East Asian Studies
On March 2nd, 1899, the Meiji government of Japan passed the Hokkaido Former Natives Protection Act. At its core, the act stripped the Ainu of their indigenous identity, labeling the group as ‘former aborigines’ and forcing every member into Japanese citizenship. In an instant, the Ainu became erased in an official capacity from the consciousness of the state and its people, a condition that would last well over 109 years when in 2008 the Japanese state finally acknowledged the Ainu as an indigenous group. What is often not acknowledged is that the implementation and subsequent enforcement of the Protection Act didn’t emerge out of thin air and exist without creating profoundly impactful consequences. There was historical precedent to justify its enactment spanning well over a hundred years prior, these same justifications also finding use today. Through processes of racialization, colonization, and the desire to solidify the Self and Nation, the Ainu became the focal point not just within Hokkaido politics but also the wider Japanese state attempting to create and define what it means to be Japanese and who can possess this label. To fully understand the lasting consequences of policies like the Protection Act, one must examine the wider historical narrative that created and justified their enactment. It is important to also examine where the Ainu are now as a people and what impact this history has had on a community largely ignored both domestically and internationally.
Lambright, Bri, "The Ainu, Meiji Era Politics, and Its Lasting Impacts: A Historical Analysis of Racialization, Colonization, and the Creation of State and Identity in Relation to Ainu-Japanese History" (2022). History Summer Fellows. 18.
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