10,000 Years of HistoryHomage to the Rich History of Eastern Hokkaido
The Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples is located in the city of Abashiri along the coast of the Okhotsk Sea.
This is one of the few folk museums in the world, and the only one in Japan, that specializes in the study and exhibit of the culture and history of the Northern Peoples.
Here, visitors can learn about the existence of the Northern Peoples, who first came to Hokkaido following drift ice from the downstream section of the Amur River,
and why they later suddenly disappeared.
The Okhotsk and Ainu Cultures
The Okhotsk people, an ancient people of the North, formed the Okhotsk culture unique to Hokkaido from the 5th to 9th centuries. They lived as hunters who caught and ate fish from the sea, and at times caught sea creatures that drifted here along with the sea ice, as the natural bounty found in the Okhotsk Sea was indeed a heavenly blessing. Their expansive living and cultural territory is evidenced by the pit dwelling ruins excavated along the coast of the Okhotsk Sea. They left behind fascinating carvings and earthenware, while evidence suggests that they shared a common belief system with the Ainu culture such as the spiritual worship of the natural world and respect for bears as a sacred animal.
Soon after the sudden disappearance of the Okhotsk culture, the Satsumon culture followed, and later the Ainu culture formed around the 13th century. The formation of Ainu culture, known for its eco friendly lifestyle where people are always thankful to nature and do not take more than they need, the Ainu pattern, and the ritual of iyomante (bear sacrifice and memorial) in many ways were influenced by the previous Okhotsk culture.
Before the migration of the Okhotsk people, the eastern part of Hokkaido was occupied by the Jomon people around 10,000 years ago. The word Jomon, which describes the culture, was coined from the rope-shaped patterns found on earthenware excavated from the time. As with the others, the Jomon people were hunters and gatherers. While most people living on the main island of Japan practiced rice farming, the Jomon people did not partake in rice farming partly because of the region’s cold climate and because rice was not needed since there was simply an abundance of natural food resources. Rather than conquer nature, the Northern Peoples lived together in harmony with nature. There exist perhaps no other stories more legendary and endearing that that of the people who have made Hokkaido their home over the countless generations to today.