There are a lot of reasons why you should visit Hokkaido. One of them is to learn more about the Ainu. If you’re interested in Ainu culture, you should definitely check out one of the Ainu museums in Hokkaido.
Today I want to introduce the Ainu Museum of Shiraoi which is considered one of the best museums about Ainu in Japan.
How To Get There
The fastest and most convenient way to get to Shiraoi from Sapporo is by train.
From the station it takes about 15 mins to walk to the Ainu Museum which is also known as “Porotokotan” (ポロトコタン).
The name derives from the nearby Lake Poroto. It’s actually right next to the Ainu village.
Porotokan – The Ainu Museum of Shiraoi
At the entrance a huge Ainu statue will welcome you.
For those of you who’ve never ever heard of “Ainu“, they are indigenous people of northern Japan. The remaining descendants live mainly in Hokkaido. Ainu means “human” in the native Ainu language.
As you can see it’s an open-air museum featuring traditional thatched houses.
There’s also a bear statue as Hokkaido is considered “the land of the bear”.
Dried salmon hang outside of the houses. There were even some dogs.
The Shiraoi Ainu Museum (アイヌ民族博物館, Ainu Minzoku Hakubutsukan) is probably one of the best places to learn about Ainu culture in Japan.
It is a replica village but the houses are the real deal.
Inside you can either see how Ainu people used to live or take part in workshops. You can also observe Ainu people while they’re making instruments, clothes and other typical Ainu crafts.
In each of the houses there’s something else to discover, so make sure not to miss anything.
As it’s very cold in winter in Hokkaido, all of the houses have a fireplace.
Ainu women have tattoos on their face and hands. They’ll receive them around the age of 12-13.
The museum also displays some old photos showing Ainu people’s everyday life.
I don’t know if you can see it well on the photo above, but all buildings had proper signs with explanations in Japanese AND English.
Traditional Ainu Performances
In one of the houses you’ll be able to observe traditional Ainu performances.
From 9:15 to 16:15 there’s a performance each hour which will take about 25 minutes.
One of the dances has been registered as UNESCO intangible cultural property in 2009.
This video shows one of the dance performances. Quite impressive. You shouldn’t miss it when you’re there.
There’s also an indoor museum where you can learn a lot about Ainu culture and history.
There are detailed explanations in English as well.
These “mannequins” help visitors to imagine the everyday life of the Ainu people.
Traditional jewelry and craft.
Typical Ainu fashion.
Even if you’re not particularly interested in Ainu, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the museum.
There’s a lot to learn and it’s a great side trip from Sapporo or Noboribetsu.