The Ainu were the indigenous people who inhabited in the northern parts of Japan, mainly the large island which is now Hokkaido, as well as maritime Siberia, the Amur River basin, Sakhalin, Okhotsk, and the Kurile archipelago. In the thirteenth century, the population was estimated as around 40,000. From the fifteenth century, the Japanese started to have contact and trade with the Ainu for the natural resources in their lands and sea. In the late sixteenth century, the control over trade was monopolized by a certain family, which was later legitimized as the Matsumae domain by the Tokugawa state. During the Tokugawa period, the Japanese exploited the Ainu as labourers in fishery, while the Ainu became dependent on the goods of iron, rice and other items traded from Japan as symbols of wealth and power. The tension with Russia gave the place of the Ainu new military importance in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Epidemics of smallpox and syphilis decimated and damaged the population. The Meiji government renamed Ezochi as Hokkaido and transformed the place into an internal colony that would be developed by massive immigrants from the mainland Japan. By the end of the nineteenth century, the population of the Ainu was about 17,000, what accounted for only 2 percent of the population of Hokkaido.
Weiner, Michael, “’Self’ and ‘Other’ in Imperial Japan”, in Michael Weiner ed., Japane’s Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity, 2nd edition (London: Routledge, 2009), 1-20.
2nd: Siddle, Richard M., “The Ainu: Indigenous People of Japan”, in Michael Weiner ed., Japane’s Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity, 2nd edition (London: Routledge, 2009), 21-39.