SAPPORO — A group of Ainu people plan to file a lawsuit this summer against the Hokkaido Prefectural Government to halt the return of Ainu assets that they say are woefully undervalued at 1.3 million yen, a member of the group said Tuesday.
Ryukichi Ogawa, a representative for the plaintiffs, said the Hokkaido government, which plans to return the assets in the form of cash, has failed to take into account inflation and other effects of the past century on the value of the assets.
Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, were deprived of their land when the Japanese government began developing the island in the late 19th century. The Japanese government disbursed grants in the form of cash, tracts of land and other payments to Ainu communities during the Meiji period and through the early Showa era.
However, such assets were never given directly to the Ainu people and were instead managed as “Ainu common properties” by the Hokkaido Prefectural Government under the 1899 Hokkaido Former Aborigine Protection Law.
The 1899 law was criticized for depriving the Ainu of their land and destroying their culture and traditions. After the Ainu law was replaced by new legislation last July, the Hokkaido government announced that it planned to return the assets.
The Hokkaido government said it used some of the properties to support the Ainu people, mostly through the end of World War II, and that the money it is returning represents the remaining amount. It said the land properties had already been returned to the Ainu people.
It is urging survivors and descendants of Ainu communities to claim ownership by September of the assets held by the prefecture in local banks. The accounts include rent owed by the government for Ainu land in Asahikawa and Akkeshi, as well as an educational fund to build schools for Ainu children.
So far, no one has claimed ownership. The Hokkaido government has calculated the total value at roughly 1.3 million yen. Although this amount includes interest, it does not take into account inflation over the decades.
“In my case, I have the right to claim ownership of 20,656 yen granted to an Ainu community in Mukawa village,” said Yupo Abe, a member of the Sapporo branch of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido. “At that time, 100 families lived there, so my share will be just 200 yen. It is ridiculous. That’s why nobody has applied for the assets.”
“At issue is the final settlement of accounts of our oppressed history,” Ogawa said. “It is ridiculous that all of our assets are valued at only 1.3 million yen.”
Kenichi Kawamura, one of the plaintiffs in Asahikawa, said, “We want to use the money to set up an ethnic school for Ainu children to teach Ainu culture and traditions — once the value of the assets is correctly estimated and returned to us.”
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