"To Absent Us from Humanity:" Ainu and Population Counts under Russian and Japanese Administration
Hudson, Chelsea Clare
The historical homelands of Ainu, one of the Indigenous peoples of the Sea of Okhotsk region, are split between Russian and Japanese administration. Over the past two centuries, Russo- Japanese competition surrounding the islands we now call Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kuril archipelago has had profound effects on Ainu populations, as the repeated redrawing of their territorial borders and revision of their legal status has uprooted entire communities. Today, Ainu descendants across the world may number in the hundreds of thousands, but the only state entity that tracks Ainu populations is the government of Hokkaido prefecture. The central Japanese government does not include an ethnicity category in its national census; the Russian government does not formally recognize the existence of Ainu at all.I argue that population counts played an instrumental role in Ainu administration under Japan, Russia, and the Soviet Union between the beginning of Russo-Japanese territorial tensions in the early 1800s and the aftermath of the Asia-Pacific War in the late 1940s. On a broad scale, Japanese officials relied on population surveys to reinforce the idea that Ainu would vanish as a people via their assimilation into the Japanese nation, their home islands transformed into extensions of the Japanese archipelago. Conversely, Russian officials’ conviction that Ainu were too closely aligned with Japan led to their marginalization in Russian censuses, culminating in their exclusion from the list of minorities of the Soviet Union in the 1930s.In determining the parameters of the census, state officials developed restrictive definitions of Ainu identity based on cultural stereotypes, inaccurate paper records, and even physical appearance that persisted well into the twentieth century. These preconceptions of who could and could not be counted as “Ainu” were at odds with the reality of Ainu lives, as Ainu communities living across the unstable Russo-Japanese border developed complex, overlapping senses of self and nationality that defied simple categorization. The long history winding toward their exclusion from the census in Russia and Japan mirrors the experiences of many Indigenous peoples who, much like Ainu, found themselves declared “dying races” even as they navigated their survival under colonial administration.
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