Discover Ainu Culture
The National Ainu Museum and Park, nicknamed “Upopoy,” in Shiraoi, Hokkaido, is a facility where visitors can learn about the culture of the indigenous Ainu people through a variety of exhibits and programs.
The National Ainu Museum and Park, which opened in July 2020, plays a central role in Japan for the revival of the culture of the Ainu, the indigenous people of the northern region of the Japanese archipelago, particularly Hokkaido. Its initiatives include exhibitions, research and study about the Ainu culture; continuation of cultural traditions; development of human skills; exchange of culture and experience; dissemination of information; and provision of a recreation place with abundant nature. Its nickname, “Upopoy,” is an Ainu word meaning “singing together in a large group.”
Situated on the shores of Lake Poroto amidst beautiful natural surroundings, Upopoy passes down and shares various aspects of Ainu culture, which have been cultivated in nature since ancient times. It also serves as a symbol of a society based on mutual respect and coexistence. Upopoy offers people of all nationalities and generations the opportunity to learn about the Ainu’s worldview and respect for nature.
The National Ainu Museum at Upopoy is the first national museum in Japan dedicated to the history and culture of the Ainu people. The museum’s Permanent Exhibition Room houses exhibitions that explore six themes from an Ainu perspective: Language, Universe, Lives, History, Work, and Exchange. In the “Our Language” area, for example, visitors can learn about oral literature, the Ainu language and place names derived from the Ainu language through audio and video resources. In the “Our Lives” area, the characteristics and regional differences of Ainu culture, such as food, clothing, and housing, life course, and music and dance, are explained.
The National Ainu Park meanwhile is an interactive open-air center where visitors can experience the culture of the Ainu people. For example, at the uekari cise (Cultural Exchange Hall), visitors are able to enjoy traditional Ainu performing arts such as traditional Ainu dances that are inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and oral literature. Visitors can also take part in the yayhanokkar cise (Workshop), where they can make and taste Ainu cuisine or play traditional Ainu instruments such as the mukkuri (mouth harp).
In order to ensure that all visitors can learn about Ainu culture and experience it firsthand, Upopoy is preparing multilingual resources. These include a multilingual website as well as pamphlets and signage in the park, and explanatory information on the museum exhibits in languages such as Ainu, Japanese, English, and Chinese. Visitors can also download a multilingual audio guide app (free of charge) to their mobile device to access information about the park’s facilities and museum exhibits in Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, Russian, and Thai.
Upopoy is currently hosting a varied program of winter events. At the National Ainu Park, against the backdrop of Lake Poroto, visitors can enjoy the magical spectacle of ten huge cubes illuminated by some 83,000 light bulbs showing the silhouettes of bears, deer and other animals connected to Ainu culture. Visitors are also able to enjoy sliding down a hill of snow on a deerskin sled, among other activities.
Other features of interest in the park are kuca (hunting huts), built to provide eating and sleeping accommodation sheltered from the wind and snow when out hunting in the wild, as well as scenes of salmon being dried outdoors. Salmon is an indispensable part of the Ainu food culture, and dried salmon, called satcep, is a traditional preserved food.
An exhibition entitled “Touch, Look, Listen to the National Ainu Museum” will be held at the National Ainu Museum from January 29 through February 27, 2022. In this event visitors can experience Ainu culture in a way that does not rely solely on sight, but also touch and sound. During the exhibition, events are being planned that expose visitors to Ainu music and traditional folk utensils.