Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Japanese "nationalism" (if such a term is even applicable) depended less on imagined similarities among Japanese than it did on their contrived customary differences from foreign peoples such as the Ainu. The boundaries of the early modern Japanese realm were ethno-geographical, and Ainu identity and difference was critical in constructing the borders of Japan.
After 1799, the Tokugawa shogunate and, later, the Meiji state, undertook policies of deculturation and assimilation toward the Ainu, because the Meiji strategy toward state building relied less on difference than on myths of internal homogeneity. The Meiji state conscripted Ainu into the myth of Japanese homogeneity through assimilation; but earlier forms of Ainu autonomy and difference first had to be destroyed.
Interestingly, wolf eradication offers one vantage point from which to view the process of Ainu deculturation and assimilation in the context of the colonization of Hokkaido and the creation of the modern myths that provided the foundation for Japan's ethnic nationalism. Ainu origin mythology held that the Ainu people were born from a union of a wolf and a goddess, and so when Ainu tracked and killed wolves and wild dogs under state bounty programs legitimized as "imperial grants," they committed mythological patricide, replacing their origin myths with Japanese ones that, over the course of the late Meiji period, served as the foundation of Japan's modern nation.
Japan Brown Bag Series
Co-hosted with the Center for East Asian Studies