Photos: Japan builds contentious tribute to Ainu people ahead of Olympics

On a wooded lake shore in northern Japan, the government is building a modernist shrine that has divided the indigenous Ainu community whose vanishing culture it was designed to celebrate. At a cost so far of $220 million Japan's "Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony" is on track to open in time for the 2020 Olympics, part of a drive by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to draw millions of foreign visitors to Japan and to the northern city of Sapporo, where the Olympic marathon will be run. Some Ainu worry the new museum complex is mostly meant to burnish Japan's international standing ahead of the Olympics

Updated On Oct 30, 2019 01:16 PM IST 14 Photos
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A memorial site, holding the remains of Ainu people which were sent to universities in the 20th century, at the Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony in Shiraoi, Hokkaido. Also known as “Upopoy” or “singing together” in the Ainu language, the complex will also include a museum, and a replica of an Ainu village, many of which Japan destroyed in its 19th century colonization of Hokkaido. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

A memorial site, holding the remains of Ainu people which were sent to universities in the 20th century, at the Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony in Shiraoi, Hokkaido. Also known as “Upopoy” or “singing together” in the Ainu language, the complex will also include a museum, and a replica of an Ainu village, many of which Japan destroyed in its 19th century colonization of Hokkaido. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Updated on Oct 30, 2019 01:16 PM IST
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(L) Mai Hachiya in a traditional Ainu robe with lipstick drawn around her mouth to recreate traditional Ainu tattoos. (R) Tosa Monna, Hachiya’s grandmother, performs on the Mukkuri. “I think it’s possible it could end up becoming a theme park,” said Ainu tattoo artist Mai Hachiya. “People would come to see the dancing and other performances. It would be like a zoo.” (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS and Mai Hachiya)

(L) Mai Hachiya in a traditional Ainu robe with lipstick drawn around her mouth to recreate traditional Ainu tattoos. (R) Tosa Monna, Hachiya’s grandmother, performs on the Mukkuri. “I think it’s possible it could end up becoming a theme park,” said Ainu tattoo artist Mai Hachiya. “People would come to see the dancing and other performances. It would be like a zoo.” (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS and Mai Hachiya)

Updated on Oct 30, 2019 01:16 PM IST
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(L-R) Tosa Monna, her husband and her husband’s brother attend a traditional ceremony in Asahikawa between 1945-1950. Scholars say the Ainu settled in Japan’s northernmost island and across Sakhalin, Russia, by the 1300s. They hunted, fished, practiced an animist religion and spoke a language unrelated to any other. (Mai Hachiya via REUTERS)

(L-R) Tosa Monna, her husband and her husband’s brother attend a traditional ceremony in Asahikawa between 1945-1950. Scholars say the Ainu settled in Japan’s northernmost island and across Sakhalin, Russia, by the 1300s. They hunted, fished, practiced an animist religion and spoke a language unrelated to any other. (Mai Hachiya via REUTERS)

Updated on Oct 30, 2019 01:16 PM IST
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A hill stands where Japanese forces are believed to have gathered during a fifteenth century battle with indigenous Ainu tribesmen in Kaminokuni, Hokkaido Prefecture. Japan took control of Hokkaido by force in the 19th Century and made it a colony. After opening it to Japanese settlers, it forced the Ainu, which it labelled “former aborigines,” to assimilate. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

A hill stands where Japanese forces are believed to have gathered during a fifteenth century battle with indigenous Ainu tribesmen in Kaminokuni, Hokkaido Prefecture. Japan took control of Hokkaido by force in the 19th Century and made it a colony. After opening it to Japanese settlers, it forced the Ainu, which it labelled “former aborigines,” to assimilate. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

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Wooden statues of an Ainu couple stand in front of an Ainu craft shop in the Nibutani district where several Ainu craft shops and a museum are located, in Biratori, Hokkaido Prefecture. A 2017 survey counted just over 13,000 Ainu in Hokkaido. The actual number is estimated to be much higher, because many Ainu fear identifying as other than Japanese and have moved to different parts of the country. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Wooden statues of an Ainu couple stand in front of an Ainu craft shop in the Nibutani district where several Ainu craft shops and a museum are located, in Biratori, Hokkaido Prefecture. A 2017 survey counted just over 13,000 Ainu in Hokkaido. The actual number is estimated to be much higher, because many Ainu fear identifying as other than Japanese and have moved to different parts of the country. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Updated on Oct 30, 2019 01:16 PM IST
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Yumeka, a son of Ainu hunter Atsushi Monbetsu, plays Karippekap an Ainu folk game, with his father (not pictured) in Biratori. Ainu children are half as likely to go to college as other Japanese and average household earnings are significantly lower, official data show. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Yumeka, a son of Ainu hunter Atsushi Monbetsu, plays Karippekap an Ainu folk game, with his father (not pictured) in Biratori. Ainu children are half as likely to go to college as other Japanese and average household earnings are significantly lower, official data show. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

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Indigenous Ainu Teruyo Usa (R) attends a traditional ritual ceremony to mark the eighth anniversary of the opening of her Ainu restaurant in Tokyo. “Society was not accepting of the Ainu, and it still isn’t,” said Mai Ishihara, an anthropologist at Hokkaido University. “There are still many people who keep their Ainu identity secret from their children.” (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Indigenous Ainu Teruyo Usa (R) attends a traditional ritual ceremony to mark the eighth anniversary of the opening of her Ainu restaurant in Tokyo. “Society was not accepting of the Ainu, and it still isn’t,” said Mai Ishihara, an anthropologist at Hokkaido University. “There are still many people who keep their Ainu identity secret from their children.” (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

