Friday, April 2, 2010

the ainu and the bear (intro to the author)

I am pleased to announce that The Ainu and the Bear; the gift of the cycle of life (RIC Publications, 2010), our English translation of Iomante~ meguru inochi no okurimono (Parol-sha, 2005), will go on sale to the general public on April 15.

It has been tremendously exciting to be part of this project, and the chance to learn something about Ryo Michico, the author of the book, has been one of the things that made it so. Her wide-ranging interests include, but are not limited to, the cultures of original peoples. She was awarded the Mainichi Shinbun's New Writer's Award for Children's Literature in 1986. She translated Chief Seattle's speech Father Sky, Mother Earth into Japanese, and is the author of Aoi Namujiri (Blue Namujiru), a story based on a Mongolian folktale, as well as Ookami no ko ga hashittekite (literally: the wolf cub came running), which is based on an Ainu word-play game (both published by Parol-sha). In 2003, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) named an asteroid after her, in honor of Ms.Ryo's astronomy-related works (a whole different aspect of her career that I can't cover here).

Having assumed that indigenous peoples "lived in harmony with land and nature," Ryo Michico was shocked and puzzled by certain aspects of Ainu culture-- in particular, by the rite of Iomante, which is so central to their world view. As she moved among the Ainu, and listened to their stories and first-hand experiences, she gained a new understanding and appreciation for their way of seeing the world. Let me quote a brief passage from the postscript she wrote for The Ainu and the Bear:

Using the words "send off" rather than "kill" to refer to the Iomante is not subterfuge, but rather an expression of deep respect. The Ainu fully acknowledge that killing is involved. The village shares in the pain of the taking of life, and accepts with deep gratitude the gifts they receive at the cost of that life. This is what Iomante is all about... I can only hope that this picture book will play a small part in helping people understand not only Ainu culture, but also any culture that differs from their own. [p.66. my translation]

Click here to see Ms.Ryo's official website (in Japanese).

[note: the attached photo shows the cover of the version submitted to the Ainu Foundation, and may differ from the version which goes on sale to the general public.]