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Ca. 1890-1900 albumen print of a fine group of Ainu who look "none too happy" about having their photo taken --- except for that little kid sitting right in the middle who looks like he's trying to smother a good laugh.


The Ainu were in Japan long before the modern day Japanese showed up. Like "indigenous priors" in many countries, the Ainu were put down by the invaders and occupiers. It's a complicated story, and most every country in the world --- including America --- suffers from the same sort of scenario (that is, one people and culture coming in and displacing a very different people and culture who were there long before the new "invaders and occupiers").


The Japanese Government did their best to marginalize them out of existence. One prominent Japanophile of the day --- Herbert G. Ponting --- (who spent most of his time praising Japan, Geisha Girls, Cherry Blossoms, and Mt. Fuji) could not help but show his disdain for the Japanese Government's prejudicial treatment of the Ainu.


Incredibly, until the year 2008, the Japanese Government had long come to the point of refusing to acknowledge their very existence in Japan, telling themselves and the world that ".....Japan has NO indigenous peoples, and consists of only one homogeneous race, language, and culture......".


The OTHER HALF of the problem yet to be dealt with --- admitting that the indigenous Okinawans (and their Language and Culture) at the southern end of the country also constitute another distinct "non-Japanese people" within their borders --- is still hard to come to grips with. The existence of Okinawa and the "Ryukyu Islanders" remains a major obstacle in their continuing theory of Japan being a nation of "One Supreme Yamato Race".


But, for a Government that rarely moves too fast on anything, half way is (at least) a first step.


".......On 6 June 2008, a bi-partisan, non-binding resolution was approved by the Japanese Diet calling upon the government to recognize the Ainu people as indigenous to Japan and urge an end to discrimination against the group. The resolution recognized the Ainu people as "an indigenous people with a distinct language, religion and culture" and rescinds the law passed in 1899. Though the resolution is historically significant, Hideaki Uemura, professor at Keisen University in Tokyo and a specialist in indigenous peoples' rights, commented that the motion is "weak in the sense of recognizing historical facts" as the Ainu were "forced" to become Japanese in the first place........" (Wiki)




Most all of the women in this photo have tattooed mustaches. However, the film (or dry plate) used for this shot was not sensitive to the pigments used, and so they are very light in this picture. Early Meiji-era photographers had a lot of trouble getting good tattoo shots of any Japanese due to the same color spectrum sensitivity limitations, and many tattoos had to be strengthened by the early colorists during the hand-tinting stage of print making.


This albumen print courtesy of the Tom Burnett Collection. Used by permission.

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Uploaded on August 9, 2008