Ainu is spoken on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido by maybe 15 families. It was once spoken in the Kurile Islands, the northern part of Honshu and the southern half of Sakhalin. The last Ainu speaker on Sakhalin died in 1994. Ainu is a language isolate, unrelated to any other language.
The vast majority of the 150,000 people who claim to be ethnically Ainu speak only Japanese. The actual number of people of Ainu descent is thought to be higher, however many are unaware of their ethnicity or deny it through fear of discrimiation.
Efforts are currently being made to revive and revitalise Ainu, particularly by Shigeru Kayano, a native speaker of the Tsishima dialect of Ainu (the only surviving dialect). He has set up a school to teach the language and has started collecting traditional Ainu stories.
Ainu is officially written with a version of the Japanese katakana syllabary. A Latin-based alphabet is also used. The Ainu also have a rich oral tradition, including Yukar (sagas of heros), Kamui Yukar (stories of the gods) and Uwepeker (old stories).
Sinean to ta petetok un sinotas kusu payeas awa, petetokta sine ponrupnekur
nesko urai kar kusu uraikik neap kosanikkeukan punas=punas.
(from the Kamui Yukar)
One day, as I was setting out traveling toward the source of the (river’s) water, the walnut wood post was struck as at the water’s source a little man all by himself was erecting a walnut wood plank. He was standing there now bent over at the waist and now standing up straight over and over again.
Information about the Ainu language and people
Online Ainu lessons
Online Ainu wordlists and dictionaries (in Japanese)
Aino Folk-Tales - English translations of Ainu stories
The Oral Literature of the Sakhalin Ainu: The Tuytah
Story in Ainu (video)
(The Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture)
(Hokkaido Ainu Culture Research Center)
about Ainu place names in Hokkaido)
アイヌ民族博物館 (The Ainu Museum, Hokkaido)
List of books and other sources of information about Ainu