Museums in Australia are expected to become the first facilities outside Japan to repatriate the remains of Ainu people to their Hokkaido homeland.
Visiting the office of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido here, Australian Ambassador Richard Court said on June 8 the two museums are happy to return the Ainu bones that have been kept in their collections to Japan.
Court handed a document about the skeletal remains in Australia, including the names of the museums, to Kazushi Abe, vice executive director of the association.
Australian Ambassador to Japan Richard Court, left, shakes hands with Kazushi Abe, vice executive director of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, in Sapporo on June 8 after handing over a document about Ainu remains in Australia. (Fumiko Yoshigaki)
“Basically, the museums in Australia have agreed to the return of the Ainu remains,” said Court. “The Ainu association is now to formally request their return. We really welcome this positive outcome.”
Abe expressed the association's request to return the remains.
“We will work on this project carefully to leave no grievances by gaining consent from the parties involved and considering historic and current circumstances,” he said.
Ainu people are indigenous to the northernmost parts of Japan, particularly Hokkaido. A large number of Ainu remains were exhumed mostly for anthropological reasons. Many were kept by Japanese scholars, but some were exported.
It is largely believed that they were collected without consent from their families, and Ainu descendants have been pushing the government and universities for their return and to give them proper burials.
No repatriation from overseas has been realized, and hopes are running high among Ainu and other parties involved for a historic milestone expected with Australia.
A number of Ainu remains were shipped to Australia between 1911 and 1936. The existence of three sets at two museums in the country had been confirmed to date.
Negotiations for the return between related parties are expected to start.
Before the visit to the Ainu association, Court met with Hokkaido Governor Harumi Takahashi in her office here on the same day.
Takahashi said to Court: “Return of the remains is a matter of human rights. I hope it goes smoothly.”
According to the Cabinet Secretariat’s Comprehensive Ainu Policy Office, Ainu remains were exhumed mostly as specimens for research, and other than Australia, they are known to be in collections at institutes in Britain, the United States, Germany and elsewhere.
“The repatriation process with Australia will be important in making guidelines for further returns from overseas,” said Hirofumi Kato, professor of archeology at the Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies at Hokkaido University.