Earlier this year I penned an essay in response to the Ainu recognition bill and its inherent problems. That bill, the Ainu Promotion Law (アイヌ施策推進法; Ainu
On September 30, the government announced it had distributed a total of 660 million yen in grant funds to 13 municipalities in Hokkaido and Mie prefectures. 470 million yen would be devoted to tourism promotion to museums and cultural events. This is the first time a large sum of money has been set aside specifically for native cultural preservation.
How Will The Money Benefit the Ainu?
One of the projects this grant will cover is the digitization of traditional music. On the tourism end, Sapporo will launch efforts to establish an Ainu presence at its world-renowned Sapporo Snow Festival. And a national museum, the first of its kind, will have its grand opening on April 2020, months ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Local officials and tribal representatives will also benefit from the grants. The representative director of the Akan Ainu Crafts Association (阿寒アイヌ工芸協同組合; Akan Ainu kōgei kyōdō
“This is the first time we’ve received a large amount of money. If we’re able to use this to introduce our culture to people, I think the number of visitors will also increase. I’m looking forward to that day.”
However, mismanagement of funds is a growing concern. The local governments could use the funds for public relations and other tourism promotions instead of cultural preservation. There’s also the glaring absence of funds for establishing language classes.
Unfortunately, hate and misunderstanding towards Japan’s native residents still abounds today. News of the large grant may only provoke people to lash out. The new law is already the target for conservative groups. On September 21, the Shiroishi City Center in Sapporo attempted and failed to cancel a series of lectures on Ainu policy and identity for hate speech reasons. With such prejudice flourishing, it seems only inevitable that someone will divert funds away from cultural preservation. We’ll keep tabs on this and hope that the Ainu benefit greatly from these funds.