History and Culture of an Ethnic Minority in Northern Japan

The AINU, which denotes „people„, have for many centuries populated the regions of Northern Japan and Hokkaido, Sachalin, and the Kuriles. They lived as hunters and gatherers of the plentiful resources on the hills and in the sea. For a time they were much feared as warriors by the Japanese, but later established an extensive trade in furs and Chinese and Japanese brocades. From the 16th century onwards, they were forced to withdraw more and more, and thus became increasingly dependent on the Japanese and the Russians, with a consequent loss of their cultural traditions. Since then, the Europeans have recognized them as representatives of an ancient culture, even as the remnant of an original European people, and they have, in the last two centuries, been the subject of intensive anthropological research. In Germany there are some unique collections of outstanding carved artefacts, hunting implements and clothing, which have been attentively noted by the AINU people, who have acquired a new sense of their ethnic identity.

This exhibition, which is timed to coincide with the international symposium on „AINU Studies and AINU Collections“ (11.-14.12.2000), presented unique artefacts from the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne as well as Japanese scrolls showing traditional 19th century AINU culture from the anthropological museums of Berlin, Munich and Mannheim.