaido’s obsession with bear imagery. Over sips of sake later, she describes her surprise the first time she visited Sapporo, in 2012, and spotted a plastic figurine of Hokkaido’s brown bear. It had a corn cob in its mouth. Eddy puzzled over it. Like dairy cows, corn is not indigenous to the island. “I thought, that’s odd, that’s really strange,” says Eddy. “Isn’t the bear Ainu?”

On Rebun Island, off the coast of Hokkaido, Hirofumi Kato, left, Zoe Eddy, foreground, and volunteers pile sandbags on the Hamanaka II archaeological site, where they will stay until the dig continues the following year. Jude Isabella

T o the Ainu, the bear has a body and soul it’s a ferocious predator that roams the mountains and valleys, and it’s a kamuy, a “god.” Kamuy are great and small. They are mighty salmon and deer, humble sparrows and squirrels, ordinary tools and utensils. Kamuy visit the earth, have a relationship with humans, and if respected, they return again and again to feed and clothe humans. It’s a sophisticated belief system where both living and nonliving things are spirit beings, and where interspecies etiquette is central to a good life. To maintain a healthy relationship with the kamuy, Ainu artists traditionally represent the world in the abstract, creating pleasing designs meant to charm the gods—the transcendent symmetrical swirls and twirls of a kaleidoscope, not banal figurines. Making a realistic image of an animal endangers its spirit—it could become trapped, so Ainu artists did not carve realistic bears that clenched corn, or anything else, in their teeth.

B ut art has a way of adapting to the zeitgeist. The typical Ainu bear today, a figurative bear with a salmon in its mouth, has a distinct German influence. “Somebody probably said, ‘Okay, the Germans like this,’” Eddy says. Ainu artists adapted after the Meiji Restoration: They gave tourists the iconic brown bears of the Black Forest that no longer existed. This pivot was a pragmatic answer to their culture’s precarious situation.

This 1901 illustration shows an Ainu iyomante. The iyomante fascinated Japanese and Europeans alike. Ivy Close Images/Alamy Stock Photo

L ike all island people, the Ainu had to deal with opposing realities. For much of their history, new ideas, new tools, and new friends flowed from the sea, a vital artery to the outside world. But the outside world also brought trouble and sometimes brutality.

T he first serious blow to Ainu sovereignty landed in the mid-1600s, when a powerful samurai clan took control of Japanese settlements in southern Hokkaido.

J apan had a population of roughly 25 million at the time—compared, for example, with England’s 5 million—and it was as hungry for mercantile success as most European countries. Across the globe, the chase was on for profitable voyages to distant lands, where merchants determined the rules of engagement, most often through force, upending local economies, trampling boundaries. Eager for profit, Japanese merchants dumped their trading relationships with the Ainu. Who needed Ainu traders when the resources were there for the taking—seals, fish, herring roe, sea otter pelts, deer and bearskins, strings of shells, hawks for falconry, eagle feathers for arrows, even gold?

“This is so not a uniquely Ainu story,” says Eddy, who traces some of her ancestry to the Wendat, an Indigenous group in northeastern North America. She thinks it’s important to remember all the violence that colonization entailed for Indigenous people. “Imagine one year where everything changes for you,” she says. “You have to move somewhere, you can’t speak your language, you can’t live with your family, you watch your sister raped in front of you, you watch your siblings die of starvation, you witness your animals slaughtered for fun.”

Ainu. Wendat. Similar plots and themes, but each unique in the telling.

I n the late 1800s, the Japanese government formally colonized Hokkaido. And Okinawa. And Taiwan. And the Sakhalin and Kuril Islands. The Korean Peninsula, and eventually, by the 1930s, Manchuria. The Japanese went to war with Russia and won, the first time an Asian country beat back the incursions of a European power in living memory. On Hokkaido, the Japanese government pursued a policy of assimilation, hiring American consultants fresh from the drive to assimilate North American Indigenous people. The government forced the Ainu into Japanese-speaking schools, changed their names, took their land, and radically altered their economy. They pushed the Ainu into wage labor, notably in the commercial herring fishery after Japanese farmers discovered fish meal was the perfect fertilizer for rice paddies.

