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Published: 08 February 2020

By Andy Ross

Ainu clothes

A few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to see a performance of Ainu music, complete with beautiful costumes.

Japan Centre in London is always a treat to go to and the chance of an evening of music from Ainu performers Oki and Marewrew was too good an opportunity to miss. The event was organised to celebrate the impending opening of UPOPOY, the first national museum in Japan dedicated to the culture and history of these fascinating people. 

Ainu, sometimes spelt 'Aynu', is the name given to a group of people who live in the north, but the history of how these people came to be there is fascinating. Have a look at this interactive page from the Field Museum which shows the movement of the Ainu from the Asian Mainland. Although this event focused on Hokaido, Ainu are spread across the North into Russia but official recognition of the distinctive group has been slow to come. Now it seems that there is a focus on preserving and promoting the people and their culture. 

The music, we thought, shares similarities with the joik of the Sami in Northern Europe and Inuit songs from Canada. Not surprising given their geography! Have a listen to some of what we heard here

My own interest in Japanese Ainu culture was kindled when I bought a small book about the clothing created from natural materials and featuring bold shapes and colours. Currently the Japan Centre has a small display of textiles including a rather wonderful attush robe, pictured on this page. 

The making of these clothes is intricate and painstaking, some taking a year to create. Signifying power, status, and familial connections they are works of art which deserve their worldwide recognition.