National Ainu memorial faces opposition over break with traditions

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    SAPPORO – Some Ainu in Hokkaido have expressed opposition to a government plan to construct a national memorial where the remains of Ainu people that have been collected for research can be interred.

    “The remains should not be placed in a concrete facility, but be returned to ‘kotan’ traditional Ainu communities and buried in the Earth,” said Kenichi Kawamura, 63, head of an Ainu group in Asahikawa, Hokkaido.

    The remains of 1,636 Ainu were collected by 12 universities, including Hokkaido University, between about 1880 and 1950 for research purposes, according to the education ministry.

    These universities have said they obtained the necessary permission to collect the remains.

    But Ryukichi Ogawa, a 78-year-old Ainu living in the town of Urakawa, filed a lawsuit against Hokkaido University in 2012, claiming that remains of his ancestors had been illegally dug up and stolen by researchers.

    He also claims the university took items from the graves, such as necklaces and arrows, along with the remains. Ogawa is demanding the return of the remains and damages from the university.

    “I won’t let it finish with the remains being moved (to the new memorial),” Ogawa said. “They should apologize in the first place.”

    Kawamura expressed concern that research activities may continue after the remains of the Ainu people have been transferred to the memorial.

    The memorial will be part of a national center on Ainu culture to be constructed beside Lake Poroto, in the southwest Hokkaido town of Shiraoi, by 2020 based on a Cabinet decision in June. The center will include a museum and a park.

    In 2008, the Diet adopted a resolution calling on the government to recognize Ainu as one of the indigenous peoples of Japan.

    Earlier this month, Yasuyuki Kaneko, a member of the Sapporo Municipal Assembly, came under fire after posting a tweet on Twitter saying “The Ainu people no longer exist.”

    “It is necessary to promote the public understanding of Ainu, including through tourism,” said Kenichi Ochiai, an associate professor at the Hokkaido University Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies, which was established in 2007 to promote research while respecting Ainu people.

    Deeper understanding of past and present circumstances surrounding Ainu will let people know that appropriate aid is necessary for them, Ochiai, 39, said.

    Source: The Japan Times News