Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia

Advanced search

On Sacred Girdles and Matrilineal Descent in Ainu Society

Full Text:


This study examines a mysterious item of the Ainu women’s undergarment—the upsor kut, or chakh chanki, which, in ethnographic collections and scholarly texts, is described as a “belt of modesty”. A comparative and historical analysis of Ainu women’s girdles from Hokkaido and Sakhalin was carried out. They are displayed in very small numbers at museums of Russia, Japan, and the UK. These artifacts are rare, as women had to preserve their upsor kut (chakhchanki) from being seen by strangers, especially males. They became a part of late 19th to early 20th century ethnographic collections, because scholars, such as B.O. Piłsudski and N.G. Munro, became trusted by the natives. In the past, Japan’s hard-line policy of assimilation for indigenous peoples, the banning of the Ainu language and traditional culture, and the introduction of schooling and public health service resulted in an even greater secrecy of Ainu women and the gradual decline of the tradition of wearing secret girdles, precluding the carrying out of fi eld studies. The analysis of Ainu linguistic and folkloric materials analyzed by Japanese and European researchers sheds light on the function and meaning of these items of the women’s undergarment. In essence, they had two important functions: determining the maternal lineage and protecting the family and the clan. This suggests that remnants of matrilineal exogamy existed in Ainu patriarchal society, which eventually disappeared at the turn of the 20th century.

About the Author

S. C. Lim
Far Eastern Federal University
Russian Federation


Sukhanova 8, Vladivostok, 690091


1. Ainu Col lections of Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology, Russian Academy of Sciеnces: Catalogue. 1998 Tokyo: Sofucan. (In English, Russian, Japanese).

2. Ainu minzoku. 1969 [Ainu Ethnography]. Tokyo: Dainichi hoki syuppan. (In Japanese).

3. Ainu seikatsu shi: Ainu mukei minzoku bunkazai no kiroku. 1984 [Everyday Life of Ainu: Records on Nonmaterial Cultural Values of the Ainu]. Sapporo: Zaidan hojin ainu mukei bunka densho hozonkai. (In Japanese).

4. Batchelor J. 1926 An Ainu-English-Japanese Dictionary (Including a Grammar of the Ainu Language). Tokyo: Methodist Pub. House.

5. Batchelor J. 1930 Ainu Life and Lore: Echoes of a Departing Race. Tokyo: Kyobunkwan.

6. Batchelor J. 2000 Steps by the Way, K. Refsing (ed.). Richmond: Curzon Press. (Early European Writings on Ainu Culture: Travelogues and Descriptions; vol. 5).

7. Chiri Mashiho-cho sakushu. Setsuwa – kamui uta hen. 1987 [The Last Collection of Chiri Mashiho: Collection of Myths and Celestial Songs]. Vol. 2. Tokyo: Kheibonsya. (In Japanese).

8. Collections of the Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture: Catalogue. 2001 Vol. 2: Sugimura Collection I. Sapporo: Nakanishi Printing Co.

9. Dobrotvorsky M.M. 1875 Ainsko-russkiy slovar. Kazan: [Tip. Kazan. Univ.].

10. Haginaka Mie. 1992 Shita himo – poyas stydlivosti. In B.O. Pilsudsky – issledovatel narodov Sakhalina: Materialy Mezhdunar. nauch. konf. 31 okt.–2 noyab. 1991 g., vol. 1. Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk: Sakhalin. obl. krayeved. muzey, pp. 128–133.

11. Katalog vystavki, posvyashchennoy 125-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya B. Pilsudskogo. 1991 O.A. Shubina (comp.). Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk: Sakhalin. obl. krayeved. muzey.

12. Kirillov N. 1898 Aino (predvaritelnoye soobshcheniye). Sakhalinskiy kalendar, otd. II: 38–82.

13. Munro N.G., Seligman B.Z., Watanabe H. 1996 Ainu Creed & Cult. London, New York: Kegan Paul International.

14. Piłsudski B.O. 1994 Materialy dlya izucheniya ainskogo yazyka i folklora, V.D. Kosarev (trans. from English). Krayevedcheskiy byulleten, No. 1: 56–89, No. 2: 80–104.

15. Roshia ga mita ainu bunka – Roshia kagaku akademi. 2013 [Ainu Culture: View from Russia: From Collection of the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russian Academy of Sciences]. St. Petersburg: MAE RAN. (In Japanese).

16. Segawa Kiyoko. 1952 Saru ainu fujin no Upsor ni tsuite [About Ainu upsor from the Saru River valley]. Japanese Journal of Ethnology, vol. 16 (3/4): 246–254. (In Japanese).

17. Sokolov A.M. 2014 Ainy: Ot istokov do sovremennosti: Materialy k istorii stanovleniya ainskogo etnosa. St. Petersburg: MAE RAN.

18. Spevakovsky A.B. 1986 Ainskaya terminologiya rodstva. Sovetskaya etnografi ya, No. 2: 45–56.

19. Sternberg L.Y. 1933 Gilyaki, orochi, goldy, negidaltsy, ainy: Statyi i materialy, Y.P. Alkor (Koshkin) (ed. and intro.). Khabarovsk: Dalgiz.

20. Sugiura Ken’ichi. 1952 Saru ainu no shinzoku soshiki [Kinship system of the Saru Ainu]. Japanese Journal of Ethnology, vol. 16 (3/4): 187–212. (In Japanese).

21. Suzuki Hiromi. 1996 Ainu no shita himo (upsor) ni tsuite [About Ainu upsor – sacred girdles]. Bulletin of Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples, No. 5: 47–83. (In Japanese).

22. Tate K. 2005 Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations. San Francisco: Consortium of Collective Consciousness.

23. Torii R. 1919 Études archéologiques et ethnologiques: Les Aïnou des îles Kouriles. Tokyo: Imperial University of Tokyo. (Journal of the College of Science, Imperial University of Tokyo; vol. XLII, art. 1).


For citations:

Lim S.C. On Sacred Girdles and Matrilineal Descent in Ainu Society. Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia. 2020;48(3):117-123.

Views: 512

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

ISSN 1563-0110 (Print)