Department or Program

Asian Studies


The Ainu are an indigenous people who historically inhabited the north of the Japanese archipelago and have the legacy of a culture and completely oral language distinct from their mainland Japanese neighbors. Since the Ainu had no written language, most documentary sources for the premodern period are Japanese. Historians are therefore reduced to viewing Ainu history largely through the eyes of often mistaken and prejudicial Japanese accounts and overlook mutable oral traditions as sources for historical analysis. I claim that the preserved body of Ainu oral narratives, when used with other archeological and recorded historical data, can serve as equally illuminating historical sources, which represent how Ainu viewed their changing circumstances. Unlike the written texts and myths of many cultures which are fixed in time, Ainu narratives have an adaptive quality as a direct result of being from a solely oral tradition. That means that the content of the stories altered as the social, political, and environmental situation surrounding the audience changed. In particular, I demonstrate that Ainu oral traditions of famine mirror and in some cases even clarify historical change in food practices and the nature of Ainu-Japanese trade relations during the Edo Period (1603-1868). I show the persistence over time of basic Ainu concepts regarding the spiritual cosmology of food in the more traditional, metered kamui yukar narratives and then compare it to the changed social, political, and environmental situation depicted in the more modern, unmetered uwepekere genre.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Strong, Sarah

Date of Graduation

Spring 5-2014

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

Number of Pages


Components of Thesis

1 pdf file

Open Access

Available to all.