The Ainu

Feeding my fascination for ancient as well as the indigenous cultures of the world, I was excited to find at the rich Mysterium** a post about the Ainu: A beautiful audio-visual presentation on Japan’s Indigenous Ainu people, their origins, art and religion. This was put together by the Arctic Studies Center of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Astonishing examples of Ainu sculpture, which to me look remarkably similar to the Northwest Coast First Nations’ totem poles next door to Vancouver on Burnaby Mountain Park. The more than a dozen carved poles were created by Ainu sculptors Nuburi Toko and his son, Shusei to commemorate the goodwill between Burnaby and its sister city, Kushiro, Japan. The spectacular setting inspired the Tokos to imagine it as Kamui Mintara, or Playground of the Gods.

The poles represent the story of the gods who descended to earth to give birth to the Ainu. Animal spirits such as whale, bear, and owl adorn the tops of the slender poles that are bunched together in groups of twos and threes. A killer whale and a brooding raven stand apart from the rest, looking west over Vancouver and across the Strait of Georgia towards Vancouver Island (and Japan).

Have a look at these photos of these gorgeous works in their stunning setting.

** updated Feb.29.2012 – this site no longer exists so link has been removed.

April 3, 2004 in Ethnicity, Folk Legends & Myths, History, Other artists by Marja-Leena