Fashion Magazine

AC Mood Board: Ainu Aesthetics

By Attireclub @attireclub

The Ainu people are considered to be the indigenous population of Japan. The Ainu arrived in Japan around 14,000 years ago, which is 10,000 years before the Japanese. Today, there live only between 20,000 to 60,000 people who identify as Ainu. Most of them live on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. Originally, the Ainu culture stretched up to the southern part of the Sakhalin Island and the Kurile Islands, which today are a part of Russia.

AC Mood Board: Ainu Aesthetics

Ainu woman, early 20th century, Hokkaido, Japan

The Ainu of the past engaged in a hunting-gathering lifestyle. Men used to hunt both land and sea mammals as well as other animals and used simple fishing techniques to catch fish from the sea and from rivers. Women used to gather root crops, but also medicinal plants.

Just like in most original cultures, while art was present everywhere in their lives, the Ainu did not see it as a separate sphere of their activity: aesthetics always went hand in hand with the practical. Men were skilled carvers and women worked with weaving and embroidery. The Ainu also have a strong oral tradition. Both the Sakhalin and Hokkaido Ainu were interested in long epics, which some scholars today compare to the classic Greek works.

AC Mood Board: Ainu Aesthetics

An Ainu man with ikupasuy (prayer stick) at the Festival of the Ainus, 1901. Photo: Dean Bashford

Both for the Sakhalin and the Hokkaido Ainu, the supreme deity is the bear. As part of their rituals, they would catch a bear cub, which they would nurture before sending its soul back to the mountains in a sophisticated “bear ceremony”. This ceremony was both a religious ritual, which expressed the respect of the Ainu for the bear, represented by the eating of the bear, but it was also a political occasion during which the leader of the community would display his power and wealth.

AC Mood Board: Ainu Aesthetics

Ainu facial tattoo and a magical design motifs on clothing

The Ainu were quite isolated from the world until 1867, when Japan opened to the world and Western scholars discovered the Ainu culture. These anthropologists were fascinated not only with the way of life of the Ainu, but also with their visual aspect and practices. To them, the Ainu were closer to Caucasians than to the Japanese feature-wise. However, recent DNA tests have shown that the Ainu don’t have a Caucasian ancestry, but rather a kinship with Tibetan populations and the people from the Andaman Islands of India. Researchers were also drawn to their facial tattooing and the heavy body hair, as well as to the general lifestyle of the Ainu, which was very connected to nature.

AC Mood Board: Ainu Aesthetics

Ainu Men. Circa 1890s

There are many visual depictions of the Ainu, most from the 18th and 19th century, but there are also numerous photographs and films of the Ainu and their aesthetics.

AC Mood Board: Ainu Aesthetics

Kawakami Tribal Chief

There are many people today all around the world and especially in the West who are not familiar with the Ainu and their aesthetics. We find them to be a great source of inspiration in several ways. For example, you can either get inspiration from the colors and the prints used in these images, but you can also gain sartorial perspective when discovering a world from the outside.

Today, the Ainu continue to develop their culture and aesthetic and intertwine it with modern sounds and sights.

Fraquoh and Franchomme

P.S We want to hear from you! What do you like best about the Ainu? Which aspect of their culture inspires you most? How do you relate them? Share your feedback, questions or thoughts in the comments below! For more articles on style, fashion tips and cultural insights, you can subscribe to Attire Club via e-mail or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!

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