First Advisor

Kenneth J. Ruoff

Date of Publication

Fall 1-7-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Ainu -- Japan -- Hokkaido -- Social conditions, Imperialism, Race relations, Group identity, Ethnology



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 156 pages)


Japan's colonial activities on the island of Hokkaido were instrumental to the creation of modern Japanese national identity. Within this construction, the indigenous Ainu people came to be seen in dialectical opposition to the 'modern' and 'civilized' identity that Japanese colonial actors fashioned for themselves. This process was articulated through travel literature, ethnographic portraiture, and discourse in scientific racism which racialized perceived divisions between the Ainu and Japanese and contributed to the unmaking of the Ainu homeland: Ainu Mosir. The resulting narrative was used to legitimize Japanese imperialism, transforming the Empire of Japan into the only non-Western member state of the nineteenth-century global imperialist order. The Ainu on the other hand, were marked as a scientific curiosity, paraded around the world as an anachronistically 'primitive' people destined to disappear, a sacrifice to usher in the progress and glory of the Japanese nation. In recent years, however, after more than a century of coercive assimilation, the Ainu have begun to use some of the methods once employed against them by the Japanese state to refashion their own ethnic and cultural identity, primarily through cultural production, tourism, and by challenging the scientific community that appropriated their ancestral remains. These efforts have, in effect, shifted the Japanese colonial gaze inward revealing the dynamic ethnic and cultural identities that persist in Japan despite nearly one-hundred and fifty years of state-sponsored myths extoling the Japanese nation's cultural, moral, and racial superiority, and later--in the postwar period--homogeneity.


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