Photo/IllutrationAinu people perform a traditional dance in Shiraoi, Hokkaido, on March 2. (Yoshinori Toyomane)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Indigenous Ainu people are requesting representation at the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to showcase their traditional dances and culture that were nearly erased by decades of discrimination and forced assimilation.

About three years ago, a group led by the Ainu Association of Hokkaido started discussing ways to present Ainu culture at the sports extravaganza.

Ainu mainly live in the northern part of the Japanese archipelago, especially Hokkaido, and have a unique language and distinct religious and cultural traditions.

However, Ainu dances differ depending on the region, and it is difficult to bring dancers to one place. So representatives who provide instructions in about 30 areas now gather in Hokkaido once a month to practice a special dance for the Opening Ceremony.

“The Ainu’s spirit is to call for peace in the world, which matches the philosophy of the Olympics and Paralympics,” said Hideo Akibe, 57, director of the Ainu dance practices.

Akibe sent a letter to Mansai Nomura, an actor in the traditional Kyogen theater, who was named chief executive creative director of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, requesting Ainu performances at the Opening Ceremony.

At a meeting of the Council for Ainu Policy Promotion held at the prime minister’s office in December, Hokkaido Governor Harumi Takahashi and others requested an opportunity for “Ainu people to perform at the 2020 Tokyo Games.”

In response, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will seriously consider “making Ainu people’s wishes to disseminate their culture (at the Tokyo Olympics) come true.”

The Japanese government effectively took over Hokkaido after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, leading to discrimination against Ainu people.

A bill now before the Diet would recognize Ainu as indigenous people for the first time, ban discrimination against them and offer subsidies and measures to promote their culture and traditions.

In previous Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Vancouver and other cities, indigenous people of the host countries performed at the opening ceremonies.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games said it has received requests from groups across the country to perform regional dances and showcase their cultures at the Opening Ceremony.

However, the contents of opening ceremonies are usually not revealed until just before the events.