KUSHIRO, HOKKAIDO – Taka Maesawa, a photographer from Nakashibetsu, Hokkaido, has published a photo book documenting the Ainu ethnic minority for more than 30 years since 1983.
“I want people to know about the beautiful Ainu culture and the history of ethnic Ainu who have been discriminated against,” Maesawa, 68, said in an interview.
“I hope my pictures depict what Ainu people are today and will convey it to future generations.”
The 110-page book titled “Ainu Minzoku — Inochi to Hokori” (“Ainu Ethnic Group — Life and Pride”) features about 100 Ainu in Ainu Kotan villages near the Akan and Kussharo lakes in eastern Hokkaido. Kotan means village or community in the Ainu language.
The pictures include one of a woman dressed in traditional Ainu attire preparing for a dance and that of an Ainu ritual called Icharupa to console ancestors’ spirits.
Maesawa also wrote about her interactions with one family, which inspired her to start documenting Ainu people.
Fukiko Goukon, 39, a traditional Ainu singer who was born and grew up in an Ainu Kotan near Lake Akan, is documented from childhood through marriage and giving birth.
Maesawa “photographed me with love,” Goukon said, expressing her gratitude to the photographer.
Ainu struggled to pass down their language and culture after the Japanese government implemented a policy of assimilation during the Meiji Era (1868-1912).
But “we Ainu are still here,” Goukon said.
Referring to a photograph taken by Maesawa that shows Goukon with her grandmother, mother and daughter, she said, “This picture of our family proves that the heart of our ethnic people has been handed down over generations.”
Maesawa published the book with financial backing from the Sapporo-based Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture.
She donated 250 copies to libraries and museums. Following requests for more copies, she is having more printed.