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Ainu traditional housing!

Outline of Dwelling Systems

The design of the Ainu housing systems differs depending on the region of the residence and the individual household. A unit with a single large rectangular room and a hearth in the middle appears quite common. It often has a small building outside the doorway that was used as an entrance and for storage. The materials used for the posts, roof, walls and floor included trunks, branches and various kinds of bark and grass. The huge amounts of materials necessary to thatch the walls and roofs were usually procured from locally available resources.

Restored houses thatched with saw grass

(The Ainu Museum)

In Ainu language, “Cise” means “House”, which is pronounced by placing a high pitch on “se” instead of “ci”. This word has often been used, even in the Japanese vernacular, specifically to refer to a house thatched with saw grass or bamboo grass.

Restored houses thatched with bamboo grass(Branch of Asahikawa City Museum)

However, the word “Cise” still exists in the Ainu language and is used even to refer to housing units built by modern construction methods. Ainu seniors often use the word as such in their conversation. Despite the changes in the selection of materials and construction methods, “Cise” remains unchanged and still means a house in the Ainu language.

Room Arrangement and Interior Finishing

The room had windows, and it was believed that the gods entered and left through one of the windows. The window is set to face in a sacred direction based on well-known teachings.The space between this sacred window and the hearth in the middle of a room is considered as sacred space inside the room, and guests are sometimes invited to sit there.

A room equipped with patterned matting on the wall

(The Ainu Museum)

The floor is covered with layers of grass, reed screens and matting. A low platform is sometimes placed by the wall as a bed. In one method of making a hearth, a hole is dug and then layers of leaves, gravel and volcanic ash are placed in this order.

The walls inside the room are occasionally finished with matting while the window or the doorway is sometimes finished with hanging reed screens or matting.

Surroundings of the main house

An altar, a bear cage and a storage area are, in some cases, located around the main unit. The altar is placed outside facing the sacred window through which the gods supposedly enter and leave.

In the proximity of the house, the waste disposal area was designated by some households, and rice bran and ash from the hearth were sometimes separated from the rest of the waste. Some dwellers used racks and rods for the drying of fish and meat and used rods for laundry. Others put a wind and snow fence made with saw grass around the house.

Surroundings of a house (Obihiro City at the end of the Taisho period) (The Ainu Museum)

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