Ainu, Utari, Ainu

The Hokkaidō Utari Kyōkai (Hokkaido Utari Association, in English) was founded in 1930 as the Hokkaidō Ainu Kyōkai. It used that name until 1961, at which point it became the Hokkaidō Utari Kyōkai. Last week, though, they announced that as of next April they will change their name back to the "Hokkaidō Ainu Kyōkai". Why the change? What is the difference between Ainu and utari?

Ainu is obviously the name used to refer to the Ainu as a people distinct from other peoples; this is directly from the Ainu word aynu which means, predictably, "man" or "person" (as opposed to "supernatural being").

Utari is a more interesting word. As a loan word in Japanese, it is usually glossed as "compatriot" ("同胞", dōhō), which usually implies "fellow Ainu". Its etymology in Ainu is more interesting. In CHIRI Yukie's yukar, the word utar means "family" or "fellows", sometimes "people doing X [as opposed to people not doing X]"; it is also borrowed as a plural marker in some cases. Utari is a form meaning "family or fellows of..." It appears once in Chiri's work, in the song of the sea god (Repun Kamui):

otasut kotan/ kotan kor nispa/ kor utari
opittano/ kotcake ne/ un koyayirayke/ katuhu

"The chief of Otasut village, representing all of [the village]'s utari, thanked me and explained the situation..."

(Acknowledgment: Found via KIRIKAE Hideo's 『アイヌ神謡集辞典』 (Ainu Yukar Lexicon), a truly marvelous resource.)

Ainu have been using utari as a loanword in Japanese, with exactly this politically-charged meaning, for a very long time. I first learned of it from Japanese verse by IBOSHI Hokuto (1901–1929), for example:

昔に恥じよ 覚めよ ウタリー

"The strong ones!"—so were the Ainu named.
Shamed by the past/ Awaken, utari!


Utari long gone/ From the ancient village in Furubira*/ Where my heart shines

Clearly what he means here is utari, in the sense of "my comrades" or "my fellow Ainu". Elsewhere, he erases even this ambiguity by using the phrase an utari, "my utari":

アヌタリー(同族)の墓地でありしと云ふ山も とむらふ人なき熊笹の薮

The mountain, too, said to be a burial ground for my utari
A scrub of kumazasa, with no-one to tend the graves

Another revealing passage:

アイヌ! と只一言が何よりの侮辱となって憤怒に燃る


Ainu! Just one word/ Become the greatest of insults/ I burn with rage
What?! Eat shit!/ I shout, but then/ A long, lonely silence

The original meaning of the word long forgotten, what an insulting pronoun it has become—Assimilation has already gone too far—To lash out at the shallow ideas of this age, say it with intent: "I am an Ainu"—A reactionary way of thinking—I know this, all of it, but ... I still lack discipline ... I laugh bitterly at my own cowardice.

The idea that Ainu were a lesser form of life was very common in Iboshi's time, so much so that to call someone an Ainu (or to use it as a "pronoun", in his words: "Get out of here, Ainu") was indeed an insult. Many of the Ainu themselves responded to this by trying to "pass", to assimilate with and disappear into the Japanese population. The government word for this was 同化 ("assimilation" or "homogenization" in English). Iboshi and others like him detested this state of affairs, and wanted to stand and fight instead, but it seems that they were in the minority.

Now, the Hokkaidō Ainu Kyōkai was originally formed and run by The Man, with the explicit aim of speeding the assimilation process. They had no reason to choose any name but the most obvious one. The organization was reformed after the war, but as far as I can tell lapsed into inactivity until the 1960s, when a new wave of activists kick-started it with the name change. The Asahi story on the current name change says that the change was motivated by the desire to make it easier for people to join and identify with the organization even if they associated the word Ainu with bigotry and other unpleasantness (アイヌという言葉が差別的な意味で使われていたことがあり、入会時などの心理的な抵抗を軽減させる).

Now, though, the association has apparently decided that the time is right to change back. That the word "Ainu" is no longer an automatic slur (pace the continued existence of bigots) was obviously a necessary condition for this, but doesn't seem to be a sufficient one. Chief director of the Association, Katō Tadashi, solved the mystery by explaining that the direct motivator was the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People last year. As Kjeld Duits reported last October, the Japanese government supported the declaration but doesn't accept its applicability to Hokkaido; as minister for foreign affairs Machimura Nobutaka put it at a September press conference in September, "In Japan, the conclusion that the Ainu are an indigenous people has not been reached (日本ではアイヌ民族を先住民族であると結論を出しておりません)".

Since then, Ainu groups have been building up steam on a number of campaigns to get that official recognition (which Kato, for example, expects to lead to better education for Ainu and the right to "use national and prefectural forests there on a priority basis for their traditional ceremonies and hunting". This is why, for example, you had the Ainu Utari Renrakukai on the streets of Tokyo in March collecting signatures for a petition to that effect (2ch backlash), and why a trans-party governmental working group has coalesced with the stated aim of resolving the issue to everyone's satisfaction. MACHIMURA's comment: "I am aware of this activity within the Diet, but nothing has been decided about what will be done as a government (国会での動きは承知しているが、政府としてどうするとは何ら決めていない)".

So the idea is that reverting to the name "Hokkaido Ainu Association" will help the association in question in terms of both clarity of message and general visibility. The unease of the majority with granting new concessions to a group based on what they consider ancient history—exactly the same phenomenon you see in Australia and the U.S. w/r/t the indigenous peoples there—is probably going to be a larger problem for them, but I suppose adopting the language of the majority must have some value as a symbolic gesture.

* Furubira is an Ainu place name whose meaning isn't known for sure, although Wikipedia quotes "red cliff" (hure-pira) and "hill cliff" (hur-pira) as two possible explanations. (Back)

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