F or much of the 20th century, the Ainu narrative created by outsiders revolved around their demise. But something else caught the attention of Japanese colonists and others traveling to Mosir: the Ainu’s relationship with bears.

T o the Ainu, the bear god is one of the mightier beings in the parallel spirit homeland, Kamuy Mosir. After death, bears journeyed to this spirit land, giving their meat and fur to the people. To honor this generosity, the people sent the bear’s spirit home in a special ceremony, iyomante.

In winter, Ainu men searched for a denning mother bear. When they found her, they adopted one of her cubs. A kotan raised the cub as one of their own, the women sometimes nursing the young animal. By the time it was so big that 20 men were needed to exercise the bear, it was ready for the ceremony. For two weeks, men carved prayer sticks and bundled bamboo grass or mugwort to burn for purification. Women prepared rice wine and food. A messenger traveled to nearby kotans to invite people to attend.

Guests arrived a day before the ritual, bearing gifts. At the start of the ceremony, an elder offered a prayer first to the goddess of the fire and hearth, Fuchi. The elder led the men to the bear cage. They prayed. They released the bear to exercise and play, then shot him with two blunt arrows before strangling and beheading him, freeing the spirit. People feasted, they danced, they sang. They decorated the head and an old woman recited sagas of Ainu Mosir, the floating world that rested on the back of a fish. She ended Scheherazade-like, on a cliffhanger, a sly bid to lure the god back next year to hear the rest of the story. Finally, they placed the bear’s head on the altar outside the sacred window.

A rchers drew their bows, and the whistling of ceremonial arrows accompanied the bear god home.

V iewed from today, the ritual of raising and sacrificing a dangerous predator seems both exotic and powerfully seductive. And in the minds of many people today, the bear and the Ainu have become entwined in a modern legend. Separately they are animals and people, together they have attained a near-mythical status.

Eddy sees the modern transformation of the Hokkaido bear, from sacred being to mascot, as a symbol of Ainu resilience under the pressure of Japanese domination. For archaeologists, the bear testifies to the deep antiquity of the Ainu and their ancestors in Hokkaido. And for the Ainu themselves, their ancient bear god gave them an unlikely toehold in the modern economy.

“ It would be easy to treat the [realistic] carvings as an example of the sad death of traditional Ainu culture,” Eddy says. “To me, it’s a real mark of creativity, of adaptability, and resilience in the face of just this complete devastation of older economies.”

T he Ainu did not get rich, or respect, but they held on.

I n the Ainu Museum in Shiraoi, south of Sapporo, a cute cartoon bear in a red T-shirt adorns a sign advertising bear treats for 100 yen. Nearby, inside a cage, a real bear slurps down one of the treats.

T he museum was built in 1976, after a flurry of civil rights activism, and today three brown bears are on display in separate cages. Little kids, chattering away, feed a cookie to one via a metal pipe, then leave. The bear looks over at the three of us: Mai Ishihara, a graduate student at Hokkaido University Carol Ellick, an American anthropologist who has worked with the Ainu and me.

A lmost 130 million people live in Japan today, but wild bears still roam the country’s forested mountains and valleys. Just a couple of months before my visit, a bear attacked and killed four people foraging for bamboo shoots in northern Honshu. But these conflicts are not new. One of the worst bear encounters took place in 1915, when Japan was in full colonizing swing: A bear attacked and killed seven Wajin villagers in Hokkaido. Their deaths were tragic, but perhaps inevitable. Wajin homesteaders had cut down large swaths of forest for firewood so they could render herring into fertilizer. As the landscape changed, the relationship between humans and bears changed, too. Colonization seems so straightforward on paper.

T here is no iyomante today. The bears in the Ainu Museum are there for the tourists. We’re greeted by the museum’s educational program director, Tomoe Yahata, wearing a dark blue jacket embroidered with the swirls and twirls of traditional Ainu designs over a black T-shirt and jeans. Her shoulder-length black hair frames a genial face. As we lunch by a lake, I see that Yahata’s charm is her genuine joy: If bluebirds were going to sing and circle around anyone here, it would be Yahata.

