The standard Ainu greeting “irankarapte” — literally, “let me touch your heart softly” — may one day be consigned to the annals of history.

Indeed, the Ainu language is currently considered critically endangered — one step away from extinction, an academic classification that refers to a language that is no longer in use.

Transmitted orally and transcribed only relatively recently, Ainu was all but obliterated with the assimilation of its speakers, the indigenous inhabitants of Hokkaido, into Japanese society, a process that began in earnest during the Meiji Restoration in the late 1860s.