After decades of discrimination, racism against the ethnic minority is banned. Tourism will be promoted in Hokkaido, home to the remaining 12,300 Ainu.
Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japan's government introduced a bill today to recognise for the first time the country's Ainu minority as an "indigenous" people, following a century of forced assimilation and discrimination that almost wiped out the original culture.
In addition to outlawing racism against the Ainu, the law also provides for new subsidies to promote tourism in their homeland, Hokkaido Island.
The authorities will allow the estimated 12,300 Ainu to cut down trees in nationally-owned forests for use in traditional rituals.
Factors that prompted the move include Japan's historical treatment of the Ainu and growing demands from the international community for adequate recognition of the Ainu as an indigenous people.
The latter traditionally observed an animist faith, with men wearing full beards and women adorning themselves with facial tattoos before marriage.
Their lands were effectively seized after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which re-established the emperor’s paramountcy after centuries of Shogun rule.
A law passed in 1899 rejected Ainu culture and banned them from practising their customs and using their language, forcing them to assimilate into the mainstream population.
The law was repealed in 1997 and replaced with legislation designed to preserve the Ainu culture and guarantee their human rights.
This was the first time Japan acknowledge the existence of an ethnic minority within its territory, but failed to recognise the Ainu as an indigenous people.
This happened in 2008 when the government issued a statement recognising the Ainu as an “indigenous people that have their own language, religious and cultural identity."