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Ainu artist Koji Yuki (R) and Fukumoto Shoji, at a makeshift altar for a memorial service for Ainu tribesmen defeated in a fifteenth century battle. In 2009, after signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Japan began considering how to establish a new policy for the Ainu. Early proposals zeroed in quickly on the “Symbolic Space” now taking shape. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Ainu artist Koji Yuki (R) and Fukumoto Shoji, at a makeshift altar for a memorial service for Ainu tribesmen defeated in a fifteenth century battle. In 2009, after signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Japan began considering how to establish a new policy for the Ainu. Early proposals zeroed in quickly on the “Symbolic Space” now taking shape. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Updated on Oct 30, 2019 01:16 PM IST
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A traditional Ainu hut stands in the grounds of Nibutani Ainu Museum. In consultations that concluded in early 2018, Ainu representatives asked for legal rights to state-owned land, more funding for teaching Ainu culture and language and an apology from Japan’s government. None of those proposals was considered. (Kim Kyung Hoon / REUTERS)

A traditional Ainu hut stands in the grounds of Nibutani Ainu Museum. In consultations that concluded in early 2018, Ainu representatives asked for legal rights to state-owned land, more funding for teaching Ainu culture and language and an apology from Japan’s government. None of those proposals was considered. (Kim Kyung Hoon / REUTERS)

Updated on Oct 30, 2019 01:16 PM IST
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Ainu wooden kayaks outside Nibutani Ainu Museum. Giving back forest where Ainu once hunted and foraged would “be hard for the Japanese people to accept,” said Hiroshi Koyama, the official in charge of Japan’s Comprehensive Ainu Policy Office. And an apology would be uncomfortable for many Japanese, as well as an insult to the Japanese settlers who built modern Hokkaido, he added. (Ki, Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Ainu wooden kayaks outside Nibutani Ainu Museum. Giving back forest where Ainu once hunted and foraged would “be hard for the Japanese people to accept,” said Hiroshi Koyama, the official in charge of Japan’s Comprehensive Ainu Policy Office. And an apology would be uncomfortable for many Japanese, as well as an insult to the Japanese settlers who built modern Hokkaido, he added. (Ki, Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

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Ainu hunter Atsushi Monbetsu, 36, sees Tokyo’s actions, including the ethnic-harmony park, as “useless.” Discrimination as a child made him decide to embrace his heritage and live as a hunter, he said. “It would have been nice if the government had given us a place where we could carry out our traditional rites,” said Monbetsu, who burns birch shavings in a prayer to the Ainu gods before stalking deer with a shotgun. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Ainu hunter Atsushi Monbetsu, 36, sees Tokyo’s actions, including the ethnic-harmony park, as “useless.” Discrimination as a child made him decide to embrace his heritage and live as a hunter, he said. “It would have been nice if the government had given us a place where we could carry out our traditional rites,” said Monbetsu, who burns birch shavings in a prayer to the Ainu gods before stalking deer with a shotgun. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Updated on Oct 30, 2019 01:16 PM IST
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A group representing about 2,000 Ainu supports Abe’s project, arguing it will provide economic benefits from tourism and a forum focusing on Ainu culture and arts. Five of the 20 curators hired for the new museum are Ainu. At a former school a short drive from the museum, curators are preparing exhibits. Traditional Ainu coats hang in abandoned classrooms with knives, ceremonial sticks and beaded necklaces laid out on tables. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

A group representing about 2,000 Ainu supports Abe’s project, arguing it will provide economic benefits from tourism and a forum focusing on Ainu culture and arts. Five of the 20 curators hired for the new museum are Ainu. At a former school a short drive from the museum, curators are preparing exhibits. Traditional Ainu coats hang in abandoned classrooms with knives, ceremonial sticks and beaded necklaces laid out on tables. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Updated on Oct 30, 2019 01:16 PM IST
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(L) Materials used for making an Ainu tattoo. (R) Hachiya cuts her thumb with a razor blade to create a tattoo. With pictures of smiling performers, a draft brochure describes Ainu culture as “on the verge of extinction.” It makes no reference to Japanese policies that forced Ainu to adopt Japanese names, speak Japanese and outlawed practices such as a traditional form of tattooing Hachiya is trying to revive. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

(L) Materials used for making an Ainu tattoo. (R) Hachiya cuts her thumb with a razor blade to create a tattoo. With pictures of smiling performers, a draft brochure describes Ainu culture as “on the verge of extinction.” It makes no reference to Japanese policies that forced Ainu to adopt Japanese names, speak Japanese and outlawed practices such as a traditional form of tattooing Hachiya is trying to revive. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Updated on Oct 30, 2019 01:16 PM IST
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Mai Hachiya in traditional Ainu attire as she walks downtown in Sapporo. Hachiya, 36, who is also a singer, has been asked to practice a routine with other Ainu performers that may be included in the Olympics opening ceremony. “I think Hokkaido is a Japanese colony,” she said. “That’s a hard thing to say, but if you look back on what was done, that’s what you have to conclude.” (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Mai Hachiya in traditional Ainu attire as she walks downtown in Sapporo. Hachiya, 36, who is also a singer, has been asked to practice a routine with other Ainu performers that may be included in the Olympics opening ceremony. “I think Hokkaido is a Japanese colony,” she said. “That’s a hard thing to say, but if you look back on what was done, that’s what you have to conclude.” (Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Updated on Oct 30, 2019 01:16 PM IST
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