Niseko is often touted as one of the best places to visit if you’re in the mood to enjoy the outdoors, but there’s a lot more to this picturesque location. Before it became a popular ski resort town, Niseko was home to the Ainu people – here’s a look at their culture and heritage.
The History of Ainu
The origins of the Ainu people and their culture can be traced back all the way to the 13th century. They were originally a group of hunter-gatherers that relied on Niseko’s abundant natural resources. The Ainu were a strong and hardy people that survived many conflicts with the Yuan Dynasty and several Japanese encroachments.
Ainu language has had a lasting presence in the Hokkaido region. If you’ve been staying at a centrally-located Niseko accommodation option – say, for instance, the Chatrium Niseko Japan – you probably heard a few phrases yourself. In fact, the very word “Niseko” is Ainu and translates to “cliff extending over a river”.
The Ainu people have almost completely disappeared from Japan today with authorities stating the official population number to be as low as 25,000. Most of the remaining Ainu people can be found along the southeastern coast of Hokkaido.
If you’re interested in learning more about Ainu culture, there are plenty of places you can visit in the vicinity of Niseko. Most notably, there’s the Ainu Cultural Centre in Sapporo that’s only 22 miles away!