The Ainu are originally from Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido and Sakhalin, now part of Russia. They were officially recognized as anindigenous peoples of Japan in 2008, after a history of both exclusion and assimilation that almost effaced their society, language and culture.
Ainu Nenoan Ainu (meaning ‘humanlike human’) is a journey of exploration of native identity in contemporary Japan. The project reflects upon what it means to be an Ainu in everyday life practices; it addresses the sense of belonging within a community in the double process of both preserving and reinventing their own culture, in the aftermath of a prolonged forced Japanization. Today several individuals and groups across Japan are involved in the preservation and revitalization of Ainu culture, in recovering their own language, and reclaiming their rights. Through this process, which has never halted, the Ainu legacy continues to shape villages and communities across Japan, in Hokkaido and beyond.
The portraits of the series were mainly taken in Nibutani, a small Hokkaido village where he population of Ainu descent is over 70%. Every portrait reflects a personal and collective story: stories of activists, artists, and above all ordinary people. Most people portrayed are ethnic Ainu, although others ‘became Ainu’ not by bloodline, but by adoption into the community, and by actively participating in their adopted culture. Each person portrayed chose what to wear and the location where they preferred to be photographed. Some chose to wear their everyday clothes, others chose the Ainu traditional attire used for ceremonies, a few preferred to wear costumes or uniforms used for other occasions. The chosen locations are mostly homes and their immediate surroundings, or places that are meaningful for the local Ainu culture.