During our stay in Hokkaido, we wanted to know more about Ainu culture. So we went to an Ainu village on the shores of Lake Akan. With 36 houses and around 120 residents, the village aims to perpetuate the traditions and culture of Ainu and to present its handicrafts. Some of these products will be included in the September 2021 Hokkaido-themed Peko Peko box. Subscribe before August 31st to get it!
Who are the Ainu?
The Ainu are the indigenous population of the island of Hokkaido, the northernmost of the Japanese archipelago. Ainu means “human”. Ainu culture is very different from Japanese culture, with its own legends, beliefs, dances and rituals, languages and songs.
The Ainu used to live in close relationship with nature, usrviving by fishing, hunting and farming. Thus, they developed beliefs that gods and spirits visit our world in various forms and therefore are found all around us, in the natural world. They can be found in mountains, wind, animals or plants. The Ainu have a great respect for nature and it reflects in their crafts, songs and dances.
Dances and songs are very important in Ainu’s daily life. Whether it is joy or sadness, they express their emotions through dances and songs, which can be found at any time in all parts of society, whether for family celebrations, with friends or even at work.
One of the Ainu crafts that immediately caught our attention is embroidery. Indeed, we can see very particular shapes. For example the “moreu” (the spirals) and the “aiushi”, the thorns pattern. These patterns may differ from region to region and from family to family, as they are traditionally being passed down from mother to daughter. These designs are known to ward off evil spirits.
In your Peko Peko Box, you will find a pouch with designs inspired by Ainu embroidery. Part of the profits for this item go to an association that promotes the preservation of Ainu culture.
Interview of Ayano Maeda, Representative Director of Hokkaido Potluck
Where and by whom is this pouch made?
Given their reduced numbers, Ainu people are unfortunately unable to produce enough pouches at scale. Therefore we ask a dyeing workshop in Kyoto where craftsmen print on the pattern on fabric before sewing the pouches one by one.
We heard that some of the profit made from the sales of your products goes to the Ainu people?
Ainu crafts were originally used in daily life, they weren’t for sale. Therefore, they have never been mass-produced. Even if they can be considered as works of art, the price at which they are sold is not worth the producer’s time. Currently, the number of Ainu people who have inherited Ainu know-how for crafts such as woodworking, weaving, and sewing is decreasing, and in order to preserve the traditional techniques, they need to teach their crafts to future generations. Therefore, a part of the profit made from the sales of the Ainu pouch included in the Peko Peko Box is given to the Nibutani Folk Art Association.
Subscribe to Peko Peko Box to read the full interview and get your Hokkaido box to know more about Ainu culture.