Japan has introduced a bill to recognize the country's ethnic Ainu group as an "indigenous" people for the first time. This follows decades of campaigning by Ainu people. The Ainu are an indigenous people originating on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido and islands between Japan and Russia. Their official number today is around 25,000, but many people say a more accurate figure is 200,000. Many Ainu have been completely absorbed into Japanese society. They have little knowledge of their ancestry, history, traditions and culture.
Japan Today wrote about the hardships the Ainu faced. It said: "The Ainu people...have long suffered the effects of a policy of forced assimilation, and while discrimination has receded gradually, income and education gaps with the rest of Japan persist." Japan's government said: "It is important to protect the honor and dignity of the Ainu people and to hand those down to the next generation to realize a vibrant society." An Ainu spokesman said: "It feels like we woke up now from a truly deep sleep....It will lead to building a society where we [live] together. We think this is the first step."