The Sacred Landscape of Ainu Culture and its Cultural Landscapes: Case Study on the Conservation Strategy in Biratori City, Hokkaido


  • Hideki Yoshihara Ainu Culture Conservation Center Hokkaido
  • Noriko Inoue Otemon Gakuin University Osaka



Ainu, Cultural Landscape, Sacred Space, Iwor, Biratori


The primary aim of this paper is to outline the cultural landscapes associated with the Ainu people and their culture, as well as the characteristics of tourism leveraging these landscapes, in Biratori Town in the Hidaka region of Japan’s Hokkaido Prefecture. Such landscapes incorporate, as an integral part, sacred places of the Ainu, an indigenous people of Japan located mainly in Hokkaido. In particular, the Cultural Landscape along the Sarugawa River Resulting from Ainu Tradition and Modern Settlement has been designated as an Important Cultural Landscape by the Japanese government. Initiatives to preserve and utilize cultural landscapes associated with the Ainu as cultural properties enhance the value of local landscapes, and also have major significance as part of a regional promotion policy and motions for ethnic communities. Section 1 begins with an outline of sacred places in traditional Ainu culture based on examples, and details previous relevant research and studies. This is followed by a summary of views regarding the meanings of the words “sacred” and “places” and related concepts. In Section 2, the overall initiatives taken to preserve sacred places and cultural landscapes, in consideration of the relationship between such places and development of the region’s cultural landscapes, are discussed. Section 3 illustrates the involvement of local residents in cultural tourism leveraging cultural landscapes and details the prospects and challenges that lie ahead.
It was only after the 1997 enactment of the Ainu Culture Promotion Act that national and local government policies on the Ainu began to change drastically from the forced assimilation implemented in the Meiji period to an approach involving Ainu cultural promotion. In addition, only relatively recently (2004) the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties was amended to cover cultural landscapes, and a limited research has been conducted connecting Ainu culture and cultural landscapes. As a result, sacred places and cultural landscapes of the indigenous Ainu people, which are based on their unique traditional view of nature (e.g., the concept that nothing descends to the earth from the world of the deities without a job to do), have rarely been highlighted as valuable cultural heritage sites either in Japan or elsewhere. Against this background, Biratori Town seeks to implement its own measures and projects for the preservation of cultural landscapes associated with the Ainu in keeping with national policies. The town promotes cultural tourism programs, eco-tourism courses and other projects in which the Ainu culture’s preservers play central roles, while working to improve the quality of local cultural resources in collaboration with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the Agency for Cultural Affairs, the Forestry Agency and other national government bodies. One of the main pillars of these initiatives is the preservation and utilization of cultural landscapes related to Ainu culture; other pillars include the revival of Ainu culture with focus on ways of living and the promoting the regional development, along with encouragement of active participation by Ainu, other local residents, and their collaboration with experts. These initiatives form and expand the foundations of today’s social environment for the preservation of religious activities involving sacred places (e.g., ci-nomi-sir) and sacred landscapes. This indicates the potential for traditional Ainu living spaces, which are based on the traditional Ainu spiritual culture, to support various forms of initiatives and relationships and to be sustained as ethnic harmonic spaces. The authors hope that cultural landscapes related to Ainu culture will come to be regarded as part of the major trend of international and interdisciplinary research and practice, and that research will progress in this area of study.




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How to Cite

Yoshihara, H., & Inoue, N. (2018). The Sacred Landscape of Ainu Culture and its Cultural Landscapes: Case Study on the Conservation Strategy in Biratori City, Hokkaido. Almatourism - Journal of Tourism, Culture and Territorial Development, 9(8), 107–128.