The largest indigenous population of Japan, descending from ancestors who migrated there around 10,000 years ago. The Ainu mainly live in the northern islands of what is now Japan, especially Hokkaido and the Tsugaru Strait area, although in the past they inhabited a wider area and their population was larger. Ainu scholar Sakurako Tanaka distinguishes between ancestral shamans and contemporary mediums, tuskur. She traces this “decline” to the 17thcentury distinction between male ceremonial leaders and female mediums. Tanaka argues that while some mediums have animal kin, manipulate animal spirits, and lead communal ceremonies, rites, and even political confrontation with outside authorities, they can be distinguished from shamans because they do not exhibit mastery of spirits but become possessed by them. The passivity of the medium allows powerful other-than-human persons, kamuy, and ancestral souls who had elected her to reside in her and provide knowledge of the other world, taboos, and medicinal herbs and therefore to diagnose and heal illnesses while in an altered state of consciousness or trance. In recording the skill and knowledge of particular Ainu mediums, Tanaka casts doubt on the value of too strong a distinction between shamans and mediums: the precise nature of human relationships with powerful other-than-human persons varies not only from individual to individual but also according to cultural expectations. If more weight is placed on the choices made by shamans’ helpers and on the roles played by shamans in their communities, it becomes increasingly difficult to insist that possession and trance are distinct.

Historical dictionary of shamanism. . 2007.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Ainu — /ˈaɪnu/ (say uynooh) noun 1. an aboriginal people of the northernmost islands of Japan, having physical distinctions, such as lighter skin, from the majority of the population. 2. (plural Ainu or Ainus) a member of this people. 3. the nearly… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Ainu — [ī′no͞o΄] n. [Ainu, lit., human being (as opposed to a god) ] 1. pl. Ainus or Ainu a member of an indigenous people of Japan, now living mainly on Hokkaido and also on Sakhalin Island 2. the language of this people adj. of the Ainus or their… …   English World dictionary

  • Ainu — Ai nu, n. [Said to be the native name for man.] One of a peculiar race found primarily in Hokkaido, in the northern part of the empire of Japan, the Kurile Islands, and nearby. They are believed to be the native inhabitants of the Japanese… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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  • Ainu — Ainu, Berg, so v.w. Ainos 2) …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

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