FJA Shortlist 2021

Category: Contribution to Civil Rights

Author: Carmen Grau Vila (Japan)

Japan’s Indigenous Ainu Community Don’t Want a Theme Park – They Want Their Rights

The original publication is available via the following link: 

Equal Times, Belgium - December 10, 2020

The brightly lit signs on the Hokkaido motorway in northern Japan do not inform the driver about the traffic. They are, rather, advertising Upopoy, a new tourist complex, and the Ainu National Museum. “Let’s sing together for ethnic harmony” is the motto the Japanese government has stamped on the 20-billion-yen project (€164 million, US$192 million) to revive the culture of the Ainu people, one of the archipelago’s minorities. The project showcases the heritage of the Indigenous people originally inhabiting the islands of Hokkaido, Kuril and Sakhalin. Young Ainu women dance to the tune of tradition and a controversial memorial overlooking the Pacific Ocean has been erected to honour Ainu ancestors. Japanese school buses pull in one after the other and tickets to visit the complex sell out fast. A few years ago, a manga sparked a craze for all things Ainu and now they have become an attraction.

But a generation of Ainu leaders is not happy. They don’t want a theme park, they want to recover their rights as a native people. “It has no soul,” 87-year-old artist Shizue Ukaji says of the complex. “If the Japanese government wants to use the term ‘ethnic harmony’ it is requested that the government make a formal apology to us Ainu for the historical injustices imposed on us,” she protests. For them, the Ainu Policy Promotion Act passed in 2019 is devoid of rights and the Japanese government continues to exploit them as a tourism resource.

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