National

New Ainu culture complex generating little buzz outside Hokkaido

JIJI

Upopoy, a new national facility intended to revitalize and develop the culture of Japan’s indigenous Ainu people, is facing challenges attracting attention ahead of its opening on April 24 in Shiraoi, Hokkaido.

The new complex may miss the annual goal of 1 million visitors set by the central and prefectural governments, sources familiar with the situation said.

“The new Ainu center is not yet well known outside the prefecture,” Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki said.

Upopoy, an Ainu term that means “singing in a group,” comprises the National Ainu Museum, the first for showing Ainu craftworks and other items, the National Ainu Park, which stages traditional dance performances, and a memorial site for Ainu remains previously kept in universities and other locations.

Since August, the Hokkaido Prefectural Government has held promotional events in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya to draw attention to the center. These included traditional dance shows and chances to make traditional crafts. In addition, the prefecture named actor Takashi Ukaji, who has Ainu roots, as public relations ambassador for the Ainu.

But the efforts are coming up short.

In a November online survey of people over 18, those outside Hokkaido who knew of the Upopoy complex came to just 6.2 percent, compared with 53.6 percent in Hokkaido. Though the internal figure is 18.2 points higher than it was in August 2019, just before the promotions began, the external figure rose only by a point.

“This was a tough result,” a prefectural official for Ainu policy said.

The relatively high entrance fees are also a concern. Admission to the Ainu center is ¥1,200 for adults, compared with ¥620 at the Tokyo National Museum and ¥520 at the Nara National Museum.

“Hokkaido will launch an intensive campaign to improve public recognition of the Ainu center and foster momentum for its opening,” Hokkaido Gov. Suzuki told a news conference in January.

The governor is pinning his hopes on advertising related to the annual Sapporo Snow Festival that began on Friday. The event attracts over 2 million visitors, but it is unclear whether it will help lure visitors to the Ainu center, sources familiar with the situation said.