100 years after her death, the limelight once again shines on Chiri Yukie as filming of movie starts in earnest

Chiri Yukie, who passed away 100 years ago

September 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Chiri Yukie (1903 – ‘22), a native of Noboribetsu and keeper of Ainu culture and traditions in the Meiji and Taisho periods. As well as the full-scale filming of a new movie about her, this year will also see a variety of commemorative events planned at the Chiri Yukie Memorial Museum in Noboribetsu. Chiri’s work continues to be released in multiple languages, and is expected to reach more than 20. In recent years, many related books have also been published, increasing the number of opportunities to come into contact with Yukie’s lifestyle. It looks like 2022 will bring Chiri Yukie’s achievements into the limelight once again.

The Introduction to the ‘Ainu Shinyo Shu’ (Collection of Ainu Epics of the Gods), in which Chiri Yukie wrote about her feelings for her ancestors and fellow Ainu, is being translated at a rapid pace, and has already reached 24 languages. On the website of the Chiri Yukie Memorial Museum, the Introduction is available in 19 languages, including Ainu and French, and more languages are expected to be added in 2022. In September, Ms. Ishimura Hiroko, a non-fiction writer, will give a lecture on Yukie at the museum.

The town of Higashikawa in northern Hokkaido is planning to make a movie, tentatively titled ‘Kamuy no Nageki’ (lamentation of the gods) based on Yukie. Sugawara Hiroshi, a film director from Sapporo, will start filming in July, aiming to release the movie in 2023.

 In recent years, more and more books about Chiri Yukie have been published: ‘Chiri Yukie Monogatari Ainu no “Monogatari” wo Inochigake de Tsutaeta Hito’ (The Story of Chiri Yukie; a woman who risked her life to tell the story of the Ainu) is a non-fiction book that introduces her life. ‘Chiri Yukie & Ainu,’ an educational manga supervised by the Memorial Museum, is easy for children to relate to. “Gin no Shizuku Furu Furu – Chiri Yukie “Ainu Shinyo Shu” Yori’ (silver droplets falling, falling – Chiri Yukie from “Collection of Ainu Epics of the Gods”) is a collection of children’s stories.

Kanezaki Shigeya

■ Contributed by Kanezaki Shigeya, Director of the Chiri Yukie Memorial Museum

 As ‘a woman living for the moment,’ Chiri Yukie’s life ended at the age of 19 years and 3 months. Born in Noboribetsu in 1903, this year marks the 100th anniversary of her death, and next year marks the 120th anniversary of her birth. She is also known as the sister of Chiri Mashiho (1909 – ‘61), who was a professor at Hokkaido University.

Due to the assimilation policies of the Meiji government, the Ainu were deprived of their livelihoods and were poor. Discrimination was commonplace, and the Ainu language and pride were taken away.

 When Yukie’s younger brother Takanaka was born, poverty forced her to be separated from her parents at the age of four, when she went to live with her grandmother in Horobetsu (in the city of Noboribetsu). Yukie later moved to Chikabumi in Asahikawa with her aunt, who became her foster parent. She started elementary school, but was soon transferred to a newly established elementary school for Ainu children only. After graduating, Yukie took the entrance exam for Asahikawa High School for Girls, but failed. The following year, she entered the Asahikawa Girls Vocational School, but did not make any friends there, and was told, “This is not the place for you.” Yukie lived through those times and pioneered the way.

 Yukie wrote in her diary, “I am Ainu. I am Ainu wherever I go. What part of me is like the Japanese? (…) Just because I am Ainu does not mean I am not human. We are the same people, aren’t we? I am happy to be Ainu.” This is the ‘Ainu Declaration.’

In her last letter to her parents on September 14, 1922, Yukie wrote, “I have a strong feeling that I have been given a great mission that only I can accomplish, and that is to record, in writing, the oral literature and art that my beloved people have left behind and passed down over thousands of years,” and “I will return home soon.” Shortly after this, on the 18th of the same month, after she had finished proofreading ‘Ainu Shinyo Shu,” her short life came to an end.

 ‘Ainu Shinyo Shu’ was published the following year, in 1923, and is still a long seller of the Iwanami Shoten publishing company. The book has also been used as a teaching material in schools, and Yukie’s way of life has been a source of great encouragement. The Collection of Ainu Epics of the Gods is now being translated into many languages, including English, French, and Russian.

 When read out loud, Yukie’s thoughts toward her ancestors and brethren in the Introduction to ‘Ainu Shinyo Shu’ is empowering. Her hopes of 100 years ago are now recognized worldwide as the rights of indigenous people. However, their plight still continues.

 The birth of Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park, a center for the revival of Ainu culture in Shiraoi, has increased interest in the Ainu. Many people say “After visiting Upopoy, it was good to visit the Chiri Yukie Memorial Museum in Noboribetsu.” When the museum was first built, there were concerns about “how long it would last on the strength of the private sector,” but it is now in its 13th year thanks to the support of people who care about Yukie. For its efforts to date, the museum has received the Muroran Minpo Co., Ltd.’s ‘Muroran Citizens’ Town and People Vitality Award’ and the ‘Regional Revitalization Award’ for excellence from The Hokkaido Shimbun Press, Kyodo News and the like. The future challenge is to pass on the knowledge to the younger generations.

 “I hope that many people will visit the museum and learn about Yukie,” says Kanezaki Shigeya, director of the Chiri Yukie Memorial Museum.

■ About Chiri Yukie: the first person to record Ainu mythology in written form

 Chiri Yukie was born in 1903 in Noboribetsu Honcho 2, the eldest daughter of Takayoshi and Nami. At the age of four, she moved in with her grandmother, Monashinouk, in Horobetsu, and lived in Noboribetsu until she moved to Asahikawa when she was six. During her time in Noboribetsu, Yukie is said to have learned the foundations of the Ainu language.

 In Asahikawa, Yukie lived in a family of three, including her aunt, Kannari Matsu, who was involved in missionary activities for the Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan, and was also a recorder of ‘yukar,’ (oral literature). From the age of 14, Yukie attended the Asahikawa Girls Vocational School, but suffered from loneliness due to her Ainu ethnicity. When she was 15, Yukie met Kindaichi Kyosuke (1882 – 1971), a linguist who was studying the Ainu language. Kindaichi discovered Yukie’s talent for writing, and she began to write the ‘Shinyo Shu,’ which was written in her own distinctive Roman alphabet with Japanese translations. This was the first record of the mythology written by the Ainu themselves.

In May 1922, Yukie traveled to Tokyo to work on the publication of the ‘Shinyo Shu,’ but died of a heart condition after a short life of 19 years on September 18 of the same year. In a letter she wrote shortly before her death, she expressed her determination to live in Noboribetsu for the rest of her life and to preserve the oral literature and art passed down by her ancestors.

 Yukie was initially laid to rest by Kindaichi at the Zoshigaya Cemetery in Tokyo but, in 1975, her grave was transferred to her hometown of Noboribetsu, where she now lies in the Tomiura Cemetery. The city of Noboribetsu is also home to a monument dedicated to Yukie’s brother and Ainu linguist, Chiri Mashiho.


Chiri Yukie Memorial Museum