After Yotei, what was next on the North Island?
We went up to splitboard in Furanodake, Takashidake, and then we went to visit Ainu friends in Nibutani.
Can you talk about your connection to the Ainu and their relationship to the mountains you just came from?
As our shoot wrapped after a few weeks in the mountains, we began our drive South. We made a detour to visit family friends in the Indigenous village of Nibutani. My grandpa and nana had worked closely with the Ainu in the 1970s to fight a hydroelectric dam on one of the last undammed salmon rivers in Japan. As we’d come to learn, the community had lost the fight and many of their sacred sites were now deep underwater. Many people think Japan is a homogenous country that doesn’t have a dark history of colonization, yet this trip unveiled a very different and complex side of Japan.
It was amazing to connect with the grandkids of my grandpa’s friends, and it was also difficult to hear of the long road to justice the Ainu have faced. Only within the past few years have the Ainu officially been recognized by the state as a distinct people with a history of being marginalized and oppressed by Japan. Because of their respect for my grandfather and his support in the ’70s, they shared a powerful Ainu dance with us. It was intense and performed out in the snow in -20 (Celsius) conditions. The dance honored Ainu gods and was performed in traditional regalia with old swords. To the Ainu, gods are the animals they share their territory with. As we left the community and parted ways, I was grateful for the hospitality, the stories, and the ongoing work of the Ainu activists within the community, fighting to keep their traditions, their distinct history, and their stories alive
Tamo with Taichi from the Ainu Nation. P: Alastair Spriggs