What Is Left of Us? The Living Story of the Ainu in Japan



Indigenous to the coastal areas and archipelagos of the Sea of Okhotsk, the Ainu have been facing Russian and Japanese colonialisms for over two centuries. In this essay and its two associated poems, Kanako Uzawa describes the ongoing political and cultural efforts to assert Ainu self-determination rights, in particular in Hokkaido.

A Story That Was Never Being Told ///

Releasing anger of the past helps us to move forward in our life journey

We dance and sing for this moment to be together

The togetherness reminds us who we are

Joy of dance

Tundra of music that runs through our body

Our moment together

Voices from the past that echoes within ourselves

Clinging on our back, trying to get back to a present time and life

Breath that comes back to a body

Rusted and cold bones filled with the smell of blood

A last drop of the blood sings to our heart

Clinging to each other

Finally, warm blood running through a body

Searching for the joy of life, which we once had and lost

Getting life back isn’t easy

Trying to remember how it was to breathe, laugh, and cry

My present life seems different from how I remember

Throughout the late 19th to 20th centuries, Ainu people were targeted as a fascinating research object within a Japanese academic landscape influenced by Western frameworks of race and Social Darwinism. Much academic colonialism was done to the Ainu in Hokkaido during this length of time by Japanese scientists. Today, collections of Ainu remains are still housed in Japanese universities.