Counter-Narratives and Issues of Indigenous Engagement in Representation of Ainu History and Culture in Contemporary Japan

Title: 1353 | Counter-Narratives and Issues of Indigenous Engagement in Representation of Ainu History and Culture in Contemporary Japan
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: Anthropology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Marrianne Ubalde, Hokkaido University, Japan (organizer, presenter)
Tatsiana Tsagelnik, Hokkaido University, Japan (presenter, discussant)
Ashleigh Dollin, Hokkaido University, Japan (presenter, chair)
Amanda Gomes, Hokkaido University, Japan (presenter, discussant)


In recent years we can observe several developments towards the improvement of the situation of the Indigenous people of Japan, the Ainu. These include the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the naming of Hokkaido in 2018, adaptation of new legislation recognizing the Ainu as Indigenous Peoples of Japan in May 2019, opening of the National Ainu Museum in April 2020, and the increasing interest of a manga/anime called “Golden Kamuy” which is popularizing Ainu culture. Despite all the above-mentioned changes which allude to a positive image of progress for Ainu rights, they tend to be one-sided developments which seem to lack the inclusion of Ainu voices. An impression that the Ainu standpoint is being under-represented has been formed by researchers on Ainu and also voiced by some members of the Ainu community due to a lack of participation by Ainu people in the decision-making processes directly related to Ainu affairs. This panel will discuss issues of self-representation and Indigenous participation in museum exhibitions, archaeological research, media, and the process of ancestral remains repatriation. These areas have been selected as they constitute spaces where a lack of dialog between the Wajin (ethnic Japanese) majority and Ainu people can be observed. The papers presented in this panel are taking an angle of critical discourse analysis and are discussing Indigenous narratives through community engagements in an attempt to capture the Indigenous voice.

Panel Abstracts:
A Survey on Ainu-related Exhibitions in Contemporary Japan: Issues and Prospects
This study deals with the representation of Ainu people in select museum exhibits in contemporary Japan and the perception of museum visitors on these exhibits. Through surveys and interviews with museums visitors and curators, along with museum visits in Japan, this study argues that the contemporary representation of Ainu people in museums remains largely focused on traditional aspects. These representations can be classified into three levels; the first level refers to the majority of museum exhibits’ tendency to focus on the traditional or historical aspect of the Ainu people while ignoring their presence in the contemporary period; the second level refers to the Ainu people being represented as leading a somewhat traditional lifestyle even in the contemporary period; and the third level refers to the multifaceted existence of Ainu people in the contemporary period being somewhat depicted in some museums. Some dynamics in terms of the nature of museums and the varying perceptions between foreign and Japanese visitors also came out in this study. Additionally, while museum curators are aware of these problems, they are also confronted with several issues which make exhibition renewals and the changing of exhibition narratives a challenge. Finally, recent changes in the social environment along with the passage of Ainu-related policies seem to promise a better representation as well as participation of Ainu people in museums. The opening of the National Ainu Museum in April 2020 may also act as a springboard to further discuss the situation of Ainu people from hereon.

Discourse and Representation of Ainu History in Contemporary Japan: Creation of Images of "a Good Colonizer" and "a Loyal Native"
This research is examining the mechanisms of the discourse of silencing the Ainu, Indigenous people of Japan, voices and colonization history of Ainu lands, which has been recently presented by a positive discourse of Ainu-Wajin (ethnic Japanese) harmonious “co-existence” in the context of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the naming of Hokkaido (2018), adoption of new legislation on Ainu policy and up-coming Olympic Games in Japan in 2020. The new narration is placing emphasis on the importance of paying respect and gratitude to the Ainu people for their rich culture and particular relations with nature, but it does not leave space for discussions of the fact that there have been neither official recognition of the history of colonization, nor an official apology. Such a narration is facing criticism from parts of the Ainu community, because it is based mainly on a Wajin perspective. Despite the adoption of new legislation in May 2019 recognizing Ainu as Indigenous Peoples, such basic rights, guaranteed by the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, as collective rights for land and fishing, for self-determination and self-government are not guaranteed to the Ainu.This research particularly discusses how the images of “a good Wajin (colonizer)” and “a loyal Ainu (native)” are being created for the sake of the new discourse of co-existence and provides concrete examples of the mechanisms of myth-making, while taking into consideration the complexity of the reactions to the new discourse within the Ainu society.

Indigenous Peoples' Use of Media as Self-representation: Analysis of Japanese Government and Ainu Discourses Relating to the Issue of Ainu Ancestral Remains Repatriation
Discourse and representation has the power to influence how we understand reality through the creation of cultural norms. Furthermore, the way dominant discourses frame the Ainu reality within Japan can have a profound effect because the majority of ethnic Japanese lack meaningful contact with Ainu people to make their own informed decisions. One controversial issue through which this can be examined is Ainu ancestral remains repatriation. As there is extensive discourse relating to this issue from both the dominant government perspective and the Ainu perspective this study aims to uncover the conflicting discourses present in modern-day Japan and how these affect power relations between the Ainu and ethnic Japanese populations. Additionally an analysis of how the Ainu are using documentary as a form of self-representation is included. This research intends to fill current gaps in academic literature relating to Ainu use of media and representation issues.

An Inclusive Turn? Public Archaeology, Community Archaeology, and Indigenous Archaeology in Japan
From the end of the 2000s onwards archaeology in Japan has seen an inclusive turn with the reception and production of literature on public archaeology. While Indigenous archaeology and community archaeology are related subdisciplines in global archaeological discourse, they have not received as much attention. Indigenous archaeology has garnered scepticism within Japan. This presentation will examine literature relating to public archaeology, community archaeology, and Indigenous archaeology in order to understand trends and limitations in inclusivity within archaeology in Japan. There are primarily three thematic categories within this literature: theoretical analyses, project reports, and critical studies. The dominant model of inclusivity within Japanese archaeology is aligned with neoliberal heritage policies, which repackage the heritage of a nation as resources of a given community. In doing so, local communities are engaged primarily through educational or promotional events as a means of revitalization. This approach maintains archaeology’s control over the production of knowledge of the past, and its management. A few examples of theoretical and critical literature, as well as projects that attempt to engage with local communities directly in process of archaeology demonstrate a recent diversification in the approaches. However, the lack of dialog within the archaeological community and limited examples of collaborative projects within the literature isolates these developments. Thus, there are significantly more hurdles in the establishment and spread of Indigenous archaeology in Japan, specifically practices associated with Ainu archaeology

This panel is on Monday - Session 02 - Room 8

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