Professionally, Tomoko Keira (1948-2016) worked for decades as a social welfare counselor for fellow Ainu in Sapporo and acted as a board member for the Ainu Association of Hokkaido. Personally, she tirelessly pursued her own Ainu roots, living with an elder woman or huci, for one year to experience firsthand the traditions of Ainu womanhood. Her collected wisdom is now published in a bilingual book, “The Spirit of Huci: Four Seasons of an Ainu Woman.”
One part Ainu cookbook and three parts a cultural record of Ainu values and beliefs, this book offers, for the first time, the voices of Ainu women in English. Keira’s work acts as an important cultural bridge, sharing wisdom from an indigenous, minority population. Reading the book feels like working and learning alongside a huci through the busy seasons of Ainu life: picking wild spring vegetables such as butterbur buds or marsh marigolds; making tonoto (rice wine) in the summer for memorial festivals; harvesting the millet fields in autumn; infusing medicines from Amur cork tree berries during the long winter, the Ainu “season of men.”
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