Writing Ainu Out
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At the heart of an impressive array of Meiji-period visions of Hokkaido lay the island’s awe-inspiring natural world. Through the prism of nature, Hokkaido was frequently viewed as a place of incalculable advantages and plenitude, evinced in its pristine, rich natural reserves, as well as a place of adversity and hardship, manifested in the frigid and unforgiving winters. Hokkaido’s majestic mountains, sweeping plains, and vast “virgin” forests collectively constituted what seemed an infinite “empty” expanse that beckoned adventurous Japanese settlers. In its rugged and undeveloped state, Hokkaido was characterized as a limitless source of hitherto untapped resources awaiting Japanese ingenuity and civilization. Images of Hokkaido as a “savage” wilderness served the state’s goals by acting as a foil to confirm Japan’s superior status and rationalize the colonial project. The forbidding landscape and climate also provoked deeply disturbing reflections on the modern notion of the self and society and was occasionally deployed to represent an alienated Japanese psyche that struggled to cope with the vicissitudes of modern life. Inviting copious commentary, the naturescape of the island remained a pronounced marker of Hokkaido’s otherness even as it became more firmly integrated into the political economy of the nascent Japanese nation-state.
KeywordsIndigenous People Natural World Unfair Labor Practice Terra Incognita Japanese Immigrant
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