In Japan, the Ainu language is largely unknown and unloved, but linguists are fascinated by its mysteries

“Most Japanese, consciously or unconsciously, feel that the Ainu people do not exist,” Tomomi Sato told me. Sato is an authority on the Ainu language at the University of Hokkaido.

“The Ainu people do not have any meaning.”

The public school curriculum mainly ignores Ainu, except to say it’s a language that used to be spoken on the northern island of Hokkaido. There is no mention of it as a language that, in an earlier form, was probably spoken in Japan long before Japanese was.

Similarly, there’s scant mention of when the ancestors of the Ainu people might have migrated to Japan — probably before the arrival of the ancestors of the Japanese.

If ordinary Japanese know anything about the Ainu, it’s from folklore rituals staged for tourists in reconstructed Ainu villages.

Read more: PRI

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