Japanese parliament passed a bill in April to recognize the Ainu minority, many of whom live in the northern island of Hokkaido, as an indigenous people of Japan for the first time. This passage drew attention from the world's media.
The Ainu have long suffered oppression and exploitation, and in 1899 the Japanese parliament enacted the Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Act, a law designed to achieve the assimilation of the Ainu population of northern Japan, which was replaced in 1997 by a new Ainu Cultural Promotion Law. Under this new law, however, the Ainu was still not recognized as Japanese indigenous people at all. It is unclear as to why the recognition failed, but there were some scholars who doubted the Ainu heritage and recognition.
It is a known historical fact that the Ainu has always had culture and language much different from the mainland Japanese. Old history books in Japan mentioned the population in the north that the Japanese could not communicate. in the Edo era, some 300 years ago, Matsumae-han government of Hokkaido controlled trades with Ainu and even had Ainu-Japanese translators.
But like many Indigenous people around the world, most of Japan's Ainu have lost touch with their traditional lifestyle after decades of forced assimilation policies. Ainu language is registered as an endangered language. Unfortunately, in Japan, the interest in this matter is not very high. Many Japanese citizens are either oblivious or ignorant of the existence nor the history of the indigenous people in their own country, as CNN reported. Ainu is surely an independent culture, an asset to Japan. This newest law will hopefully give the mainlanders an opportunity to discover and deepen the understanding on the Ainu culture.