Ca. 1890-1900 albumen print of a fine group of Ainu who look "none too happy" about having their photo taken --- except for that little kid sitting right in the middle who looks like he's trying to smother a good laugh.


The Ainu were in Japan long before the modern day Japanese showed up. Like "indigenous priors" in many countries, the Ainu were put down by the invaders and occupiers. It's a complicated story, and most every country in the world --- including America --- suffers from the same sort of scenario (that is, one people and culture coming in and displacing a very different people and culture who were there long before the new "invaders and occupiers").


The Japanese Government did their best to marginalize them out of existence. One prominent Japanophile of the day --- Herbert G. Ponting --- (who spent most of his time praising Japan, Geisha Girls, Cherry Blossoms, and Mt. Fuji) could not help but show his disdain for the Japanese Government's prejudicial treatment of the Ainu.


Incredibly, until the year 2008, the Japanese Government had long come to the point of refusing to acknowledge their very existence in Japan, telling themselves and the world that ".....Japan has NO indigenous peoples, and consists of only one homogeneous race, language, and culture......".


The OTHER HALF of the problem yet to be dealt with --- admitting that the indigenous Okinawans (and their Language and Culture) at the southern end of the country also constitute another distinct "non-Japanese people" within their borders --- is still hard to come to grips with. The existence of Okinawa and the "Ryukyu Islanders" remains a major obstacle in their continuing theory of Japan being a nation of "One Supreme Yamato Race".


But, for a Government that rarely moves too fast on anything, half way is (at least) a first step.


".......On 6 June 2008, a bi-partisan, non-binding resolution was approved by the Japanese Diet calling upon the government to recognize the Ainu people as indigenous to Japan and urge an end to discrimination against the group. The resolution recognized the Ainu people as "an indigenous people with a distinct language, religion and culture" and rescinds the law passed in 1899. Though the resolution is historically significant, Hideaki Uemura, professor at Keisen University in Tokyo and a specialist in indigenous peoples' rights, commented that the motion is "weak in the sense of recognizing historical facts" as the Ainu were "forced" to become Japanese in the first place........" (Wiki)




Most all of the women in this photo have tattooed mustaches. However, the film (or dry plate) used for this shot was not sensitive to the pigments used, and so they are very light in this picture. Early Meiji-era photographers had a lot of trouble getting good tattoo shots of any Japanese due to the same color spectrum sensitivity limitations, and many tattoos had to be strengthened by the early colorists during the hand-tinting stage of print making.


This albumen print courtesy of the Tom Burnett Collection. Used by permission.

  • Okinawa Soba (Rob) 7y

    Hi Ham. Hey, thanks for that excerpt. I'll take it from there, and see what the Japanese language sources have to say. Having spent most of my life in the southern extreme of Japan (Okinawa). I have generally been more in tune with the studies that attempt to relate the Ainu and Ryukyuan (Okinawan), rather then the Ainu or Jomon DNA with the natives of North America (whose "Asian" DNA began mingling there with "White European" DNA about 13,000 years ago....7,000 years AFTER the general arrival of the "Asian" component).

    Of course, the Asians were not supposed to come here at all, and jumped the gun when they crossed the land bridge. As every good Fundamentalist Christian in America will tell you, GOD meant North America to be given to the Pilgrims, Presbyterians and Baptists as part of Heaven's plan for the Biblical White Man's MANIFEST DESTINY !!! Woo Hoo !!!

  • darookie80 7y

    is this where latin america meets japan? or maybe hawaiins
  • Okinawa Soba (Rob) 7y

    Actually, it's just another human episode of
    "When PUSH come to SHOVE".
  • Kenyi72 6y

    WOW!!! Nice informations! I did not know about the existence of Ainu people in Japan. Nobody tells us about them on tv or newspapers. I consider Ainu people were abused by racists in Japan.
  • Kenyi72 6y

    Hi, I'm an admin for a group called Europe and Asia culture, and we'd love to have this added to the group!
  • abej2004 6y

    Well what can you expect from the most racist, isolationist nation on Earth? Great photo though the pattern on their garb almost look like maori or from the East Indies.
  • Okinawa Soba (Rob) 6y

    Hi Abe. Interesting observation about the Maori. I'll keep an eye out for similar patterns and garb when I get to some of their photos. Thanks.
  • Okinawa Soba (Rob) 6y

    Hi Shookola.... ! Many thanks for the interesting comments. Wow. A half-Chikasaw marrying a half-Ainu. Very cool. That still leaves another two halves to play around with for variety sake ;-)

    You are the first Native American I know of to say that you DO NOT believe in the Bering Land Bridge theory. You must know that you are really going against the tide with that one ! I've seen lots of "Discovery Channel" type shows where they have tracked most all of the Native American DNA back to Asian sources beginning about 20,000 years ago, with East-of-the-Mississippi Natives having White European blood mixed in with the Asian strains starting about 13,000 years ago.

    In any case, no one should be ashamed of where they or their ancestors came from. It's even worse when one nation, through ignorance or prejudice, forces another nation or people to feel shame where no shame is called for.

    On the other hand, if what our ancestors did or didn't do (as a political or cultural entity) hurt or destroyed others, then that is a reason to be ashamed, I suppose. But, such shame should hopefully result in new cultures, and new ways of thinking.

