The Ainu Bear Festival
Takashi Irimoto,Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Hokkaido University
The Ainu bear festival is part of the cult of bears, or more precisely, part of the respect paid to them, and is found extensively in the Northern Hemisphere. From the viewpoint of northern studies, it is positioned as an extension of circumpolar cultural studies, which were a product of attempts in the 19th and 20th centuries to connect reindeer hunters in the Upper Paleolithic of France and Arctic Eskimos. Although there have been separate descriptions of the event on the Ainu bear festival, no anthropological studies comparing, analyzing and integrating them have been carried out.
This book is based on a new anthropological paradigm known as shizenshi, the anthropology of nature and culture, which is a systematic description of human activities, as a theoretical framework to present and analyze the bear festival as an activity system with ecological, biological, social and religious aspects. The methodology used stems from the organization and analysis of various materials including old records, other historical documents and Ainu pictures from between the early 18th and early 20th centuries, ethnological documents centered on materials from between the 1920s and the 1950s, film recordings of the bear festival, photographic evidence, and the data based on author’s current fieldwork.
The book first analyzes Ainu bear hunting along with its symbolic meaning, and clarifies the Ainu’s behavioral strategy in hunting within a broad framework based on an understanding of the relationship between the ecology of the Ainu and their view of the world, then summarizes the forms and details of the Ainu bear festival in terms of the temporal sequence of related activities. It clarifies regional differences in the nature of the bear festival and the significance of the bear festival from an anthropological viewpoint, and discusses reciprocity and behavioral strategy in hunting, social ranking and egalitarianism, trade and wealth redistribution, and the festival along with the concept of original oneness. Then, it analyzes related historical variations, and the origins and dynamics of the bear festival are clarified. It also details and analyzes the current revival of the bear festival based on the results of related fieldwork. This book highlights the Ainu bear festival’s nature as a dynamic system that has helped to shape Ainu culture itself while responding to the ecology and society of each period, and outlines how the event has changed dynamically while contributing to the staging and revitalization of the Ainu world.