Photo/IllutrationClad in a traditional outfit, Yuji Shimizu, second from left, a leader of an Ainu group, speaks at a news conference on a bill recognizing the Ainu as indigenous people at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on March 1. (Fumiko Yoshigaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Leaders of Ainu groups from Hokkaido blasted a landmark bill recognizing the Ainu as indigenous people for the first time and banning discrimination against them for ignoring aboriginal rights and making them into a tourist draw.

“There are no clauses in the bill that guarantee (Ainu's) aboriginal rights, such as the right of self-determination and land rights,” Yuji Shimizu, president of Kotan no Kai (Kotan association), said during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on March 1. “The bill intends to use the Ainu people as a tourism resource, and we demand that the legislation be immediately retracted.”

Other participants at the news conference included Satoshi Hatakeyama, chief of the Monbetsu Ainu Kyokai (Monbetsu Ainu association), and Morihiro Ichikawa, a lawyer involved in the demand for returning Ainu remains that were collected by universities for research.

The bill is scheduled to be debated in the current Diet session after it received Cabinet approval last month.

The bill will recognize the Ainu as indigenous people, outlaw discrimination against them and offer subsidies and preferential measures to preserve their culture and pass on their traditions for posterity.

Although some Ainu hailed the legislation as “a step forward,” Shimizu and others denounced it as incomplete due to a lack of aboriginal rights.

The bill comes after more than a century of discrimination and poverty among the Ainu and fears that their cultural traditions were being erased.

Their native Hokkaido was effectively taken over by the Japanese government after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The government has never recognized the Ainu as indigenous. A law established in 1899 that rejected Ainu culture and called for steps to assimilate the people into the mainstream of society was not abolished until 1997.