Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Crystal Biruk
Baron L. Pineda


Ainu, Japanese, Hokkaido, Meiji, Discrimination, Colonialism, Indigenous studies, Modernity, Racism, Material culture, Post-colonial studies, Japanese history, Nationalism, Assimilation


This is a historical ethnography that examines how shifts Japanese national identity and values of homogeneity have affected Japan’s minority Ainu population. I argue that the symbolic position of Ainu culture has historically been rearranged to suit prevailing ideas about Japanese nationality and culture without input from Ainu. Using theoretical understandings of Self-Other dichotomies, I examine the particular way these practices manifested in Meiji Japan to create modern Japanese national identity, and how these functioned both against the West and people colonized by Japan. From there, I look at how cultural nationalism was objectified as present from time immemorial in Japan through the installation of key parts of Japaneseness and Ainuness into symbolic objects (most notably food and the forms of food-getting) and using these symbols to retroactively label Ainu culture as an aspect of Japanese nationality. Finally, I look at how contemporary Ainu have subverted this practice using cultural objects to work against a “vanishing ethnicity” narrative and reject the idea that being Ainu is inaccessible in modern contexts.

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