Tomoe Yahata and Mai Ishihara, who both have Ainu heritage, meet for the first time at the Ainu Museum in Shiraoi. Jude Isabella

Y ahata tells us that both her parents are Ainu, which is unusual probably 90 percent of all Ainu have ethnic Japanese in their background. The museum official makes no apology for being Ainu—she is proud. For Ishihara, listening to Yahata is a bit of a revelation.

I shihara is one-quarter Ainu, a fact her half-Ainu mother kept secret from her for much of her childhood. Physical traits do not a people make, but the Ainu are expected to have wavy hair and a certain stockiness to mark them as different. Neither Yahata nor Ishihara look anything other than Japanese. Ishihara, artfully dressed and striking in high-wedge sandals, with a woven cap jauntily perched on her head, would fit into any big metropolis. Independently, both women began exploring what being Ainu meant to them when they were in college.

Y ahata says college trips to Hawai‘i and other places where Indigenous groups lived changed her. “People there, in Hawai‘i … they’re so happy and so proud of [being Indigenous].” After her college travels, she says, she wanted “to become like that.”

T he two women joke about how Japanese people tend to think the 16,000 self-identified Ainu live only on salmon and food from the forests in rural Hokkaido. “Ainu people can go to Starbucks and have coffee and be happy!” says Yahata. Ellick, whose anthropologist husband Joe Watkins is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, laughs and jumps in. “Joe said when his children were little … his son asked if there were still Indians! And his son is American Indian. So Joe had to stop and say: ‘Okay, so let me explain something to you. You are Indian!’” Another round of laughter and disbelief.

T hen, almost on cue, we ask Yahata: “How do you be Ainu?” In reply, she tells us a story about buying a car.

W hen Yahata and her non-Ainu husband purchased a used Suzuki Hustler, they decided to welcome the little blue car with the white top into their lives as a traditional Ainu family would welcome a new tool. They conducted a ceremonial prayer to the car’s kamuy. On a cold, snowy December night, Yahata and her husband drove the car to a parking lot, bringing along a metal tub, some sticks of wood, matches, sake, a ceremonial cup, and a prayer stick.

T he couple tucked the car into a parking space and made a little fireplace with the metal tub and wood. “Every ceremony needs to have fire,” Ishihara translates. For half an hour, the couple prayed to the car kamuy. They poured sake into an Ainu cup borrowed from the museum and dipped a hand-carved prayer stick into the cup to anoint the car with drops of sake: on the hood, the roof, the back, the dashboard, and each tire.

T heir prayer was a simple one: keep them and other passengers safe. Of course, adds Yahata with a smile, they got insurance.

W e all laugh, again. The ceremony was so much fun, Yahata says, that the couple held another when they changed from winter tires to summer tires.

Ainu elders perform a ceremony at Hamanaka II. The archaeological dig initiated by Hirofumi Kato is the first to consult, involve, or ask permission of the Ainu. Mayumi Okada

I shihara, Ellick, and I agree—each of us wants to be like Yahata. Content and proud and full of joy. Studying the past and present of the Ainu reveals what we all know deep down—symbols and rituals and belonging are essential to our humanity. And that doesn’t change, no matter the culture: We are all the same, and we are all different.

T he next morning, Ishihara, Ellick, and I head off to Biratori, a neighboring town where a third of the population is Ainu. During the two-hour drive, Ishihara shares a memory—the moment she found out about her ethnic heritage.

S he was 12 years old, attending a family gathering at her aunt’s house in Biratori. No other children were present, and the adults began talking about their marriages. “Some of my uncles said, ‘I don’t tell my wife’s family that I have this blood.’” But Ishihara’s mother, Itsuko, said, “I have told everyone that I am minzoku.” Ishihara thinks that they avoided using the word Ainu because it was just too traumatic. Instead, they spoke about being minzoku, which roughly translates to “ethnic.” Ishihara didn’t know the meaning of the word, so she asked her mother. The first thing her mother said was, “Do you love your grandmother?” Ishihara said yes. “Do you really want to hear about it?” Ishihara did. Her mother answered: “You have Ainu heritage.” She didn’t want her daughter to discriminate against Ainu people. But Ishihara’s mother also told her not to tell anyone. “So I know it’s bad. I can’t tell my friends or my teachers.”

