Language Unity in Japan

by Naoya Suizu

Language is the important factor which shows the culture.  It is shaped for a long time and continues to change constantly.  Japanese is also such a language which continued to change historically.  Japanese is generally thought as the only language in Japan though there is a little difference among areas.  But, in fact, we will notice it is a mistake when we trace the Japanese history.  In Japan, there are actions people oppressed the particular language and tried to unify Japanese language once.  I will explain the fact by showing the two examples, the Ainu and Ryukyu language.

Firstly, the Ainu language is very important when we think about language unity in Japan.  It is the language which was used by Ainu people who lived in Hokkaido once.  Ainu people lived a free life in Hokkaido through hunting and fishing for a long time.  But the people who came from Honshu, the main land of Japan, changed the Ainu way of life in Edo era. They forbade the Ainu people to hunt, fish.  In addition, they robbed the Ainu people of the lands and forced the Ainu people to begin farming.  Naturally, the Ainu language is forbidden as one of the way of their life and the education of Japanese was forced.  When time passed, the language was forgotten and gradually disappearing.

Secondly, we mustn’t forget the Ryukyu language.  It is the language which was used in Okinawa once.  Okinawa was originally the kingdom of Ryukyu and it was independent from Japan.  In the kingdom, the peculiar language, Ryukyu language, was used and the peculiar culture was developed.   But, the people from Honshu came the kingdom in Edo era like Ainu, too.  After that, they forced the people in Okinawa to speak Japanese to strengthen their power in the land.  Moreover, the people in Okinawa hoped the return of Okinawa to Japan after the end of World War Ⅱ and tried to change their language in their own to be assimilated to Japanese custom.  Although the Ryukyu language exist the shape as a dialect now, its existence is very close to a crisis.

As everybody can understand my description, Japan unified the language once. In Japan, the understanding is not enough and I think many people think Japan is the country which only has one language.  But, the Ainu language and Ryukyu language exist in Japan now.  Furthermore, these languages are declining and put in the dangerous situation.  To solve the situation, the local people continue to try not to lose these languages.  The action is needed from now on and the protection as a nation and the nation understanding are very important at the same time.  I hope these languages are taken over all the time not to be vanished completely.

Reference

アイヌ政策のあり方と国民的理解. http://www.scj.go.jp/ja/info/kohyo/pdf/kohyo-21-h133-1.pdf

沖縄ー琉球の言語. http://okirekisi.livedoor.biz/archives/cat_10014470.html

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