Aina Times Celebrates 25th Year Of Propagating Indigenous Language In Japan
The Ainu Times, a newspaper published by an organization dedicated to reviving the language of northern Japan's indigenous Ainu people and disseminating it to the world, celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, Kohei Shinkai reported for Mainichi Japan.
Photo Insert: Indigenous Ainu people were forced to speak Japanese under assimilation policies launched during the Meiji era (1868-1912), causing the rapid decline of the Ainu language.
The paper runs news in the Ainu language, in both the Roman alphabet and Japanese phonetic katakana characters.
Shiro Kayano, 64, who chairs the Ainugo Pen Club and is director of the Kayano Shigeru Nibutani Ainu Museum in the town of Biratori, Hokkaido, said, "I want to continue publishing it to pass on the Ainu language to future generations."
The first issue was published on March 20, 1997, and for the ensuing several years it was issued four times annually. It now comes out two to three times a year, with the latest edition, the paper's 77th, published in June 2022.
On the front page of the first issue, the then 39-year-old Kayano contributed the following messages: "a=utari opitta utura=an wa arikiki=an ro!" or "let's work hard together, all our fellows." This phrase expresses the passion that went into the production of the newspaper.
At the time, the Ainu culture promotion law was about to come into effect in July 1997, and Kayano recalled, "We were proud of our Ainu traditions and culture and felt it was of great significance to disseminate them. In that sense, the newspaper was very pioneering."
Indigenous Ainu people were forced to speak Japanese under assimilation policies launched during the Meiji era (1868-1912), causing the rapid decline of the Ainu language.
Kayano grew up in the Nibutani area of Biratori, as the second son of Shigeru Kayano (1926-2006), a researcher of Ainu culture and the first Ainu member of Japan's National Diet. But when he was young he "knew only about 100 (Ainu) words related to daily life."
The moment that ignited his interest in the language came in 1987, when he was working for a company in Tokyo and was invited by Shigeru to visit Canada on a study tour organized by the Biratori Municipal Board of Education. There, he interacted with the Kwakiutl, one of Canada's indigenous First Nation peoples on the country's west coast.
The local elementary school taught the Kwakwala language, but the youngest person who could speak it fluently was an 85-year-old woman, and everyday conversation was in English.