Traditional Ainu dance

Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Country(ies): Japan



Traditional Ainu dance

The Ainu are an indigenous people who today live mostly in Hokkaidō in northern Japan. Traditional Ainu dance is performed at ceremonies and banquets, as part of newly organized cultural festivals and privately in daily life; in its various forms, it is closely connected to the lifestyle and religion of the Ainu. The traditional style involves a large circle of dancers, sometimes with onlookers who sing an accompaniment without musical instrumentation. Some dances imitate the calls and movements of animals or insects; others, like the sword and bow dances, are rituals; and still others are improvisational or purely entertainment. Believing that deities can be found in their surroundings, the Ainu frequently use dance to worship and give thanks for nature. Dance also plays a central role in formal ceremonies such as Iyomante, in which participants send the deity embodied in a bear they have eaten back to heaven by mimicking the movements of a living bear. For the Ainu, dance reinforces their connection to the natural and religious world and provides a link to other Arctic cultures in Russia and North America.


Decision 4.COM 13.57

The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as follows:

  • R.1: Traditional Ainu dance is transmitted and recreated by seventeen preservation associations in the fifteen cities and townships that make up the Ainu community of Hokkaido, providing them a sense of identity and continuity;
  • R.2: Inscription of the element on the Representative List will contribute to increased visibility of intangible cultural heritage and to a greater pride in their heritage within the Ainu community, promoting increased intercultural dialogue and reflecting cultural diversity;
  • R.3: The safeguarding measures are coherent, and the commitment of civil society, local officials and national institutions is demonstrated;
  • R.4: The free, prior and informed consent of the Ainu community is evident from the nomination;
  • R.5: Traditional Ainu Dance is included as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property on the inventory maintained by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.



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