The Ainu Tour in Lake Akan, Hokkaido That Will Change Your Perspective on Life | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan
ainu people japan lake akan forest walk

The Ainu Tour in Lake Akan, Hokkaido That Will Change Your Perspective on Life 

By Alex Gray Mar 3, 2022

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional)

Have you thought about taking a trip where you can connect with the locals on a new level and learn about their culture and customs through experience? Akanko Onsen on the shore of Lake Akan is a beautiful area in Hokkaido where you can experience the culture of the indigenous Ainu people. Ainu inhabitants of Lake Akan Ainu Kotan, an Ainu village of arts and crafts, will guide you through tours of the forest and lake shores, introduce you to Ainu culture, folklore, and musical instruments. After experiencing time with the Ainu and understanding their way of life, your own view of things is sure to change! So why not make your next Hokkaido trip one to discover real Ainu culture?

The Lake Akan Ainu and their Customs 

ainu people japan lake akan 2

Photo credits: Anytime, Ainutime

Ainu (the word meaning “human” in their language) are an indigenous people of Japan who live at one with nature, honoring it’s precious resources. 

Lake Akan, inside the Akan Mashu National Park, has been home to the Ainu people since long ago and is a place where their culture and customs are still carried on today. These customs are carried on through word-of-mouth, from generation to generation as they have no written language. They are deeply spiritual and have a rich culture of dance, music and clothes. 

Ainu and Nature

The Ainu people have a very beautiful and important outlook on life. Since ancient times they lived in nature,  collecting berries and foliage, hunting and making clothes from animals skins, and living off the abundance of Mother Earth. As they live with nature, they believe nature is very important, a value they hold dear, something that humans should all be conscious about. As the IT world and industralisation makes life more convenient for us, we are forgetting the importance of nature, appreciation for craftsmanship and beauty. 

Ainu and Spirituality

The Ainu people believe there is a spirit in everything. These divine spirits (called “kamuy”) live in trees and lakes, in all nature, animals, objects and things beyond our understanding that can’t be controlled by people. They take time to talk to these spirits. Before going hunting they talk to the spirits of the forest and ask for their protection. The hunted animals are guests from the kamyu and are revered as such through gifts and ceremony before being sent back to the heavens.

They also care deeply about each other, communicate with an open heart and value the importance of compassion and heartwarming expression.

ainu people japan lake akan mount oakan

Photo credits: Anytime, Ainutime

The Ainu people find importance in cherishing the things they have, feeling wealth in their surroundings, utilising the things they have around them with importance and integrity, and making clothes and crafts by hand in smaller quantities. When they make clothes they think about the people who are going to be wearing it and wish them well, like a protective amulet. During the Edo period, things like sewing needles were very precious as they were brought from the wajin and not easily obtained. In fact, one tiny needle was traded for a whole bearskin! It’s clear the custom of understanding the importance of objects comes from long-traditioned values.

By learning about the Ainu people through connecting with them and experiencing their culture, you learn how to find importance in things. How to enrich your life, and take care of the nature around you. 

Experiencing the Ainu Customs and Culture

ainu people japan lake akan carving
Photo credits: Anytime, Ainutime

One way the Ainu teach their customs and traditions is through guided tours, which they do in conjunction with their main work such as tree carving, crafting, or performing at dance shows. The guides are real Ainu people, and joining a tour is a valuable chance to learn more about culture firsthand.

The programs can take you on a journey through forest, lake, and craft-making. 

In the Forest Tour, you can visit the forest that sustained the Ainu people of old and learn how to live in harmony with nature. View the traditional Ainu prayer ceremony ritual where they pray for protection, listen to inspiring stories about folklore, and have a go at playing the “mukkuri”, a traditional musical instrument. As you approach the lakeside, you can see through the trees, and hopefully get a view of Mt. Oakan (if the weather isn’t overcast) and take in the mountain’s grandeur.  

ainu people japan lake akan forest
Photo credits: Anytime, Ainutime

In the Lake Tour not only can you walk the forest and view the lake but you can also make your own mukkuri by carving the reed and attaching the string, completing the instrument the Ainu people use to make sounds of nature and music. While in the forest you are guided on how to play your mukkuri instrument and hear it reverberate through the forest. Once you step out onto the shores of the lake, you can enjoy the stunning views of Lake Akan with Mt. Oakan in the background.

ainu people japan lake akan lake tour

Photo credits: Anytime, Ainutime

In the Embroidery Craft Tour learn how to embroider Ainu patterns that have been passed down from generations. The Ainu people used to wear embroidery on their clothes and headbands, and on the tour, you can make your own embroidered coasters. Listen to the stories told by the wise Ainu embroider about Ainu spirituality, and observe how wholesome it feels to sew while thinking of the wearer, wishing for their good fortune. 

ainu people japan lake akan embroidery

Photo credits: Anytime, Ainutime

The Wood Craft Tour is perfect for people who like to use their hands. You will use cutters to carve Ainu patterns into a “tonkori” (an Ainu instrument) shaped charm while honoring the wood received in gratitude from the forest.

ainu people japan lake akan woodcarving

Photo credits: Anytime, Ainutime

If you’d like to experience the natural, healthy taste of Ainu cuisine, you can add a food option to your tour. The Ainu people use all the precious ingredients they receive from nature and cook them without discarding them. The food is seasoned simply so you can enjoy the natural taste of the food, made from nature’s abundant resources. 

ainu people japan lake akan food

Photo credits: Anytime, Ainutime

Have an Ainu Experience of Your Own

If you want to learn more about the Ainu people and their way of life, why not take a trip to Lake Akan and join an Ainu guided tour? You may even leave with a new outlook on life, and a way to infuse some traditional Ainu values into your everyday life.  

Check out the home page for more information.

Related articles:

Usa City, Oita Prefecture – a Cultural Marvel to Put on Your Bucket List