The Ainu Museum in Shiraoi, Hokkaido, is trying to lure more foreign tourists. It offers daily live cultural performances and has displays of artifacts relating to the indigenous ethnic group, and is part of an ongoing drive to preserve Ainu culture.
"Around 80 percent of Hokkaido's place names, including Sapporo and Noboribetsu, come from the Ainu language," a curator told a crowd of 150 people on a recent visit to the museum. The curator's comments were translated into Chinese, Korean and Thai.
"Few Chinese people know much about the Ainu people," said a 44-year-old Chinese visitor who was inspecting the facility with an eye to organizing group tours aimed at businesspeople. "The Ainu culture is very attractive, particularly costumes with unique patterns and wood carvings of animals."
The area around the museum, located near Lake Poroto, will be redeveloped in time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with plans underway to build a new national center aimed at restoring the Ainu culture.
While the current museum, under the jurisdiction of the Hokkaido Board of Education, enjoys 180,000 visitors a year, the government plans to lure 1 million people per year to the new Ainu complex by 2020. The complex will include the new national museum, a park and a memorial.
The native Ainu in Hokkaido lost their land and their culture became nearly extinct after the Meiji government imposed a policy of assimilation. This continued until Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945.
Masahiro Nomoto, director of the Ainu Museum, said the institution will prepare well for the expected surge in visitors.
"It would be a great opportunity to promote the Ainu culture, which coexists with nature and respects human life, worldwide," Nomoto said.