Monday, April 26, 2010
Travel Spot: The Porotokotan
The Ainu are an ethnically distinct people who occupied Hokkaido and the northern part of the main island of Honshu from at least the 13th century, if not earlier, until they were driven back and then conquered by the Japanese in the 17th to 19th centuries. The relationship between the Ainu and the Japanese has been complex, and in many way parallels that between the United States and Native Americans. Starting around 1900 the Ainu were subjugated, forced to assimilate as Japanese, and their language and culture was oppressed. They were widely discriminated against. Gradually things improved, but official recognition of their identity and rights didn't occur until 2008.
The Porotokotan is a museum in the form of a mock Ainu village, or kotan. There is a museum building with historical exhibits, and then a series of Ainu style huts arranged along the shore of Lake Poroto. In each of the huts native Ainu demonstrate crafts, culture such as singing and dancing, and basic ways of Ainu life. Getting into and out of the the museum village itself involves walking through a gauntlet of shops selling Ainu related souvenir items.
Information on the Porotokotan can be found here.