|by Evelyn Boswell
Japan may seem like a homogenous society, but it actually has a native population whose
experiences are similar to those of the Native Americans, says a scholar of Japan at Montana
Surprised when he heard of the Ainu people of Japan, Brett Walker investigated them under a
Fulbright grant and has written a book titled "The Conquest of Ainu Lands: Ecology and Culture
in Japanese Expansion 1590-1800." The book was published in September by University of California
"I think the book would be of interest to people fascinated by the Native American story,"
said Walker, assistant professor of history and director of the Japan Studies Program at MSU.
Robert W. Rydell, chairman of the Department of History and Philosophy at MSU, said, "Many
people have forgotten that Japan, like the United States, had a frontier with an indigenous
population, the Ainu. For his book, Professor Walker combed Japanese archival sources and
synthesized recent scholarship in environmental and political history. The result is a
breathtaking analysis of how the modern nation-state of Japan came into being."
The Ainu are natives of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Much like European settlers
affected Native Americans, the Japanese who moved across Hokkaido influenced the ceremonies,
culture, health and environment of the Ainu, Walker explained. As the Japanese set up trading
posts on the island, the Ainu's attitudes toward animals and hunting changed as they began
to carry market value. Japanese clothing and rice wine made their way into Ainu rituals.
"As the Ainu became more dependent on Japan, they became less able to resist Japan's expansion,"
Walker is now working on a book about the extinction of wolves in Japan. With a grant from MSU's
Office of Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer, he will be on leave next spring to
concentrate on writing. Walker currently teaches Japanese history, as well as a course on
ecology and nature in Japan.
Evelyn Boswell is the technical writer for the Office of Research, Creativity and Technology
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