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Experience Ainu Culture at Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park

Experience Ainu Culture at Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park

Date published: 6 January 2020
Last updated: 26 March 2021

The National Ainu Museum and Park Upopoy is the focal point for the reconstruction and development of Ainu culture. It opened on July 12, 2020. Located in Shiraoi-cho, the area borders the Pacific Ocean and is about a 40-minute drive from the New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido. It is a place where nature remains in abundance, blessed by the bounties of the sea and mountains.

It is also known for its historical Ainu heritage and the efforts that have gone into conveying the customs and techniques of the Ainu people whose traditions are an important part of Hokkaido.

Table of Contents
  1. Upopoy is the first national museum in northern Japan!
  2. National Ainu Museum: A journey into the verdant world of the Ainu
  3. Experience Ainu culture through interactive programs

* Images provided by Agency for Cultural Affairs

Upopoy is the first national museum in northern Japan!

Upopoy is the first national museum in northern Japan!
* Artist rendition *Provided by the Agency for Cultural Affairs

Shiraoi-cho is a tourist spot in a rich natural setting by the sea, forests, rivers, and lakes. Besides the excellent hot spring, there is also a wide variety of seafood dishes, such as cod roe, and also Shiraoi beef.

It is also famous throughout Hokkaido for its efforts to transmit Ainu culture.

From its start in July 2020, it has created a new base for Ainu cultural traditions as the National Ainu Museum and Park Upopoy in the area of Lake Poroto.

Adjacent to the dark green forest of Poroto, this is a national museum and park on the site of about 10 hectares, where it is possible to experience Ainu culture and traditions.

* Artist rendition *Provided by the Agency for Cultural Affairs

One of Upopoy's main facilities is the National Ainu Museum, the first national museum in northern Japan.

Once inside the hall, you will first be shown video materials which will give you a basic knowledge that will better enable you to more fully understand the exhibitions on display.

The images regarding the culture and history of the Ainu to be shown on the large screen is of high quality and spectacular. This is an introduction that everyone will find easy to understand and is designed to raise interest in the daily life and history of the Ainu.

* Provided by Agency for Cultural Affairs

With increased anticipation, visitors will move on to the exhibition room which could be called the center of the museum.

Here, a variety of exhibitions will be held to provide factual knowledge and a deeper understanding of the culture and history of the Ainu, an indigenous people of Hokkaido.

The exhibition room is broadly divided into six themes: "language"; "history"; the spiritual "world", encompassing faith and customs; "work"; "life"; and "interactions" with other ethnic groups.

In addition to displaying the implements related to each theme, audio and video are also used to explain them from various angles to further deepen understanding of the Ainu people.

The panel commentaries are also in English and there are also be exploratory displays where, using an experience kit, visitors can fully experience them. These will introduce the world of the Ainu to everyone regardless of age or nationality.

National Ainu Museum: A journey into the verdant world of the Ainu

The National Ainu Museum and Park is an open-air museum where you can experience what you see and learn at the museum.

An Ainu settlement (Kotan) is reproduced on the shore of Lake Poroto surrounded by the Poroto forest and here you can experience their traditional life.

In the inside of the house called, Chise, there is an open hearth and tools used in their daily life and visitors can feel as though they are in an Ainu home. One can also feel how the Ainu people have respected and coexisted with nature.

* Provided by (public foundation) The Foundation for Ainu Culture

In the Interactive Gallery, visitors can enjoy traditional Ainu dances and mukkuri (a kind of mouth harp) performances.

Ainu traditional dance is one of high cultural value and is also registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Seeing the dancers dressed in Ainu-embroidered costumes dance while singing a unique melody is both powerful and mystical.

Being able to see this in a Kotan in the midst of a verdant natural setting by a lake is certain to evoke a sublime mood.

* Artist rendition *Provided by (public foundation) The Foundation for Ainu Culture

The park with its broad, green lawns is a relaxing place to spend time leisurely while feeling the beauty of nature. This is a good place to reflect on the life of the Ainu people while lazily admiring the views of the lush, green Poroto forest adjacent to the park and the rich waters of Lake Poroto. 

This is a place where you can unhurriedly experience the tranquil natural beauty of Hokkaido that produced the Ainu culture. There are restaurants and shops selling Ainu crafts in the area, so visitors can enjoy a full day both indoors and outdoors.

Experience Ainu culture through interactive programs

Experience Ainu culture through interactive programs
* This is just an artist’s rendition *Provided by (public foundation) The Foundation for Ainu Culture

A unique feature of Upopoy is the Interactive Gallery in the park that offers a variety of interactive programs for experiencing the rich Ainu culture.

In the food program, you can eat traditional Ainu dishes. Salmon was an important staple of their diets and by sampling dishes in which it is featured, you can better gain a deeper understanding of their lifestyle and culture. You can also try your hand at Ainu cooking.

* Artist rendition *Provided by the Agency for Cultural Affairs

There are many interactive programs offered: one in which you can actually hear traditional Ainu musical instruments, such as the mukkuri and tonkori that were used for dance performances; experience games that Ainu children played; and try your hand at Ainu embroidery and wood carving.

All of these are designed to help visitors gain a deeper insight into the hearts and minds of the Ainu people which cannot be gained through exhibitions alone.

A memorial facility is established on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the eastern side of Lake Poroto in order to pay tribute to the spirits held in esteem by the Ainu people.

The memorial facility is a symbolic place where the remains of Ainu people now preserved in universities throughout the country can be gathered in one place with the understanding and cooperation of the people concerned and is properly managed until the memorial for honoring the spirits of the Ainu people can be realized and a system for receiving the Ainu people can be properly managed.

In addition to the areas where you can interact with the Ainu culture, there is an open-air museum, a combined park and museum, where Ainu culture spanning several generations can also be experienced.

Also, you can learn about Ainu traditions and lifestyles that are widely dispersed in the Yokosuto Wetlands, along the coast, and in the Shiraoi Port area. Everyone is invited to come and gain a deeper understanding of the indigenous Ainu and experience the charms of Hokkaido.

Text by:minna no kotoba sha

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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