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Seeing Ainu As They Want to Be Seen

Keeping culture alive: Ainu ekashi (elder) Haruzo Urakawa sits in his self-built cise (traditional Ainu home), which serves as a meeting place and center for the dissemination of Ainu culture in Kimitsu, Chiba Prefecture. | LAURA LIVERANI / LUNCH BEE HOUSE

Keeping culture alive: Ainu ekashi (elder) Haruzo Urakawa sits in his self-built cise (traditional Ainu home), which serves as a meeting place and center for the dissemination of Ainu culture in Kimitsu, Chiba Prefecture. | LAURA LIVERANI / LUNCH BEE HOUSE

Portrait project is the result of months spent living as part of village community.

 writes: “Imagine this place,” says Italian photographer Laura Liverani, as she tries to conjure up a picture of Nibutani, the village where she spent two months living with and photographing the indigenous people of Hokkaido. “There’s about 400 people that live there, it’s not very well connected to other areas so it’s very rural. There’s a strong presence of the Ainu, not only because 70 percent is of Ainu descent, but because it is culturally very active.

“I would call Nibutani, if not second home, a very familiar place.” One, she says, that will stay with her “forever.”

Biratori, Hokkaido, 2015 Monbetsu, a professional bear and deer hunter stands at his home with his hunting trophies. | LAURA LIVERANI / LUNCH BEE HOUSE

Biratori, Hokkaido, 2015 Monbetsu, a professional bear and deer hunter stands at his home with his hunting trophies. | LAURA LIVERANI / LUNCH BEE HOUSE

The first fruit of Liverani’s time in Hokkaido is “Ainu Nenoan Ainu” (“Human-like Human” in the Ainu language), a photographic portraiture series now being exhibited at the Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo.

[Read the full story here, at The Japan Times]

Still in production is a documentary on the Ainu, a joint effort with collaborators Neo Sora and Valy Thorsteindottir, who also stayed in Nibutani. The trio call themselves Lunch Bee House, after an Ainu restaurant in the village. Liverani is tight-lipped about the content of the documentary, except to say that it focuses on two Ainu families, or “clans,” from Nibutani.

Adopted culture: Although not an Ainu by blood, Magi embraced the indigenous way of life, having lived as an Ainu in a commune in Nibutani for many years. She is skilled in Ainu embroidery, which she incorporates into her hand-made clothes, and she gathers plants in the mountains near her home, where she is pictured. | LAURA LIVERANI / LUNCH BEE HOUSE

Adopted culture: Although not an Ainu by blood, Magi embraced the indigenous way of life, having lived as an Ainu in a commune in Nibutani for many years. She is skilled in Ainu embroidery, which she incorporates into her hand-made clothes, and she gathers plants in the mountains near her home, where she is pictured. | LAURA LIVERANI / LUNCH BEE HOUSE

“The actual project started in 2012,” Liverani explains. “I was taking photos and talking to people informally and becoming engaged with the Ainu community. Then I thought I need a little bit more depth into the project, so I had the idea of making a documentary, but I had no experience in filmmaking.

“I’d like to call ourselves a punk band of filmmaking,” she says of Lunch Bee House, “because none of us have a clear position in filmmaking — we just wanted to get on stage and play.”

The rural remoteness of Nibutani first came as a shock. “There are no shops, no places to hang out, just one drive-in restaurant and that’s about it,” Liverani says. What it does have in abundance, however, is culture.

“There are Ainu museums and Ainu activists, and everyone is so engaged in promoting and reinventing and preserving Ainu culture and language,” she explains. “It was very passionate.”

Nibutani, Hokkaido, 2015. The Takano family in front of the Ainu folk arts workshop and shop they run. | LAURA LIVERANI / LUNCH BEE HOUSE

Nibutani, Hokkaido, 2015. The Takano family in front of the Ainu folk arts workshop and shop they run. | LAURA LIVERANI / LUNCH BEE HOUSE

Such efforts are important considering the community’s history. The Ainu are one of Japan’s most marginalized groups. They were only officially recognized as the indigenous people of northern Japan in 2008, following the passage of the Resolution on the Rights of Indigenous People at the United Nations. Oppression and discrimination have contributed to the erosion of the culture over the centuries of colonization leading up to Hokkaido’s full incorporation into the Meiji Japanese state in the 19th century.

The official figure for the number of Ainu in Japan now stands at 25,000, but unofficial estimates put it closer to 200,000, considering that the policy of forced assimilation into Japanese society means many people of Ainu descent may not even be aware of their heritage.

Nibutani, Hokkaido, 2014. Maya, 15 years old, in school uniform at her grandmother's Attus weaving workshop. Maya was born to an Ainu mother and a Japanese father. | LAURA LIVERANI / LUNCH BEE HOUSE

Nibutani, Hokkaido, 2014. Maya, 15 years old, in school uniform at her grandmother’s Attus weaving workshop. Maya was born to an Ainu mother and a Japanese father. | LAURA LIVERANI / LUNCH BEE HOUSE

“The main theme in my series of photographs is actually the theme of identity, so how people represent themselves as Ainu,” says Liverani. “The theme of adoption through Ainu culture is very strong, a very strong point in my work.”

Collaboration was key to this project for Liverani, who insisted on including the subject of the photo in the decision-making process of orchestrating the portrait … (read more) 

via The Japan Times

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