    Good luck with your future life !
  • travissoleski 6y

    Soba San:
    I lived in Henoko, Okinawa (yes i was in the military) for five and 1/2 years. Four of which I was enguaged to an Okinawian girl. I myself have always (perhaps my childhood parental education) keen to be aware of others culture. Don't let me name fool you, it is adopted, I'm darker than most Filipinos and Okinawians. Anyway my point, I seen first hand that her father didn't even know we were dating and enguaged. I didn't ask and she never said anything. Well we were young. He father did find out, because I followed her home, her parents home, (we lived together whild she went to college and work), ironically I finally met her father. He was not happy. I wanted to point out what he ment was no outsiders to marry his daughter, especially the likes of me. I did ask her what he meant. No hard feelings on my part. Life, I just try to live it the best I can, and help other along the way.
  • Okinawa Soba (Rob) 6y

    Hi Trav ! Well, on a macro scale, all folks are different, and prejudices are alive everywhere...even in Okinawa.

    As you found out, in Okinawa, it is still generally the culture to receive the blessing of father and family in taking one of the daughters.

    As a counterpoint to your sad tale, I will mention that one of my Secretaries was from HENTONA (further north). She loved the "darker" versions of men (like yourself), and when after an American Military guy who made Barak Obama look white ! HER FATHER LOVED THE GUY. She's now living in the USA with 5 kids, and is happy as can be...with the blessings of her entire Hentona family.

    A deeper point. On Okinawa, many times, the further away you get from the Military Bases, the less prejudiced the people seem to become. Around the Bases (like the Henoko area), the US Military has left a generally bad taste in the mouth of the local people. Therefore, to a FATHER with protective attitudes, the very thought of "one of them" marrying his daughter will at first meet with strong resistance.

    On the other hand, some Fathers go beyond protective positions, and take the "old Okinawan" road of controlling their daughter's decisions. One Father I know didn't even want her daughter to marry a guy from a neighboring island --- in the same Okinawan Island chain !

    Some fathers there also put up a wall just to see how hard you will push to knock it down for his daughter.

    I've knew one father who was ready to kill the guy (at the beginning) and end up bragging on him to the neighbors after the American "proved himself" !

    In my own case, my wife's MOTHER was ready to kill me, but her father over-rode the mother's objections --- nearly begging me to take his daughter off his hands. I wondered why he was so eager to get rid of her. Once I married her, I found out why....but it was too late !!!


    In any case, when it comes to international, inter-racial, inter-color (and even inter-island) marriages, Okinawa is a regular Circus of Death-defying Feats, and the Goofiest of Clowns.
  • Mind Spirit Camera 6y

    I know much of your vitriol for Japan is due to your Okinawan sympathies (so it's just one side of the same coin really) but that said, the Ainu really have gotten a raw deal. I mean, the Japanese should pay them back in some way, perhaps Ainu Casino's tax free?

    There is some great battle history from the old days and it seems they were fearsome if very backward tribal warriors. Isn't that how they got their name?

    Do you have any images of the Etta? That is a fascinating part of Japanese history and I've always wondered if there are any old examples photographically of their culture?
  • Okinawa Soba (Rob) 6y

    MIND -- No Casinos in Japan ! Casino Gambling ( a la Las Vegas or Monte Carlo, or Macao style) is totally banned and illegal. However, the Same idiots at the top who ban it in Japan, are the same ones flying back and forth to Vegas ten times a year.

    It just so happens that in the entire known universe of early Japanese photography, there is only one known photograph depicting the Eta, or Hinin --- the non-people of Japan. And...I posted it here on flickr. Sadly, I avoided a long caption filled with my normal vitriolic sarcasm (although the subject just begged for it!), and I let the Wikipedia do most of the talking.

    However, I just had to slip something in, which is the caption found at the first link showing a nice old photo of a Samisen gal.

    Here's the link to the Eta. Enjoy ! :
    THE "ETA 穢多", "BURAKUMIN 部落民", and "HININ 非人" -- The Non-Human Outcasts of Old Japan by Okinawa Soba (Rob)
  • Mind Spirit Camera 6y

    Thanks for the Eta link - that is a fascinating sub-culture. Their story makes for tragic history.
  • Fight Censorship Online and Off...Find Me Elsewher 6y

    As with the Basque, the Ainu, are SO fascinating!!!
  • Mark McCormick 6y

    Very interesting photo!
  • Phoebe Baker 4y

    I just finished reading a fiction book: The Coming of the Bear, by Lensey Namioka and it aroused my interest in the Ainu people. The story is about a conflict between an Ainu Kotan and a Japanese settlement on the island of Ezo in feudal Japan times. It explores prejudice, misunderstanding, survival, trade, personal relations, and human dignity. It's a good read.

    Okinawa Soba, thank-you for your vitriol and wonderful insight, and to everyone else, thank-you for your interesting points of view and stories. I love learning about many different cultures, and especially about the sharing and exchange of histories.
  • Okinawa Soba (Rob) 4y

    Many years ago on Okinawa, I went to a two-hour show of traditional Ainu song and dance performed by a group of true Ainu who had flown in from Hokkaido for a series of cultural exhibitions. It was beautiful and fantastic.

    After one of the performances, the cast (about 20 or so) all changed into blue jeans and T-shirts, and we met up for food and drink at a local Okinawan hide-away. The friendly confusion of cultures (Japanese, Ainu, Okinawan, and American) awash in alcohol-enhanced fuzziness and affection is one of many pleasurable memories acquired while stumbling around the streets of Naha.
  • Bahari Adoyo 4y

    They really do look different from the Japanese! Sad to see that they pretty much history.
  • Gregory Cope 3y

    Thankyou for posting this great photo and your explanation. The history of the Ainu has almost been successfully erased from Japan, but it is good and sad to see these early photos.
  • Okinawa Soba (Rob) 3y

    Gregory Cope Glad you can appreciate the old photo, and the people in it. Thanks.
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