Some people say the Ainu don’t exist anymore. But this is an Ainu village. Those who live here have no choice but to be Ainu.
Maki Sekine Kaizawa
The Ainu of Hokkaido were officially recognised as an indigenous people of Japan only recently, after a history of colonisation and forced assimilation by the Japanese that almost completely effaced their society, language and culture. Today individuals and groups across Japan are involved in the revitalisation of Ainu traditions, in the recovering of their own language, and in reclaiming their rights. This fight against invisibility, which has never halted, has intensified in the past years.
A journey of exploration of native identity in contemporary Japan, Ainu Neno An Ainu reflects upon what it means to be an Ainu today, in everyday life practices; it addresses the sense of belonging within a community in the double process of both preserving and reinventing their own culture, in the aftermath of a prolonged Japanization.
Most people portrayed are ethnic Ainu, although others were adopted into the community not by bloodline, but by actively participating in their elective culture, within a native social practice called utari. Every portrait of this series reflects a personal and collective story: stories of activists, artists, and above all ordinary people.