From Britannica Online

People living in Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands who are physically unlike their Mongoloid neighbours. The Ainu may be descendants of early Caucasoid peoples who were once widely spread over northern Asia. The original Ainu language, with a number of dialects, has been largely supplanted by Japanese.

The Ainu formerly lived on all four major Japanese islands but were pushed northward over the centuries by the Japanese. Intermarriage with and cultural assimilation by the Japanese have made the traditional Ainu virtually extinct. Of the approximately 24,000 persons on Hokkaido who are still considered Ainu, hardly any are purebloods and very few maintain the language and religion. Most of them now resemble the Japanese in physique.

The traditional Ainu were round-eyed, short-statured, and brunette and had abundant body and facial hair compared to their Mongoloid neighbours. The men wore heavy beards, and the women had moustachelike tattooing around the mouth. They dressed in bark cloth or skin drapes, often decorated with geometric designs. They were hunters, fishermen, and trappers until the Japanese moved into Hokkaido and attempted to settle them in agriculture. Many of them now work in the construction industry or as day labourers.

The traditional religion of the Ainu centred on local forces of nature, which were thought to have souls or spirits. The most important ritual in the Ainu religion involved the sacrifice of a bear.


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Last Updated 18 Feb 2000 by CSmith