W e drive through a verdant valley of trees, grasses, and crops fed by the Saru River, a waterway once rich in salmon that cascades from the mountains and empties into the Pacific Ocean. Indigenous sites dot the river, some stretching back 9,000 years. When Wajin built a trading post along the Saru in the 19th century, the Ainu brought them kelp, sardines, shiitake mushrooms, and salmon in exchange for Japanese goods. The Ainu fished in the ocean in the spring, harvested kelp in the summer, and caught salmon in the river in autumn. In the winter, the men repaired and maintained their fishing boats, while women wove elm bark into clothing and fashioned leather out of salmon skin for boots.

T he Saru Valley is also where a famous Ainu leader, Shigeru Kayano, took a stand against the Japanese government. In the 19th century, a samurai took Kayano’s grandfather to work in a herring camp: The homesick boy chopped off one of his fingers, hoping his Wajin masters would send him home. Instead, they told him to stop crying. Kayano never forgot the story. In the 1980s, the Japanese government expropriated Ainu land along the Saru to build two dams: Kayano took the government to court. He fought a long legal battle and finally won a bittersweet victory. In 1997, the Japanese judiciary recognized the Ainu as an Indigenous people—a first from a state institution. But as the parties battled in the courts, dam construction went ahead. Kayano continued to fight for his people’s rights. As the case went through the courts, he ran for a seat in Japan’s parliament, becoming its first Ainu member in 1994.

A s we drive through Biratori, Ishihara remembers coming here often as a child to visit her grandmother, aunts, and uncles. A great-aunt still lives here. The older woman was forced to move to Japan from Sakhalin, which was seized by Russia after the Second World War. For Ishihara, this is hard-won information. She has been slowly piecing together the family’s history over the past seven years, through conversations with her great-aunt and her mother, Itsuko.

Anutari Ainu, which translates to “we humans,” launched in June 1973. Out of a small Sapporo apartment, a collective of mostly women produced an influential Ainu voice in Japan’s civil rights movement.

“ If I don’t know the history of what we’ve been through, how do I understand the present?” Ishihara wonders out loud. “My mother says Japanese people look at the future and never the past. What I’m trying to do drives my mother crazy, but her experience is so different.”

Itsuko and her cousin Yoshimi were just girls when newspaper headlines routinely proclaimed the end of the Ainu. In 1964, one newspaper headline announced, “Only One Ainu in Japan,” fake news long before anyone called it that. Indignant about such treatment in the press, Yoshimi and Itsuko launched their own publication called Anutari Ainu (meaning “we humans”) in June 1973. Working out of a tiny Sapporo apartment, they and a small collective of mostly women became the voice of a new Ainu movement, producing a periodical that explored Indigenous social issues through articles, poetry, and art. But in less than three years, this voice was silenced.

Ishihara is reluctant to give more details, particularly of Yoshimi’s story because, “It’s not mine to tell.” But search scholarly papers and books about the Indigenous rights movement in Japan, and Yoshimi, today close to 70, is part of the narrative. Neither Yoshimi or Itsuko played a role, however, in the political violence on Hokkaido carried out by radical members of Japanese counterculture, a movement with analogs across the globe—disaffected youth pissed off at the political status quo. The dissidents first tried unsuccessfully to assassinate the Wajin mayor of Shiraoi in 1974. Then a group bombed a Hokkaido government building in 1976, killing two and injuring 90. Suspicion fell on the Ainu community, and the police harassed and abused Ainu activists. Officers raided the Anutari Ainu office. Later, government officials identified the terrorists as Wajin radicals, who sympathized with the Ainu. But the Ainu community was horrified.

No wonder Itsuko and Yoshimi retreated from the movement—yet again, outsiders had hijacked their narrative, ignoring who the Ainu truly were and what they wanted.

A inu artist Toru Kaizawa stands among a group of teens at the Nibutani Ainu Cultural Museum in Biratori. A prominent carver, Kaizawa is talking about Ainu art traditions. The kids, who traveled here from suburban Tokyo, are enjoying themselves—especially when they all begin playing mouth harps they just made with the artist’s help. Kaizawa smiles.

