SAPPORO – Hokkaido photographer Taka Maesawa plans to publish a sequel to her photo book documenting the life of the Ainu indigenous people in the country’s northernmost prefecture to help efforts to hand down their culture to future generations.
The 69-year-old hopes to achieve her goal of photographing 100 Ainu families by the end of October for the book, tentatively called “Inochi no Keisho” (“Succession of Life”), a collection of pictures of Ainu families taken since October 2014.
“I hope my photos will convey the life of today’s Ainu people to future Ainu generations,” Maesawa says.
On one afternoon in late August, Maesawa was shooting Megumi Kawakami, a 32-year-old Ainu woman from Sapporo, and her family, in front of Ezo Culture and Archaeology Museum in the town of Makubetsu in southeastern Hokkaido.
Kawakami and her husband, Hiroyuki, 32, and their baby son, Ryo, were all dressed in Ainu costumes and headbands with traditional spiral and thorn patterns, known respectively in the Ainu language as “Moreu” and “Aiushi.”
For shooting the family, Maesawa picked the museum because an Ainu kotan, the name for an Ainu village or community in the Ainu language, was located in the area where she spent her childhood.
“I wanted to describe the past, present and future of Ms. Kawakami’s life through one picture,” Maesawa says.
Kawakami says she wanted Maesawa to take her son’s picture because she believes “the photo that she shoots will have the power to convey to him a message that ‘Being an Ainu is not so bad’ when he looks at it after growing up.”
Maesawa’s new photo book is a sequel to “Ainu Minzoku: Inochi to Hokori” (“Ainu Ethnic Group: Life and Pride”), a collection of photographs of Ainu families in eastern Hokkaido she took over about 30 years from 1983.
Even after the book was published in October 2014, Maesawa kept on shooting Ainu in response to requests from Ainu families.
Maesawa, who grew up in Shibetsu town in eastern Hokkaido, always felt confused and uncomfortable whenever she witnessed her Ainu friends from her elementary school being discriminated against by non-Ainu Japanese.
Ainu have often faced discrimination and struggled to pass down their language and culture since the government implemented a policy of assimilation during the Meiji Era (1868-1912).
More than 30 years ago, Maesawa was amazed by the beauty of Ainu people clad in folk dress and accessories when her Ainu friends took her to a festival held at an Ainu kotan in the Lake Akan hot-spring resort.
Maesawa, who was then pursuing a career as a photographer, began to shoot Ainu people, believing that their life should be documented.
“I’d like to support Ainu people if there is anything I can do,” Maesawa says.
Pictures in the planned photo book will likely be all black and white.
“Black-and-white pictures are effective in conveying the feelings of the people smiling or looking into the distance,” Maesawa says. “I hope to document the life each Ainu has lived and even the pains they experienced through the photos.”
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