SHIRAOI, HOKKAIDO – A national museum dedicated to the Ainu ethnic minority in northern Japan will exhibit more than 700 artifacts, an official said Thursday, as the facility offered a preview to the press ahead of its official opening in April.
The museum, which together with a park will comprise the Upopoy complex in the Hokkaido town of Shiraoi, will feature about 10,000 artifacts in its entire collection, according to Shiro Sasaki, an official.
In the Ainu language, “upopoy” means singing in a large group.
Kimono and wooden ceremonial artifacts, among others, are displayed in glass cases so visitors can easily grasp Ainu culture. A piece from a dugout canoe excavated from the Hokkaido town of Akkeshi during the Edo Period (1603-1868) is considered to be the highlight of the exhibition, Sasaki said.
“It’s basically a symbol of the Ainu, who are said to have been a people of trade,” Sasaki said.
Visitors will also be able to observe traditional Ainu dance and music performances and make crafts, as well as visit a memorial for the indigenous people.
The ethnic group has lived for centuries in northern Japan, notably in Hokkaido, as well as on neighboring Sakhalin in what is now Russia.
Beginning with the government’s assimilationist policy in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), the ethnic minority has suffered discrimination, spilling over into income and educational disparities. The Ainu have also struggled to maintain their culture and language.
The museum, set to open April 24, aims to welcome 1 million visitors annually. It has already received reservations for about 250 school trips after bookings opened Monday, said Miyuki Muraki, senior official of the museum’s operator.
“We have great expectations, and want to focus our minds to further preparations,” she said.