HIEA 112 Assignment #1
As the Meiji government expanded its territories and subjugated the Ainu population, it enacted policies that drastically changed the livelihood of Ainu people. These policies, while in the name of ‘protection’ and ‘civilizing,’ had detrimental effects on the Ainu culture.
One of the most damaging policies in my opinion, was the forceful conversion to farming. As Komori argues, the Hokkaido Former Natives Protection Law “constituted an attack on the Ainu’s entire arena of life, ranging from issues of physical health and nutritional balance based on daily foodstuffs to world views, cosmology, and religious beliefs” (13). The impact of the forceful shift to farming was not simply unfamiliarity. Ainu’s lifestyle of hunting and fishing determined their culture and fundamental social structure, just as in farming societies, religion and social hierarchy surround the practice of farming. In addition to the destruction on the Ainu culture, the sudden shift to farming imposed a direct risk on their physical health by forcing the Ainu people into a completely different diet.
Furthermore, on top of forcing the Ainu to cultivate their lands, the Meiji government also wiped out Ainu’s native language. It is stated in the Announcement to Natives that “One must make every effort to learn spoken Japanese, of course, but also the rules of written Japanese” (Komori 10). Not only was their native language denied, the Ainu people were not recognized as legitimate Japanese citizens unless they adopted the Japanese language. Since language is such a vital part of any culture, the loss of their language meant the loss of the Ainu cultural identity.
Faced with such violence, putting myself in the Ainu people’s shoes, I would have been very resistant to the Meiji government policies. I cannot begin to imagine the fury of the Ainu people as their natural land was invaded by outsiders, forced to assimilate to a completely novel lifestyle, and stripped of their sacred cultural traditions. It must have been impossible to accept such cruel treatments and many of them must have responded aggressively as well. Taking farming as an example, it would have been difficult to suddenly give up traditional hunting and fishing practices. Therefore, the initial response would have been to ignore such assimilation policies and continue to live their native lifestyle. However, as more mainlanders settled into the Ainu land, it would have become difficult for them to continue hunting so eventually, they had to assimilate. In terms of other cultural elements such as religion and language, the change would have been more gradual. Though they were forced to receive Japanese education, cultural practices could not be easily abandoned. It would have been difficult to maintain the more visible practices such as tattoos and accessories as Meiji government strictly prohibited such customs as part of their ‘civilizing mission’ but the Ainu people must have worked to preserve other traditions such as their religious beliefs and language.