The Ainu people are an indigenous people with their own rich cultural heritage living in the central part of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Although there are various places around Hokkaido where you can be introduced to the life, history, and culture of the Ainu people, there is conveniently located facility in Sapporo that you can easily visit.
Here we will introduce the Sapporo Ainu Culture Promotion Center Pirka Kotan facility where you can learn more while experiencing that culture firsthand.
The Ainu, an indigenous people of Hokkaido, have long lived in harmony with nature
The facility is in Koganeyu, Minami-ku, which is located about a 40-minute drive outside of Sapporo City. The upper waters of the Toyohira River which flows through the center of Sapporo are rich in natural beauty. There are hot springs in Koganeyu and if you drive another 10 minutes farther you will come to the Jozankei area which is also called Sapporo’s Annex.
Exhibitions of Ainu culture you can enjoy firsthand
There are two exhibition areas inside the facility: the History Village, where the chise (houses) in which the Ainu lived and the pu (food) have been recreated, and the Natural Village that recreates the iyutapu (tools for milling rice) and ponds. In addition, there is a modern building with shafts of green concrete which contains the main exhibitions.
A wide array of more than 300 items of traditional clothing and folk craft
The first thing you notice when you enter the building is a large tree-like monument. You then go along a gallery corridor that gently slopes down to the exhibition room downstairs. The undulating walls are symbolic of a flowing river which was a place of importance to the Ainu. Show windows in the wall display new and old Ainu cultural artifacts.
Finally you come to the main exhibition room. There is an admission fee (200 yen for the general public). The more than 300 items displayed are tastefully arranged and lighted. The names of the exhibits are written in English, with traditional clothes and folk tools restored and produced mainly by the members of the Sapporo Ainu Association. Unlike in museums, here you are allowed to touch many of the displays.
For example, a mantle made from deer hide the Ainu wore to fend off the cold of winter.
Here, too, are shoes made from salmon skin. The fins of salmon were used to prevent slipping in the heavy snow that Hokkaido gets in winter. Feeling the texture and weight of each of these items you can better imagine what life may have been like for the Ainu.
Learn more about Ainu culture through videos and games
One of the things that has attracted much attention in Ainu culture is the unique Ainu patterns that can be seen in traditional clothes and the like. Patterns employing curved lines and swirls each have unique meanings.
There is a corner in the exhibition room where you can fill in pictures of these Ainu patterns. You can also freely play with the grape-vine ring toss.
Also in the building is an exchange hall equipped with a stage, a library with books about the Ainu, an information corner where you can watch videos, and a kitchen as well as other areas where various events are held.
One is also reminded about the beginning of Hokkaido
Outside there is a 15-meter long sea-going boat. From the end of the Edo period and into the Meiji period this land to the north called Ezo was explored and later named Hokkaido by Takeshiro Matsuura who traveled the Teshio River basin using an Ainu-made wooden boat. (Reference: Nayoro City “Public Information No. 150.”)
The land is resplendent with lush, green mountains and the sound of rivers flowing nearby were a part of the lives of the Ainu who held nature in great esteem and you can experience all this, too, at the Sapporo AINU Culture Promotion Center "Sapporo Pirka Kotan". One can get a feel of how important such things were to the Ainu while also enjoying the scenery of the four seasons.
Text by: minna no kotoba sha
Sapporo Pirka Kotan札幌市アイヌ文化交流センター・サッポロピリカコタン
- Address 〒061-2274 札幌市南区小金湯27 / Koganeyu 27, Minami-ku, Sapporo 〒061-2274
Access: About 60 minutes by bus from Sapporo Station going to Jozankei Onsen; about 38 minutes by bus from the Namboku Subway Makomanai Station going to Jozankei Hot Springs; in both cases get off at the Koganeyu bus stop from which it is about a 6-minute walk.
- Phone Number 011-596-5961
Hours: 8:45 a.m. ~ 10:00 p.m. (exhibition rooms and outdoor facilities (9:00 a.m. ~ 5:00 p.m.)
Fee: Admission free, 200 yen admission fee to the exhibition room for adults, 100 yen for high school students, and no charge for junior high school students and younger
Closed: Mondays, national holidays, and last Tuesday of the month; 12/29 ~ 1/3
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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