Ainu People

Ainu People


The Ainu are an East Asian ethnic group indigenous to Japan, the original inhabitants of Hokkaido, and nearby Russia. Ainu women had mouth tattoos starting at a young age with a small spot, gradually increasing with size.


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The Ainu or the Aynu, also known as the Ezo in historical Japanese texts, are an East Asian ethnic group indigenous to Japan, the original inhabitants of Hokkaido and nearby Russia.

Official estimates place the total Ainu population of Japan at 25,000. Unofficial estimates place the total population at 200,000 or higher, as the near-total assimilation of the Ainu into Japanese society has resulted in many individuals with Ainu heritage not know their ancestry.

Traditional Ainu culture was quite different from Japanese culture. Never shaving after a certain age, the men had full beards and mustaches. Men and women alike cut their hair level with the shoulders at the sides of the head, trimmed semicircularly behind. The women tattooed their mouths, and sometimes the forearms. The mouth tattoos were started at a young age with a small spot on the upper lip, gradually increasing with size. The soot deposited on a pot hung over a fire of birch bark was used for color. Their traditional dress was a robe spun from the inner bark of the elm tree, called attusi or attush. Various styles were made, and consisted generally of a simple short robe with straight sleeves, which was folded around the body, and tied with a band about the waist. The sleeves ended at the wrist or forearm and the length generally was to the calves. Women also wore an undergarment of Japanese cloth.

Modern craftswomen weave and embroider traditional garments that command very high prices. In winter the skins of animals were worn, with leggings of deerskin and in Sakhalin, boots were made from the skin of dogs or salmon. Ainu culture considers earrings, traditionally made from grapevines, to be gender-neutral. Women also wear a beaded necklace called a tamasay.

Their traditional cuisine consists of the flesh of a bear, fox, wolf, badger, ox, or horse, as well as fish, fowl, millet, vegetables, herbs, and roots. They never ate raw fish or flesh; it was always boiled or roasted.


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