Ainu in Art and Photography

The peoples and cultures of Ainu Mosir have long fascinated the international community and have been featured in art and photography for centuries. Between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, Ainu communities flourished in the Sea of Okhotsk region, and the Ainu played a crucial role in bridging the peoples of China, Manchuria, Russia, and in particular, Japan. Yet, despite their close trade relationship with Japan, the Ainu and their homeland (Ainu Mosir) were regarded as distinct from the Japanese state; referred to as Ezochi or the “land of the ‘shrimp barbarian.’1 This changed during the Edo period (1615-1868), however, when the Japanese government granted the Matsumae samurai clan lands in southern Hokkaido. Gradually, Edo Japan expanded deeper into Ainu lands, and the Ainu people living there were increasingly viewed by the Japanese government as a subjugated people.2

1.) “Shrimp Barbarian”  (Ezo/Ebisu) was the term used in early Japanese historical texts for the non-Wajin/Yamato peoples living throughout much of northern and eastern Japan. See: David Howell, “The Ainu in the Early Modern Japanese State,” in Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, 96.

3.) Ibid., 98.

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