• Celebrating Ainu Heritage: University of Michigan Museum of Art

    Artwork Title: Ikupasuy (Prayer Stick)

    Artist: unrecorded Ainu artist

    Late 19th century–early 20th century, wood, Gift of Mrs. Caroline J. Plumer, 1991/1.79

    The Ainu are an indigenous minority group who are native to Hokkaidō, the northernmost island of Japan, as well as a few Russian territories. During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), as Japan spread and modernized, the Japanese government stripped them of their land and culture, so much so that it even became illegal for the Ainu to speak in their native tongue. It wasn’t until 2008 that the Japanese government recognized the Ainu as an indigenous people and made an effort to preserve their culture and end the discrimination against them.  
    This object is a ceremonial drinking stick called an ikupasuy. It is used by Ainu men in libation ceremonies to make offerings to gods and spirits. They dip the point of the ikupasuy into rice wine, sprinkle the drops of wine around the venerated object, then use it to lift their mustaches while they drink the rice wine. Each ikupasuy is decorated with an abstract, animal, or floral design. The design at the end of the ikupasuy represents the paternal bloodline and therefore lets the gods and spirits know who is making the offering.

    To find out more about the Ikupasuy, please click here.

    Reflection Prompts:

    • How does learning about minority groups in Japan change and/or challenge your understanding of Japan? How does this expand your awareness about AAPI heritage?
    • Many Ainu human remains are still kept at universities around the world for "research" purposes. How would you feel if your great grandparents' remains are removed from their graves and used for research?
    • What do you find most interesting about the ikupasuy? Its shape? Its design? Its purpose? Can you think of any similar objects or practices in your own or another culture?

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