You're planning a trip to Hokkaido, and want to learn more about the land's history? This thread is here to help you navigating through the various cultural assets Hokkaido has to offer.
Hokkaido is a bit different from other Japanese regions. It was officially integrated quite late in the country's history, even if the the Japanese "Wajin" population from the South and the Ainu people did had contact before. Before the Japanese took control of their land, the Ainu people were found throughout all of Hokkaido, but also in many islands of the Pacific North rim, including Sakhalin, the Kurile Islands, the tip of Kamchatka's Peninsula. Even though they live in Japan, the Ainu culture and the Ainu ethnic background are much different from the Japanese.
Today, it is estimated about 24000 Ainu live in Hokkaido. Even if Ainus are more and more recognized as a distinct culture even within Japan, years of forced assimilation policies by successive Japanese governements nearly cause a total extinction of Ainu culture. Their language, through which a culture can be passed on, is gradually disappearing, with only a very few native locutors remaining.
The Ainu Museum of Porotokotan
by train from Sapporo station. Just check the schedule. It's a bit of a long trip, like 2 hours by train. If you leave early enough and catch the morning express train going to Chitose Airport, then maybe it's possible to reach Shiraoi in just 1 hour and 15 minutes or so. You need to change to the Muroran Honsen at Tomakomai.
Entrance fee :
750 yens (adult)
It's open all year round (except during the New Year period, check their website), from 8:45 AM till 5:00 PM. Be aware that snow can cover the place until end of April.
Once in Shiraoi, it's not really difficult to find the museum entrance as there is a long corridor of fancy tourist shop leading to it. Porotokotan is built on the shore of a pretty lake (Lake Poroto), and it is possible to reach it by the North Entrance, after a 1-hour walk clockwise around the lake.
The museum houses about 5000 Ainu folk materials and about 200 articles of minority groups of the northern regions, including of the Nivkh, Uilta, Sami, and Inuit, of which 1500 articles are on permanent display. The library of the museum includes about 100 Ainu paintings and about 6000 books and other literature.
You can also enjoy traditionnal Ainu dance performance, just ask at the entrance when is planned the next performance. If you do understand a little Japanese, you may also find interest in listening the story told by the performers before the show.
Porotokotan is a must-go for anyone visiting Hokkaido and interested in Ainus. Even if the place can appear really cheezy, you must realize this is the almost the only things that's left. Enjoy it before it disappear for good.