1000 students

The Ainu are an indigenous people living in Japan. Originally living in the whole Hokkaidō, Sakhalin island, Kuril islands and possibly Kamchatka, the Ainu people is today mostly concentrated in Hokkaidō, but large diaspora groups are also present outside of the island, for example in Tokyo. The history of Ainu people has been turbulent and harsh. Ainu have suffered from oppression and prevarication and sadly still today prejudice seems sometimes difficult to eradicate.

Within Japan, but also abroad, Ainu are often depicted as an enigmatic people and, in general, information about them is inaccurate or skewed by misconception – one such example is the erroneous idea that the Ainu language is dead.

In 2008 Ainu won recognition as indigenous people of Japan, which both was caused by and also helped the rise of a renewed consciousness of Ainu identity and traditions. Today there is a rather large Ainu community living mostly in Hokkaidō, whose effort to revitalize and preserve the rich Ainu cultural heritage is most important. It is thanks to this resilient community that the Ainu language is not dead today, although undeniably still in an endangered state. There are three varieties of Ainu: Hokkaidō, Sakhalin, and Kuril.

In this ten week course, you will be learning how to speak Saru Ainu (Hokkaidō variety), which is one of the most widely studied dialects. At the same time, you will also gain knowledge about the Sakhalin variety.




When I first learned about Ainu at university, I was shocked that such a wonderful language and its cultural heritage was being left in a state of torpor and that all initiatives to save the language had failed. I started to teach myself Ainu by consulting and reading several Ainu grammars, and later by translating into English texts of the Ainu tradition, such as folktales and songs. At present I am a PhD student in linguistics at SOAS. I want to make a difference by teaching the language and culture of the Ainu and I want everybody to realise that we can all make a difference, no matter where we are in the world, no matter how far a culture may appear to us. Ainu is a special part of the world we cannot afford to lose.
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