The World in Words: Ainu.

The World in Words podcast recently featured Patrick Cox investigating the Ainu language, with the help of Russian linguist Anna Bugaeva and others. At this link you can click on the audio and read a description of the various sections (“2:37 Anna Bugaeva knew from an early age she’d be a linguist”). If you like listening to knowledgeable linguists talking about language, as well as snippets of an interesting isolate, you’ll enjoy it.


  1. marie-lucie says

    If you read only one book about the Ainu I recommend:

    Donald L. Philippi, Songs of Gods, Songs of Humans: The Epic Tradition of the Ainu. University of Tokyo Press, 1979; North Point, 1982. ISBN 0-691-06384-2.

    The bulk of the book is a number of yukar, or Ainu epics, in English translation, preceded by a lengthy introduction on Ainu language, history and culture.

    For visual information there is a more recent book in “coffee table” format, I don’t have the full info at hand but one of the authors is Chisato Dubreuil (an Ainu woman married to a Canadian native man), who spent some time at UBC (the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC). Unfortunately, by the time I heard about her she was about to leave and I had also left Vancouver several years before.

  2. Christopher S says

    Ms. Bugaeva exaggerates the extent to which Ainu are missing from Japanese schools. In 山川日本史, a history text widely used in Japanese schools, there is the following passage which more or less names the Ainu as indigenous to Hokkaido.


    “The modern lands of Hokkaido, Kuril, and Sakhalin were referred to as “Ezochi” up until the early modern period. They were predominately inhabited by Ainu, and only a small part of southwest Hokkaido belonged to the Matsumae clan…”

    Moreover, there is a section on the relationship between the Ainu and ethnic Japanese people which mentions the violent means by which Hokkaido was conquered, deceptive behavior by ethnic Japanese people, and lasting discrimination and prejudice.

  3. Good to know, thanks!

  4. Persons interested in Ainu may like The Song the Owl God Sang, a recent English translation of the Ainu Shinyoushuu, an Ainu/Japanese bilingual collection of thirteen yukar recorded and translated by Ainu teenager Chiri Yukie in the 1920s before her sudden death at the age of nineteen. It is available online and as a paperback and ebook.

  5. recorded and translated by Ainu teenager Chiri Yukie in the 1920s before her sudden death at the age of nineteen

    Damn, that’s sad.

  6. marie-lucie says


    The Song the Owl God Sang: All the yukar (as also in Philippi’s collection) are composed and recited as if spoken by a god or other character telling their own story. The characters don’t say “I am the X god/goddess, I am this way, etc”, they just start reciting their “story” and the audience is supposed to understand from the traditional details which character is speaking.

    About the book I mentioned above, the “coffee table” format does not mean that the information is not important or reliable or presented seriously. The co-author is Wiiliam Fitzhugh of the Smithsonian Institution, which is the publisher.

  7. Broadcasters’ Eye
    Notebooks of Heritage: Reclaiming Traditions of the Ainu People
    Sunday, November 15 4:10/ 10:10/ 15:10/ 22:10

    The Ainu are an ethnic minority indigenous to Japan. Since their culture and language had mainly been passed down orally, much of their traditions and language have been lost or forgotten. Kuzuno Tatsujiro was an Ainu man who was called Ekashi, which means “respectable elder” in the Ainu language. To preserve Ainu culture for coming generations, he spent his life documenting Ainu traditions and language on about 100 notebooks. Now, about 20 years after Tatsujiro’s death, his young grandson Daiki is studying the notebooks to reclaim the Ainu culture and keep it alive.

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