Hello everyone! Irankarapte!
This is how the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, greet people!
Today we would like to talk a little bit about the language of the Ainu.
It is said that the Ainu do not have a written language and therefore there are very few people alive today that can speak the language. Although there are people researching the language, it is said to be quite challenging.
It is often said that many Japanese find it hard to read the names of places in Hokkaido and that is because around 80 percent of the names come from the Ainu language. They have been given names in Japanese Kanji but the readings are completely different to how the Kanjis are meant to be read!
The Ainu often lived by the rivers and therefore the place names often carry the meaning of rivers and swamps etc. The name for Sapporo in the Ainu language is read as Sari Poro Petsu which means dry, big and river. It is said the Ainu naming of Sapporo is based off of the big river flowing through the city, Toyohira River.
Ainu means ‘human being’. Recently there has been a very popular brand of Hokkaido rice on the market called ‘Yume Pirika’, which means good and beautiful in Ainu. Going back to the start of this blog the Ainu use the word ‘irankarapte’ to greet people, it roughly translates to ‘I humbly receive the favor of you letting me softly touch your heart’.
The Japanese word for otter is ‘rakko’ which also comes from the Ainu language.
The traditional dance of the Ainu was inscribed on UNESCO’s ‘Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Heritage’ in 2009 and you can see the dance being performed live at the Lake Akan Ainu Village. There is also an Ainu museum of culture located in Biratori, a two and a half hour drive from Sapporo City, and a museum will also be opening in Shiraoi in April 2020. If you have time to spare please go and experience hands on the Ainu exhibits on display!