Meet The Wonderful Ancient Tribe Of Japan And Their Distinctive Spiritual Life


When many people think of Japan, they think of a nation that is largely ethnically homogeneous because of its insular character, and sometimes one has a strong image of the Japanese people as being all (or nearly all) very similar to each other.

It may come as a surprise to learn that, despite being a relatively small country, Japan has several distinct ethnic subgroups, including an indigenous culture known as the Ainu.


The Ainu have long struggled to maintain their culture and identity. Many efforts have been made for the Ainu to be recognized as a legitimate culture alongside the ” dominant” Japanese culture. Unfortunately, the Ainu culture is on the brink of extinction.

In recent years, the Japanese government has created initiatives to promote Ainu culture, but there is still a long way to go. Being considered a relatively little known culture, how about getting to know the spiritual and Religious belief of this tribe.


Ainu’ s distinctive spiritual beliefs

In contrast to Japanese religious practices such as Shinto and Buddhism, the Ainu traditionally adhere to animism, which asserts that everything in nature is spiritual. For the Ainu, every part of the animal and natural world, and even the tools they use in daily life, are manifestations of kamuy (gods) who visit the Ainu Moshiri or ” Land of Man” .

Three spirits in particular are considered especially important in Ainu religious beliefs: Kim- un Kamuy, the god of bears and mountains, Kamuy Fuchi, the goddess of the hearth, and Repun Kamuy, god of the sea, fishing, and marine animals.


One of the beliefs that the Ainu culture emphasizes is just taking the necessary amount of a given need for life and thanking the spirit of the animals they eat, as well as performing ceremonies to ” send back” the spirits of the dead animals.

Kim- un Kamuy’ s importance comes through the Yomancer ceremony, in which brown bears or other wild animals were sacrificed and their spirits sent to the world of the gods. It used to be one of the most important ceremonies in the Ainu culture.


Nowadays, some Ainu have converted to Shinto or Buddhism during the process of assimilation, and some of the Ainu further north have been converted by the Russian Orthodox Church. But many of the remaining Ainu still embrace and defend traditional beliefs and practices.

Ainu culture: very different from Japanese culture

Customs, practices, religion, and many other cultural characteristics strongly differ the Ainu from the dominant Japanese culture; although assimilation efforts tried to push the Ainu into agriculture, the culture is traditionally one of hunting, fishing and gathering plants.


Traditional Ainu clothing and personal hygiene standards immediately set them apart: Ainu men who follow traditional customs did not shave after a certain age, keeping a large beard, while Ainu women traditionally tattooed their mouths and sometimes hands and forearms– in contrast to traditional Japanese patterns.

As we know, tattoos are traditionally linked to the Yakuza mafia and a clean shave is considered appropriate for all men. Ainu women were prohibited from getting tattooed, but to maintain their tradition, they continued to paint themselves with temporary paints.


The Ainu have always been a society that lived off hunting, gathering and mainly fishing; traditional food preservation methods include smoking and drying, particularly of salmon. The Ainu religion is also very different from the rest of Japan.


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