37 Vintage Portraits of Ainu Women From Northern Japan With Their Traditional Tattooed Lips during the 1900s

Ainu means human. The Ainu people regard things useful to them or beyond their control as kamuy (gods). In daily life, they prayed to and performed various ceremonies for the gods. These gods include: “nature” gods, such as of fire, water, wind and thunder; “animal” gods, such as of bears, foxes, spotted owls and gram-puses; “plant” gods, such as of aconite, mush-room and mugwort; “object” gods, such as of boats and pots; and gods which protect houses, gods of mountains and gods of lakes. The word Ainu refers to the opposite of these gods.

Ainu are shorter than the Japanese people, with lighter skin, robust body and short limbs. Unlike typical Mongoloids, their hair is wavy and the body hair is abundant; men wear large beards and mustaches, considered a sign of beauty, to the point that married women tattoo their lower face to mimic a beard. Ainu have not such pronounced almond-shaped eyes and lack the Mongoloid fold of the eye; the nose is large and straight. All these point to their origin in Polynesia or southeastern Asia.

Women were largely independent until marrying. After that, they were under men’s will. But women went to war and could manifest their opinions during the councils of the village. Ainu women adorned their hands, forehead, arms and mouth outline with blue tattoos (as said, for mimicking mustaches).

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