Social Movement Is A Process of Policy-Making in Japan

by Miki Imamura

It is often said that Japan is not the country that there are not so much social movements effecting policy-making process.  I was also thinking so until I knew this movement which happened in Hokkaido. I didn’t know that Japan had been believed as Unitary state till 2008. It was changed by Citizen-turned-politic-activists. In 2008,  “the resolution for assuming Ainu race an aborigine” was adopted in both houses of Representatives and Councilors. (Comprehensive Ainu Policy Office, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of Japan.) This story had begun from two Ainu citizen-turned-politic-activists in 1984.

At first, I would like to briefly introduce Ainu. Ainu is indigenous people who have lived in Hokkaido prefecture. From Edo period, the Japanese central government forced assimilations policy to Ainu people by depriving their land, pushing public education in Japanese. In 1899, “Hokkaido Aborigines Protection Act” was established and Ainu was considered to be “an old aborigine”. After WWII, Ainu had been not recognized as indigenous people by the government so that there weren’t any policies for Ainu. For long time, Ainu also has been suffered discrimination by Japanese even until now. (Hokkaido)

In 1984, there was a plan for constructing a dam in Hokkaido, Nibutani district, where had been considered as “a sacred place” for Ainu. It was the important land for Ainu cultural ceremony of salmon capture. Shigeru Kayano was an Ainu who grew up in Nibutani and speaks Ainu language. He opposed the construction plan and brought a suit to stop the construction for protecting Ainu culture. Social movements had begun not only in Japan, but also at global level. There were demonstrations in Japan done by Ainu and Japanese for the protection of Ainu culture.  At global level, the representative of Ainu made the keynote speech at United Nations General Assembly in 1992 for the “International age of world indigenous people”. In 1994, the Human Rights Commission jurisdiction gave an advice to the Japanese Government about “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, which has been said that it brought influence for Nibutani dam judgment and the recognition of the Ainu. Under those movements, Kayano became a Japanese Diet member (from 1994 through 1998 a member of the House of Councilors).

In 1997, the suit was basically lost, however the court recognized Ainu for the first time as an aborigine. Kayano continuously worked for the abolishment of “Hokkaido Aborigines Protection Act” and for the approval of “the Ainu Culture Promotion Act”.  After the approval in 1997, he resigned the member of Assembly and made an effort to regenerate the Ainu culture. It can be said that one man who wanted to protect homeland and its culture became citizen-turned-politic-activist and changed the law with the social movements.

Now Ainu recognizes as indigenous people and receives various policies for improvement of living standard of Ainu and for promotion of Ainu culture. There are various social movements by not only government, but also Ainu as well. Ainu has been promoting Ainu culture through education or ceremony domestically, and they have been promoting international conferences such as Indigenous Peoples Summit or World Indigenous Peoples Conference. However, considering “the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” which includes acknowledgment of the rights such as culture, land and resources, Ainu should be treated more properly. In Hokkaido, there is a new wave for that. Ainu party has established in January 2012, the representative is a son of Shigeru Kayano, Shiro Kayano. They will challenge the national election for advocate the right recovery of the Ainu. (Shinbun, 2012) From these facts, it can be said that the one citizen-turned-politic-activist clearly influenced the national policy-making in Japan.


Comprehensive Ainu Policy Office, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of Japan. (n.d.). About the council . Retrieved 11 30, 20121, from Council for Ainu Policy Promotion :

Hokkaido, T. A. (n.d.). 私たちについて. Retrieved 11 30, 2012, from The Ainu Association of Hokkaido :

Shinbun, Y. (2012, 11 26). アイヌ民族党が国政選初挑戦北海道9区擁立へ. Retrieved 11 30, 2012, from Yomiuri Online :

貝澤耕一. (2011). Restoration of the Ainu as an indigenous people : building a Japanese society in solidarity with the Ainu. 京都: 法律文化社.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s