Sapporo assemblyman says indigenous Ainu ‘no longer exist’ as group


A Sapporo assemblyman has drawn fire for posting comments online stating the indigenous Ainu group “no longer exists,” and suggesting those who identify as Ainu are motivated by government programs that benefit the ethnic minority.

“The present law does not encompass anything that may legally confirm the term ‘Ainu,’ ” Yasuyuki Kaneko, a 43-year-old assemblyman in the prefectural capital said in a posting on Twitter on Aug. 11.

Kazushi Abe, vice executive director of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, challenged Kaneko’s comments.

“I feel disgusted with his lack of knowledge. It was regretful seeing this amid efforts to restore the rights of Ainu people,” Abe said.

The Ainu lived for centuries in Hokkaido and nearby Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands. The Cabinet in June confirmed the Ainu as “indigenous people who have their own language, religion and culture.”

On his official home page, Kaneko says state support, including scholarships and low-interest housing loans, are why people claim to be Ainu.

“The definition of the Ainu group is vague,” he told Kyodo News.