Artworks, mostly carvings, line the shelves of the museum shop. Here there are no realistically carved bears, only the abstract whirls and waves of the Ainu’s ancient cultural aesthetic.

The Nibutani neighborhood in Biratori has a population of about 500: nearly 70 percent are Ainu. “It’s a nice place to live,” says museum curator Hideki Yoshihara. Its valley still produces a wealth of food—20 percent of Hokkaido’s tomato crop grows here—and the bucolic pastures of cattle and horses offer a peaceful vista to tourists looking for peace and quiet. But outsiders have to want to come to this rural enclave. No tour buses swing through town. Nearly half of the annual visitors arrive from Europe and North America: They’re tourists who are comfortable renting a car and exploring on their own, often seeking out Ainu culture.

An Ainu dance troupe performs for tourists in a traditional home at the Ainu Museum in Shiraoi. The dancers wear the elaborately embroidered clothes traditional among their ancestors. The patterns of swirls and twirls are typical of Ainu designs, and are meant to converse with their ever-present gods. Jude Isabella

Over lunch, Yoshihara explains that the Nibutani museum is unique in Japan: It’s owned and operated by the people of Biratori. Many are descendants of the people who created the fish hooks, the dugout canoes, the salmon skin boots, the intricately carved knife handles and prayer sticks in the display cases. Kaizawa, the man talking to the high school students, is the great-grandson of a renowned 19th-century Ainu artist from Nibutani.

After the students leave, Kaizawa takes us to his studio, which sits in a cluster of artists’ workshops near the museum. Inside are tools, blocks of wood, finished pieces, and all sorts of art books—including a book from the popular manga series The Golden Kamuy , which features Ainu and Japanese characters. The cover depicts a man clutching a traditional Ainu knife—it’s based on a real object made by Kaizawa.

A few years before The Golden Kamuy came out, a prominent Japanese nationalist, artist Yoshinori Kobayashi, published a manga challenging the idea of the Ainu people and indigeneity in Japan. Kobayashi and other nationalists believe that all Japan belongs to just one founding ethnic group: the Japanese. I haven’t met any nationalists on this trip, at least not that I know of. But Kobayashi gave them a popular voice in the 1990s, when Japan’s economic bubble burst and the disenfranchised sought a target for their anger: Koreans, Chinese, Ainu.

Even so, the government is moving forward on its Ainu policy today, if slowly. It has yet to issue an official apology to the Ainu, or recognize Hokkaido as traditional Ainu territory, or even rewrite textbooks to reflect a more accurate history of Japanese colonization. One government official I talked to explained that the Japanese and Ainu had a very short history of officially living together. If the government were to offer a public apology, the Japanese people would be shocked. The first step would be to let people know of the Ainu, then apologize.

And that’s partly the problem: How do the Ainu assert their modern identity? Ishihara says it’s a question that she often asks herself. When she tells friends and colleagues about her family background, they often respond by saying that they don’t care if she is Ainu—something that makes her wince. “It’s like saying, ‘despite the fact you are of despicable Ainu blood, I like you anyway,’” she says.

And this reaction may be the reason why the number of self-identified Ainu dropped from almost 24,000 to 16,000 in less than a decade, from 2006 to 2013. It’s not as if claiming Ainu ancestry comes with many perks. Compared with ethnic Japanese, the Ainu have less education, fewer job opportunities, and lower incomes. The main thing that being Indigenous offers to the Ainu is pride.

I n his studio, Kaizawa opens an art book. He thumbs through the pages until he finds what he is looking for. Then he passes the book over to me. On the glossy paper, I see a wood carving of a plain jacket, zipper partially open, revealing a swirl of abstract Ainu patterns hidden inside. It’s one of Kaizawa’s most important works.

T he Japanese never erased, never destroyed the Ainu’s immutable spirit, an identity that runs soul deep.

Watch the video: Γυναίκα Κατουραει στο πάρκο


  1. Dartagnan

    This is funny information.

  2. Digar

    No bad topic

  3. Dennet

    This is the scandal!

  4. Zolosar

    The phrase he would have just by the way

Write a message