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The Ainu of Tsugaru : the indigenous history and shamanism of northern Japan Tanaka, Sakurako (Sherry)

Abstract

This is the first doctoral level Ainu study outside Japan from an indigenous perspective, and the first academic Ainu study ever from a female perspective. This study examines the indigenous history and shamanism of northern Japan, Hokkaido andTsugaru, in the context of the Ainu culture complex. Tsugaru was the last autonomous stronghold of the Ainu people in Honshu, remaining largely independent until it came under the control of the Japanese state, the Edo government, in the seventeenth century. Tsugaru has developed a distinct hybrid culture as a result of gradual mtermixing with non-indigenous populations, though an Ainu consciousness has never completely died out in the region. A comparison between Hokkaido Ainu shamanism and Tsugaru shamanism reveals the relative recentness of their contemporary characteristics, their shared roots prior to the Edo period, as well as changes in gender roles and aspects of gender inequity. In both traditions, shamanism has been transmitted primarily by the female population, and in the past, indigenous women played an essential role in maintaining social and spiritual integrity. The centrality of women came to manifest itself differently in the two regions, due mainly to differing socio-historical circumstances which transformed two originally similar cultures into divergent forms. This study questions the stereotypical ethnic opposition between the Ainu and the "Japanese," and sheds light on the intricate relationship among the Ainu and other indigenous groups in northern Japan. It also questions the powerful Ainu male myth and narratives which shaped much of the Ainu's cultural revival movement in the past century. Firthermore, by revealing a significant level of shared spiritual beliefs and practices between the past and present inhabitants of the Japanese archepelago of Japan and the traditional peoples of Northeast Asia and byond the Bering Strait, the study will point to a need for both Ainu study and Japanese study to be placed within the larger cultural domain, namely, the northern circumpacific region.

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