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Japanese Culture through the Indigenous’ Eyes

Posted By admin On May 30, 2013 @ 2:43 pm In Abstracts for 2013, Linguistics and Language Teaching, Social Sciences | Comments Disabled

Sachiko Shin Halley, Assistant Professor

Department of Modern Foreign Languages

Norwegian University for Science and Technology (NTNU)

Archaeology indicates that cultures contiguous with the Ainu lived in the islands of Japan from before the establishment of the Japanese nation, which appears to have occurred through the establishment in southern Japan of a warrior aristocracy possessing horses, iron weapons, and rice agriculture from continental Asia about the 4th century BC; in written history their existence was first recorded in Japanese chronicles of the 8th century. Although the Ainu people were gradually conquered and ruled by the Japanese, their culture has always been influential on Japanese culture, especially at the level of common people’s culture. It is for example documented that Ainu language was still widely spoken in Hokkaido and North East Honshu in late 19th century, and many Ainu words are found in northern Japanese dialects. Ainu culture also mixed into Japanese culture through people’s interactions, such as marriage and trade. It is therefore necessary to understand the characteristics of Ainu culture in order to understand Japanese culture. In this presentation, the Ainu view of the world, which their culture is based on, and its relation to Japanese culture is examined; and methods of investigating Japanese culture independent of the methods and frameworks of the Western academic tradition are investigated.

The Ainu’s view of the world contained the following major elements: the Ainu called the whole universe “siri”. Inside the “siri”, the worlds inhabited by humans and spirits are called “mosiri”, which means “land”, “island”, “world”. “Mosiri” is divided into two; one is “Kamui-mosiri”, where “Kamui” live or exist, the spirits of living creatures, humans, and (in Western thinking) inanimate objects live; and another is “Ainu-mosiri”, where humans live. Ainu belief is animistic, finding spirits called “Kamui” in every creature and object. The “Kamui-mosiri” exists superior to “Ainu-mosiri”, from where Kamui always look down on “Ainu-mosiri”, and frequently visit as the figures of animals, plants, various natural phenomena, and so on. People always welcome “Kamui”, entertain them, and send them back to “Kamui-mosiri” with presents, rituals, music and dancing, in order to make them happy so that they wish to visit “Ainu-mosiri” again. We should note that the “Kamui” visit “Ainu-mosiri”, while living people never visit or even try to visit “Kamui-mosiri”. “Ainu-mosiri” is strictly separated from “Kamui-mosiri”, and people can contact “Kamui” only when they visited “Ainu-mosiri”.

The Ainu’s view of the world is typified by their mythology, “Kamui-yukara”, and folk tales, “Uwepekere”, and its influence or relation is also found in Japanese folk tales. In both Ainu tales and Japanese ones, for example, there are many stories where animals visit humans, have close contact with humans for a while, and eventually go back to their own world. People welcome the spirits in the figures of animals in the human world, while they cannot follow or reach to them once they leave the human world. Such a view of the world is also found in both Ainu rituals and Japanese ones. The Japanese view and attitude towards the objects and spirits in the world were previously examined and called “Marebito-kantai (guest welcoming)” by Shinobu Origuchi.

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