HIEA 112 — Medium Post #1

Insoo Kim
3 min readJan 21, 2022

Put yourself in the shoes of an Ainu person who lived through the extension of the boundaries of the old Tokugawa regime to include your ancestral homelands. How might your life change on an everyday level? How might you respond, either individually or collectively to this imposition of colonial rule over you?

The struggles of the Ainu people in Northern Japan were most certainly a struggle against imperialism, with the Japanese calling the place they lived “Ezo”, or Land of the Barbarians. If I were to imagine myself as an Ainu, I would find these “Yamato” impositions against my people as a travesty — of course, I wouldn’t have necessarily be “me”, but I’d like to imagine that my anti-imperialist mindset would still be there in this hypothetical scenario. With Meiji decrees such as the “Former Natives Protection Law”, a paternalist imposition upon the Ainu, the Ainu had their lands taken from them as “waste lands” and then “bestowed” upon them by their colonizers. In addition, the measly 12 acres given to them could not be transferred in terms of ownership except by inheritance, nor could any other land owned by natives. Although some articles, such as the ones providing education and medicine, may seem beneficial, this is another imposition that completely forgoes the possibility of indigenous science. In addition, article 8 stipulates that these programs will be funded using money taken from the Ainu people, with the fund being controlled by the governor, who is selected by the Japanese Home Minister pursuant to article 10.

A large part of this was their paternalist approach to imperialism, wherein the Japanese government saw their subjects as lesser, and thus requiring a bigger and more “civilized” government to do things for them. We see a parallel between the Ainu people with the Ryukyu Kingdom and Taiwan during this period, with how people seen as “lesser” and subjugated in Japan were used as cannon fodder for their wars. We see how the Japanese interceded “on behalf” of the Ryukyu Kingdom, much like how they justified their annexation of Hokkaido as a way of “developing the land” (Lecture 4). We see a sort of motivation behind their paternalism in Goodbye Asia, wherein they refer to China and Korea as “bad friends”, being lost to perceived savagery and having several comparisons such as Japan being a righteous man in a lawless town, and China and Korea violating the natural spread of “civilization and enlightenment”. We see through things such as the Sino-Japanese War that they thought places like Korea were susceptible to Western control, and that Japan would be preferrable as a result — another clear example of paternalism. As a result of this, settlers in Hokkaido were put in to protect the land and people, which later led to cultural genocide (Lecture 4).

Returning to the prompt, if I were Ainu, I would probably have my life changed incredibly. Rather than living under our own systems and being able to do our own thing, we’d now be living as subjects of what we would consider a foreign power — if the Japanese clans were killing each other, imagine what the animosity here must be like — and being forced to pay them and die for them, losing our homeland as well. I think that I would respond with great anger and perhaps revolt, which did historically happen, like with Shakushain’s revolt.