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Ainos. The Ainos, called by themselves Ainu, that is "men," are a very peculiar race, now inhabiting only the northern island of Yezo, but formerly widely spread all over the Japanese archipelago. The Japanese proper, arriving from the south-west, gradually pressed the Ainos back towards the east and north. It was only in the eighteenth century that they were completely subjugated. In retreating, the aborigines left the country strewn with place-names belonging to their own language. Such are, for instance, Noto, the name of the big promontory stretching out into the Sea of Japan (nottu means "promontory" in Aino), the Tonegawa, or River Tone, near Tōkyō (tanne is Aino for "long"), and hundreds of others. So far as blood, however, is concerned, the Japanese have in the long run been little, if at all, affected by Aino influence. The simple reason is that the half-breeds, though numerous, die out in the second or third generation. The Ainos are the hairiest race in the world, their luxuriantly thick black beards and hirsute limbs giving them an appearance which contrasts strangely with the smoothness of their Japanese lords and masters. They are of sturdy build, and distinguished by a flattening of certain bones of the arm and leg (the humerus and tibia), which has been observed nowhere else except in the remains of some of the cave-men of Europe. The women tattoo moustaches on their upper lip, and geometrical patterns on their hands. Both sexes are of a mild and amiable disposition, but are terribly addicted to drunkenness. They are filthy in their persons, the practice of bathing being altogether unknown.[1]

The Ainos were till recently accustomed to live on the produce of the chase and the sea fisheries; but both these sources of subsistence have diminished since the settling of the island by the Japanese. Consequently they no longer hold up their heads as in former days, and notwithstanding the well-intentioned efforts of a paternal government, they seem doomed to disappear, though it is true that during the last twenty years their numbers have remained stationary at about 17,000. Their religion is a simple nature-worship. The sun, wind, ocean, bear, etc., are deified under the title of Kamui, "god," and whittled sticks are setup in their honour. The bear, though worshipped, is also sacrificed and eaten with solemnities that form the most original and picturesque feature of Aino life. Grace is said before meat. Mr. Batchelor quotes the following naive and touching form of words: "O thou Cereal Deity, we worship thee. Thou hast grown very well this year, and thy flavour will be sweet. Thou art good. The Goddess of Fire will be glad, and we shall rejoice greatly. thou God! O thou divine Cereal! do thou nourish the people. I now partake of thee. I worship thee and give thee thanks." These poor people also treasure up numbers of charms or fetiches, such as feathers, snake-skins, the skulls of beasts or birds, etc., and their minds are saturated with a belief in various forms of magic and witchcraft.

Some of the Aino tales are quaint. Most of them embody an attempt to account for some natural phenomenon. The following may serve as a specimen:—


Formerly dogs could speak. Now they cannot. The reason is that a dog belonging to a certain man, a long time ago, inveigled his master into the forest under the pretext of showing him game, and there caused him to be devoured by a bear. Then the dog went home to his master's widow, and lied to her, saying: "My master has been killed by a bear. But when he was dying, he commanded me to tell you to marry me in his stead" The widow knew that the dog was lying. But he kept on urging her to marry him. So at last, in her grief and rage, she threw a handful of dust into his open mouth. This made him unable to speak any more, and therefore no dogs can speak even to this very day.

The Aino language is simple and harmonious. Its structure in great measure resembles that of Japanese; but there are some few fundamental divergences, such, for instance, as the possession of true personal pronouns and the formation of the passive voice by a prefix. The vocabulary, too, is quite distinct. The system of counting is extraordinarily cumbrous. Thus, if a man wants to say that he is thirty-nine years old, he must express himself thus: "I am nine, plus ten taken from two score." In Mr. Batchelor's translation of Matthew XII. 40, the phrase "forty days and forty nights" is thus rendered: tokap rere ko tu hoine rere ko, kunne rere ko tu hotne rere ko, that is, "day three days two score three days, black three days two score three days. Little wonder that the simpler Japanese numeration has come to supplant, in the mouths of many, this next to unmanageable system. In fact, the younger generation seems to be discarding the native language altogether in favour of Japanese. Hitherto the Aino have known nothing of the use of letters. Tales like the one we have quoted, and rude songs which are handed down orally from generation to generation, form their only literature.

Books recommended. The Ainu of Japan, by Rev. J. Batchelor, gives the most trustworthy general account in a popular form. See also Mrs. Bishop's Unbeaten Tracks in Japan.—Students are referred to the First Memoir of the Literature College of the Imperial University of Japan, by Chamberlain and Batchelor, for full details concerning Aino mythology, grammar, place-names, etc.; to the former writer's Aino Folk-lore, in Vol. VI. Part I. of the Folk-lore Journal, and to numerous papers by Batchelor scattered through the Asiatic Transactions, etc. The same author has published an Ainu-English Dictionary, The Ainu and their Folk-lore, A Brochure on the Koropok-guru or Pit-dwellers of North Japan, etc The Memoir above quoted gives a fairly complete bibliography of Yezo and the Ainos.—The best Japanese work on the subject is the Ezo Fūzoku Isan, published by the Kaitakushi in 1882. It is in twenty volumes.

  1. Would-be investigators of Aino peculiarities should exercise scrupulous care in their choice of individuals for study, as almost every Aino village now includes a considerable percentage of half-breeds.