Japan: Ainu people accuse Japanese government of rewriting history

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    The indigenous people of what is today northern Japan have accused the government of historical revisionism and racism after the education ministry revised school history books to claim that land was given to the Ainu people after Hokkaido was assimilated.

    The education ministry’s screening panel intervened after claiming that a passage in the school book published by Nihon Bunkyou Shuppan Company could cause misunderstanding.

    The original passage in the school book read: “Following the enactment of the Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Act in 1899, the government confiscated the land of the Ainu people, who were mainly hunter-gatherers, and encouraged them to practice agriculture.”

    That has now been altered in the newest version of the book to state: “Following the enactment of the protection law, the government gave plots of land to the Ainu people, who were mainly hunter-gatherers, and attempted to change their lifestyle to centre around agriculture.”

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    Other books by different publishers have managed to avoid mentioning the fact that Ainu land was forcibly expropriated by the Mieji-era government, which set out to conquer the island in the 1860s before the equally expansionist Russians could lay claim to the area.

    Yupo Abe, the deputy head of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, said the Japanese government’s efforts to conceal what actually happened to the Ainu people make him angry.

    “In 1869, the Japanese government unilaterally took away all the land of the Ainu people and changed the name of our homeland to Hokkaido, without the consent of the only residents of the island,” he told The South China Morning Post.

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    “The government then started to colonise Hokkaido and prohibited the Ainu from expressing our culture or from carrying out our traditional forms of hunting, fishing and gathering,” he said.

    “They even forced us to change our names,” Abe added. “By the 1880s, the Ainu were being starved to death because of the regulations and the government’s assimilation policies.”

    The introduction of the protection act was designed to turn a people who had fished and hunted for generations into a farming community by giving them land.

    “But the land they gave to the Ainu was unsuitable for farming,” Abe said. “And while they gave us Ainu 10,000 hectares per family, they gave the Japanese settlers 100,000 hectares per person.”

    Teaching that the government gave land to the Ainu in Hokkaido will give children the wrong understanding of history, he said.

    Source: South China Morning Post