Ainu activist hopes to raise cultural awareness through children’s book

Kayano Shigeru, an Ainu activist, wrote the children’s book The Ainu and the Fox in 1974, and a picture book edition came out in 2001. This year, it is being released worldwide in an English edition.

“The Ainu and the Fox,” which Kayano authored in 1974 based on an Ainu folktale, underscores the importance of people’s co-existence with nature. In the story, a fox who faces expulsion because he ate a salmon caught by Ainu people claims that God created salmon and determined the number of the fish that go up the streams so that Ainu people, bears and foxes can divide them.

Charles T. Whipple interviewed Kayano. The article isn’t dated, but I’m guessing the interview took place around 1994.

This summer, (name) passed away, leaving one of the 10 Socialist seats vacant. Shigeru Kayano got that seat, and became the first Ainu Dietman ever.

Immediately, the switchboard at the lower house office building was inundated with phone calls. “Can you wear traditional Ainu dress in the Diet?” some wanted to know. “Is it okay to ask questions in the Diet in the Ainu language?” others asked. All because Shigeru Kayano is also Japan’s best known Ainu. He has devoted most of his life to the preservation and promulgation of Ainu language and culture. He’s written 25 books on these subjects, one of which has been translated into English and dubbed “Our Home Was a Forest–an Ainu Memoir.”

“Shamu (the Ainu word for Japanese) don’t understand my Japanese,” Kayano says, sitting in his corner Diet office. “They buy 50,000 or 60,000 of each of my books, but nothing happens. They don’t understand.”

Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone once said he was glad Japan was a homogeneous nation, because it was the blacks and the hispanics that pulled literacy levels down in the United States. As is the case with most Japanese, he ignored two other races — the Ainu on Hokkaido and the Okinawans of the Ryukyu islands.


Working as a day laborer, Kayano watched his native culture gradually slide toward oblivion.

“I started going to Noboribetsu to work in the tourist traps,” he explains. “We performed the bear-sending ceremony three times a day. In real life, it was done once in five or ten years.”

At the ripe old age of 29, Kayano was astounded at the tourists’ naive questions:

“My, your Japanese is very good. Where did you learn how to speak that well?”

“Can you eat Japanese food?”

“You wear the same kind of clothes as a Japanese.”

“Do you pay taxes?”

That’s when he decided the Ainu language and culture needed saving. Since then, he hasn’t deviated from that goal in the slightest.


A total of 3,000 copies [of “The Ainu and the Fox”] will be sold in Japan, North America, Australia, Britain and South Korea. Further details are available by calling its publisher, the Tokyo-based R.I.C. Publications, at (03) 3788-9201.

That’s not too terribly many, is it? Maybe I can get my hands on the Japanese edition :>