Ainu and Ryukyu

Ainu coat
Photo: Courtesy of Tokyo National Museum

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The Ainu are Japan’s indigenous people who live in the northern island of Hokkaido. Before Japan took control of Hokkaido in the 1800s, they lived autonomously by hunting, fishing and gathering, while trading with merchants from neighboring civilisations. They had their own rich and distinct culture for centuries, but much of it was marginalised as they came under the rule of the shogunate. The Tokyo National Museum's extensive Ainu collection was acquired from the Bureau for the Vienna World Exposition in 1875 and features ritual items used by the Ainu people, as well as jewelry, rich tapestries and wooden figurines.

The Ryukyu Kingdom was a kingdom in the subtropical islands of Okinawa that was ruled as a tributary state of China from 1429 to 1879. Its culture was strongly influenced by trade, especially with Japan, China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. The museum's diverse Ryukyu collection includes items purchased by the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce from Okinawa prefecture and those donated by private collectors.


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