Re-Storying Indigenous Geographies: A Story of Urban Ainu Migration in Comparative Context


In recent years, the task of “restorying” has been identified as an important strategy in making space for the counternarratives of the nation-state from the perspective of Indigenous histories. Here, I use four stories to start to tell a different history of Indigenous Ainu life in Japan. The stories recount Ainu experiences of migration to Tokyo and other cities since the early 1900s. Beyond their narrative content, I explain how these stories are part of a broader political project that urban Ainu leaders have used for over forty years to contest and resist the ‘regionalization’ of Indigenous Ainu affairs to Hokkaido. Using the Ainu situation as my reference point, I develop a comparative conversation about the transformation of Indigenous geographies across the Pacific and elaborate on the fraught politics but also moral value of thinking with urban mobilities. I end with reflections on an exchange between Tokyo Ainu and Montreal Inuit in Osaka in 2003 and its relevance for my current project.

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