October 18, 2020

A Closer Look at a Sign in Upopoy

A Closer Look at a Sign in Upopoy

In December 2019, around 1,300 Ainu human remains were reported to be transferred to the Upopoy Memorial Site from 12 Japanese universities in accordance with the post-UNDRIP Ainu policy, despite dissenting voices from some Ainu organisations and citizens' groups. On 8 October, nearly three months after the opening of the Upopoy, a sign was finally erected by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, which has jurisdiction over the facilities of the Upopoy, in front of the Memorial Site.

The English sign recently erected in front of the Memorial Site in Upopoy

The sign distorts historical and ongoing injustices imposed against the Ainu concerning Ainu human remains. For example, in its first two paragraphs, it states that anthropologists studied these remains, and in some instances collected them against the wishes of the Ainu. Documents, however, show that university professors, including Koganei Yoshikiyo (1859-1944) at Tokyo University, Seino Kenji (1885-1955) at Kyoto University and Kodama Sakuzaemon (1895-1970) at Hokkaido University, secretly excavated Ainu graveyards to rob Ainu human remains for eugenics research that aimed to justify racism and colonialism. Thus, Upopoy presents an inaccurate history of colonial research on Ainu human remains to its visitors.

Kimura Ekasi, one of the leaders in the Ainu repatriation movement, said to me that he was not allowed to see the inside of the Memorial Site by the authorities concerned. The Memorial Site is like a concrete jail for unjustly-collected Ainu human remains, though the Japanese government has glossed over its establishment, he added. Upopoy should immediately correct the sign based on the facts of history and show the Ainu people how many Ainu human remains it holds and how it manages them. Furthermore, the Japanese government as well as 12 universities should make an official apology to the Ainu people for their colonial research activities, and spare no effort to return as many Ainu human remains as possible to their original places in cooperation with Ainu communities concerned.