Report: Hokkaido

Hokkaido (19.08-24.08)
Juha Luukkonen & Turo Ylitalo

After two weeks of linguistic research among the people of Sakhalin it was time to take the ferry back to Wakkanai over at Hokkaido. The time on the ferry went by sleeping, looking back to the weeks gone by and forward to the last few days in Japan.

Having landed to Wakkanai we still had a long train ride in front of us to get to Asahikawa where we would spend a night. The lush green scenery passed us by whilst the train ran towards its destination. At Asahikawa it was time to part ways with one of the members of our group as professor Saarikivi headed to Sapporo and then Finland a few days before us. After waving our goodbyes we headed to our hotel for a well-earned rest.

The next morning we made our way to Abashiri where we were taken to lunch by our local guides who would be taking us around. First on the itinerary for Abashiri our group had the Museum of The Northern Peoples, where we had an interview with a couple of ladies from an Uilta style embroidery club. After that we went around the exhibition of the museum which had showcased not only ”local” indigenous peoples like Nivkh and Ainu but also other peoples of the North such as Sámi.


Yukar storytelling at Nibutani.


Next day we visited the current Abashiri Prison and had the opportunity to buy handicraft made by the inmates. After seeing the state of the modern prison it was time to make our way down to the past and wonder about the Abashiri Prison Museum where we had our museum guide show us around for example the old museum chapel and holding cells. Last but not least we visited the Moyoro Shell Mound Museum to take a look at tools and items of Okhotsk culture which flourished on the coast of Hokkaido in the first millennium CE.

The final couple of days were dedicated to Sapporo and the Ainu people. We visited the campus of Hokkaido University, the Ainu Association and the Ainu Center where we got to know a lot of different things about the Ainu people and how their culture is being preserved at the moment. We also had an enjoyable evening with a lecture given by Ekaterina Gruzdeva on demonstrative verbs, followed by a dinner at Kirin Beer Garden. The following day we made an excursion to Nibutani to see its wonderful Ainu festival that included things from wood carving to a canoe ride. Many of us also tried to learn to play mukkuri, a traditional instrument similar to Jew’s harp.

During our stay in Hokkaido we learnt a great deal about the Ainu people and about the Japanese culture as well. Our contact with Ainu language was limited to written material and books given to us at the Ainu center, which is understandable in current sociolinguistic situation. Anyway, the last days were a great way to end our long productive trip that spanned from Finland via Sakhalin all the way to Japan.




Photos: Andrew Logie