Behind the Camera Story #1 from Ainu – Indigenous People of Japan

So far, Ainu – Indigenous People of Japan has had screenings at over 20 places all over the world. I am glad that many people are interested in the Ainu, and I think my job is to keep learning more about the Ainu and disseminating information about what the indigenous people in my home country are doing.


One of the questions I have been asked the most is why did you choose this particular town, Biratori because there are other towns that are famous for their connection to Ainu culture. Back in 2008, I was co-running a non-profit organization, Cinemiga, to teach filmmaking and co-produce films with indigenous people around the world, and the first location was Colombia. One day, my colleagues asked me about the indigenous people of Japan, and it made me realize that I didn’t know anything about the Ainu. 

August, 2009

Therefore, I started searching for information about the Ainu, and I found out there was a small Ainu radio station in the town of Biratori, where the late Shigeru Kayano is from. Mr. Kayano had done extraordinary work to preserve the Ainu language and culture, including putting together and publishing an Ainu-Japanese dictionary and writing more than a hundred books and articles about the Ainu. On top of this, he also recorded native Ainu speakers sharing oral history, information about themselves, and general conversations. In addition, he started an Ainu radio station and the first community based Ainu language class in Japan. It was a no brainer for me. Of course, I would base my learning in Biratori. First, I visited the language class. At that time, Mr. Kayano had already passed away, and his son was running the class as well as the radio station. Around 15 people were in the class when I visited, and I didn’t know anyone.

Nibutani Ainu Language Class, 2009

At the end of the class, I thanked everybody for letting me observe the class, and I was about to leave to go to my room at a local ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Then, a man approached me and said “I’ve never seen you before. Where are you from?” I answered that I was from Hyogo (around 670 miles from Hokkaido). Then he said, “If you are interested in learning about the Ainu, come back often.” I thanked him, and I decided to be honest with him. I said, “I would love to come back more often, but I live in New York and it’s really expensive to come to Biratori from there.”  He said, “Then, you can stay at my house instead of at a ryokan, and use my car instead of renting a car.” I was very surprised because we had just met and had talked for only about five minutes and this man was offering to let me stay at his house. That’s how my close relationship started with the Ainu living in Biratori.  (to be continued)

With the host, Mr. Kawanano, August, 2009
Posted in Behind the camera.

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