Sacred Texts  Ainu  Japan


by Basil Hall Chamberlain

[London, 1888]

The Ainu are an ethnic minority in Japan, living primarily on the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaidō, although there were also small populations of Ainu living on the island of Sakhalin and in the Kuriles until the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union took control of Sakhalin and the Ainu there fled. Until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when Japan took formal possession of Hokkaidō and began the systematic integration of the Ainu into the Japanese nation, the Ainu lived almost exclusively as hunter-gatherers north of the always advancing frontier of Japanese agriculture. 'Traditional' anthropological wisdom holds that the Ainu are descended from the aboriginal inhabitants of Japan who were gradually dispossessed of their land by the invading Japanese and their superior civilization. This view is held up by the fact that the Ainu generally do not look Japanese, by the apparently radical differences between the two languages, and by the large number of Ainu place-names in Japan proper. More recent anthropology, however, sees a far greater continuity between the two cultures, with many deep and ancient similarities.

Ainu literature was traditionally of an exclusively oral variety, and very little was reduced to writing in any language before the 19th century. Many of the stories occur in more or less lengthy poems known as yukar, which are an epic-like form. Many of the stories presented in this book also occur in the context of much longer and deeper stories, which is not made apparent; more than likely because the importance or even existence of the yukar was unknown to the author.

Basil Hall Chamberlain was well-known as one of the pioneering translators and interpreters of things Japanese in his time. (He also translated the Shinto classic Kojiki.) Like many philologists, his interest in the Ainu was purely academic, centering mainly on the light that knowledge of the Ainu could shed on Japanese place-names and prehistory. Like many of the Japanese among whom he lived and worked, his opinion of the Ainu was quite mean, and his comments in the Prefatory Remarks sound downright inflammatory today, a fine specimen of Victorian racism.

Aino Folk-Tales

Prefatory Remarks

   i.—The Rat and the Owl.
   ii.—The Loves of the Thunder-Gods.
   iii.—Why Dogs cannot speak.
   iv.—Why the Cock cannot fly.
   v.—The Origin of the Hare.
   vi.—The Position of the Private Parts.
   vii.—The Reason for there being no Fixed Time for Human Beings to copulate.
   viii.—The Owl and the Tortoise.
   ix.—How a Man got the better of two Foxes.
   x.—The Man who Married the Bear-Goddess.
   xi.—The two Foxes, the Mole, and the Crows.
   xii.—The Stolen Charm.
   xiii.—The Fox, the Otter, and the Monkey.
   xiv.—The Fox and the Tiger.
   xv.—The Punishment of Curiosity.
   xvi.—How it was settled who should rule the World.
   xvii.—The Man who lost his Wife.
   xviii.—The First Appearance of the Horse in Aino-land.
   xx.—The Sex of the Two Luminaries.

   xxi.—The Kind Giver and the Grudging Giver.
   xxii.—The Man who was changed into a Fox.
   xxiii.—The Rat Boy.
   xxiv.—Don't throw Useful Things away.
   xxv.—The Wicked Wizard punished.
   xxvi.—The Angry Crow.
   xxvii.—Okikurumi, Samayunguru, and the Shark.

   xxviii.—Panaumbe, Penaumbe, and the Weeping Foxes.
   xxix.—Panaumbe, Penaumbe, and the Insects.
   xxx.—Panaumbe, Penaumbe, and the Sea-Lion.
   xxxi.—Panaumbe, Penaumbe, and the Lord of Matomai.
   xxxii.—Drinking the Sea dry.

   xxxiii.—The Island of Women.
   xxxiv.—The Worship of the Salmon, the Divine Fish.
   xxxv.—The Hunter in Hades.
   xxxvi.—An Inquisitive Man's Experience of Hades.
   xxxvii.—The Child of a God.
   xxxviii.—Buying a Dream.
   xxxix.—The Baby in the Box.
   xl.—The Bride Bewitched.
   xli.—The Wicked Stepmother.
   xlii.—The Clever Deceiver.

   xliv.—The Good Old Times.
   xlv.—The Old Man of the Sea.
   xlvi.—The Cuckoo.
   xlvii.—The [Horned] Owl.
   xlviii.—The Peacock in the Sky.
   xlix.—Trees turned into Bears.
   li.—Birth and Naming.
   lii.—The Pre-eminence of the Oak, Pine-tree, and Mugwort.
   liii.—The Deer with the Golden Horn.