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Giving thanks for Ainu culture

by Naoko Kuramochi

Ainu culture will be celebrated in Yokohama this weekend to commemorate June 6, 2008, the date when Japan’s government acknowledged the Ainu as indigenous people.

Ainu come mainly from Hokkaido, but some also come from the northern regions of Tohoku.

Currently, around 5,000 to 10,000 people of Ainu descent are living in Tokyo’s environs, according to Ainu Utari Renrakukai, a group that liases among four regional Ainu organizations. This is the first time that those organizations are cooperating to organize this specific type of cultural event.

On June 13, visitors will be able to see Ainu craftworks as part of the Ainu Gratitude Festival at Space Alta. They will also be able to join workshops such as embroidery, wood carving, dancing and learning how to play the mukkuri, a harplike instrument unique to Ainu culture. On top of that, many types of Ainu dishes will be on hand for tasting. They include ohau (kombu soup) and pumpkin shito (dumpling).

Performances will start from 3:30 p.m. and will feature rimuse (an Ainu dance), upopo (Ainu songs) and mukkuri. At the end of the stage performances , Ainu jazz singer Tamiko Kumagai will join the piano and trumpet players of musical group Fob. One of Kumagai’s key songs is performing the well-known Christian hymn “Amazing Grace” in the Ainu language.

The Ainu Gratitude Festival will be held on June 13, from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Space Alta, 2-8-4-B1, Shin-Yokohama, Kohoku Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. Prices for workshops vary. Workshop participants are encouraged to make a reservation in advance. For further information, please call 045-472-6349, or 070-5550-1273 (Mr. Sato) for further information in English.