What are Ainu Indigenous rights? How are they discussed in Japan and internationally?

Dr. Uzawa shares her personal experiences, “throughout my participation at the UN meetings and other international forums, I came to realize the general lack of Ainu participation and voice, especially the youth. Whose voice is represented in such a forum and by whom? This triggered my curiosity, and I pursued a reason behind it by being actively involved in the Ainu rights movement in Japan and internationally as an undergraduate student. I have been an active member in the Ainu community in Hokkaido and Tokyo since the late 1990s. I am a member of the Association of Rera in Tokyo, an important Ainu cultural organization that revitalizes Ainu culture and disseminates Ainu culture to the public. At that time, I was personally mentored by a group of Japanese law professors in International Law on the mechanisms of the United Nations and the history of the international Indigenous peoples’ movement. This training led me to represent urban Ainu and Ainu youth at the United Nations on several occasions (UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Working Group on Indigenous Populations). In Japan, discussion about Ainu Indigenous rights is generally less discussed than cultural preservation. This can be seen by the content of the past law: the Law for the Promotion of the Ainu Culture and for the Dissemination and Advocacy for the Traditions of the Ainu and the Ainu Culture (the so-called Ainu Cultural Promotion Act) in 1997, and the new Ainu law: A Resolution for Promoting Measures for the Actualization of the Ethnic Pride of the Ainu People in 2019. Here, AinuToday aims to provide current and ongoing discussions concerning Ainu Indigenous rights. At the same time, it also attempts to include information on  wide ranging Ainu cultural revitalization activities, which play an essential role in contributing to the Ainu Indigenous rights discourse.”


Shimin Gaikou Centre, the Citizens’ Diplomatic Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (hereafter the “Centre”), is a human rights non-governmental organization established in 1982 under the United Nations Charter principles on international cooperation, peace, human rights, and democracy. This Tokyo-headquartered organization has a long-term collaboration with Ainu and Ryukyu people, especially concerning United Nations activities. The Centre aims to support the movements to protect and promote Indigenous peoples’ rights and to contribute to the creation of multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies. Its activities cover all of Japan and some parts of East and Southeast Asia. The Centre continuously advocates for, promotes, and enhances the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the “UNDRIP”) in Japan and abroad.

Since its establishment, representatives of the Centre have

  1. Participated in United Nations conferences such as the Human Rights Council, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  2. Organized symposia in collaboration with Ainu and Ryukyu peoples as panelists for non-Indigenous audience to have better understanding of how the UNDRIP applies to Indigenous peoples.
  3. Provided expert comments on Indigenous rights in newspapers and television news programs; and
  4. Discussed the implementation of UNDRIP with Japanese governmental agencies.

As a member of the Japan NGO Network for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Centre strives to implement the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and in particular fights against hate crimes and hate speech to Indigenous peoples in Japan.

The Nibutani Ainu Language class was founded by Shigeru Kayano in 1983 in Nibutani, Hokkaido. Classes run two times a week, Monday and Thursday evening from 18:00 –  19:30. 

They teach the Ainu language through Ainu songs, picture-story shows, Karuta, simple conversation practice, dance practice, etc. The Nibutani Ainu Language class also puts effort into a cultural exchange program with other Indigenous youth such as First Nations in Canada and Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The teaching method is designed in a way that is suitable and enjoyable for children to learn the Ainu language, and uses modern instruments such as guitar. Currently, there are about 20 Nibutani children registered from the second grade of elementary school to the second grade of high school.

Sito Channel is an educational Ainu language channel created by Maya Sekine, a graduate of the Nibutani Ainu Language class in Nibutani, Hokkaido. Maya is the lead narrator on this program and teaches Ainu daily conversation and culture together with her university friends. Sito Channel has been broadcasted on YouTube since 2019. 
  • Lesson 1 – How to introduce oneself in the Ainu language
  • Lesson 2 – At cáfe
  • Lesson 3 – Ainu traditional craft by Maki Sekine (English subtitles)
  • Lesson 4 – How to play Ainu traditional mouth harp Mukkuri
  • Lesson 5 – Kamuy Yukar
  • Lesson 6 – Ainu traditional craft part 2 
  • Lesson 7 – Upopo