Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Japan Holiday Tour - Ainu Village

Our Hokkaido tour (of my wife and I) led us to the Ainu Village one fine afternoon. The Ainu people were the aboriginals of Japan though an internet finding by me indicated that they obtained their indigenous people status officially only in 1998. I also learnt that the Ainu people were quite conscious of their status as it was deemed not to be as noble as the other tribes of Japan. The Ainu person on Hokkaido would have escaped modernization if not for the Meiji restoration, which saw Hokkaido opened up for development.

History aside, our visit to Ainu Village was to come up, close and personal with the Ainu people though I also came beyond comfort level with somebody there, read on to find out more!

When our tour group descended on Ainu Village, we were awed and intrigued by the gigantic boulder statue of an Ainu man as well as of other strange but interesting structures. We saw 3 to 4 Japanese dressed in Ainu costumes beckoning to our group, and we followed them into a hut for a presentation.

As the presentation commenced, a young lady dressed in Ainu costume popped out and gave us an introduction of what was to follow in Japanese language, translated to us in Mandarin by our local guide. We were taken on a 20 min cultural ride as tribal dances, tribal singing (solo and individual), musical performance and more lectures of the Ainu culture soon ensued. I was invited on stage to sing and dance along with the Ainu people and I went on stage gamely and belted out many of our ethnic songs which amazed the Ainu people!

Sorry, I did not do that and this stint of mine did not materialize! It was just my wishful thinking to be a Japanese (Ainu) idol! I read somewhere before when Singaporeans are invited to sing before a group when they are holidaying overseas, guess what song they sing? The song is “Majulah Singapura” (Singapore’s National Anthem)! Patriotic sia!

The most poignant learning point of the presentation is something disgusting for me (till now). Do not get me wrong at this juncture, I am not belittling the Ainu culture but there was something that could be improved in the Ainu traditional treatment of their women (in the past).

At one instance during the parting shot of the presentation, the male Ainu lecturer brought up a framed colourful watercolor drawing of a man who looked like a highly metrosexual man in this modern era. I almost fell flat on my chair when we were told that this was a picture of the traditional Ainu woman.

“Why are there so many watercolor marks above her mouth, making her look like a man with a beard?” I exclaimed. My query was put to ease or rather should I use the word (unease) when the lecturer continued to explain that it was customary for the Ainu tribe to tattoo its women! (oh, must be painful to these women, I thought). The lecturer then added “These tattoos were normally done on the face of the Ainu ladies, mainly on the flesh above their lips over a period of some years, beginning from the time they hit puberty. It is a painful process, done painstakingly over these years for them to look pretty and attractive to suitors.”

“Bring in the Women’s Charter Act of Singapore to historic Ainu tribes and Save all the sufferings of these poor ladies” I declared, deep in my heart.

“How dare you try to change our culture which has stood the annals and test of time!”, unknowingly to me, the Ainu ancestors must have sensed my thought above (i.e in the Heavens) and decided to punish me, right here in Ainu village, their ‘territory’! What soon unfolded was an encounter which I got beyond my comfort zone with “somebody” as my Dear and I exited the hut after the presentation to continue to take some more photos of the scenic landscape of the Ainu Village. It was such a shocking experience for me!

After the wonderful performance and presentations of the Ainu culture, our tour group were left to tour the Ainu village on our own. The Ainu village comprising of several huts, overlooks a sea. Inside the huts were Ainu women sewing clothes and doing some housecraft.

Till now, I am not sure whether these are true-blue Ainu natives, actors and actresses or Ainu people who work to showcase their culture to the world? If you know the answer, please post a comment to this post. Thanks!

On seeing my Dear and I, the Ainu people were friendly and requested us to remove our shoes prior to entering their huts. With time spent on the Ainu village being a premium, my Dear and I kindly rejected the offer and went exploring on our own in the village.

There was a plenitude of interesting sights and structure to behold and my Dear and I were busy taking photos of us and the idyllic scenary. The afternoons in Hokkaido are very hot with the strong UV threatening to tear our skin but nights are very cold. If you come to Hokkaido in winter, the whole island is decked out in thick snow amidst chilling temperatures, ready to embrace you!

Traveling in a tour group offers many advantages that traveling without one affords. Besides more security with a larger group, having most of your meals catered and I must mention another thing which is there are always people around to help you and your loved ones take photos! Our local guide and tour leader ‘moonlighted’ as photographers for the group during the entire holidays though they were not paid for that stint. Anyway we paid 700 yen to the local tour guide per day (with a fraction going to the driver), he should do something extra for us beside bringing us around and explaining, right!

My wife and I homed in on a grass patch besides the sea, taking photos busily, as we went through some branches under a big tree that was when the definitive moment arrived!

I finally encountered ‘something ‘as I walked under a branch……………..spider webs! Lots of them plastered neatly onto my hair and body before I knew it! It was a real unpleasant moment as I struggled to free myself from the cobwebs on my hair. Seeing my frantic attempts, my wife helped me to remove these sticky fabrics or linen (if I got these terms correctly) from my scalp. It was no easy feat removing them, the linen were super sticky and some of my hairs have to be ‘sacrificed’ for the ordeal and I was very sad of course, as I have already so little hairs on my scalp, now still have to give some to spiders, haiz….

It seems that it is not enough for my wife and I to enjoy the food, the nature, the sights and bears, now we also experienced the insects of Hokkaido. Just a few days ago, a large grasshopper-looking Japanese insect was found hibernating among my wife’s hair and the day after, my hair was assailed by spider webs!

For readers who love thrills, sorry I did not encounter the Ainu gods, though I did not know whether it was my comeuppance to come up, close and personal with the spider webs , who knows how long these webs have been in existence? Hundreds of years? Wow I am being assailed by hundred years old spiders, if that is the case.

Coming up …………..while Singaporeans heaved a sign of relief now that Mas Selamat has been captured and imprisoned in Johor Bahru prison, meet Hokkaido’s Mas Selamat in my next post!