For someone who grew up ashamed of her ethnic identity, they are powerful words.
"You are beautiful just as you are. Don't be afraid," Mina Sakai sings to a young, enthusiastic crowd in the language of the Ainu, the indigenous people of northern Japan.The article I've linked to above focuses on the efforts of Ainu Rebels, a group of a dozen young artists who are fighting to fuse contemporary popular culture with traditional motifs from their own traditions:
In one number, several young women — dressed in typical Ainu blue and purple robes and headbands with bold, geometric patterns — danced in a circle while young men brandished bows and arrows, all to a throbbing techno beat that filled the small concert hall at a recent music festival in Sapporo, the capital of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido.
The article is well worth reading, as it tells the tale of an island people almost entirely forgotten by the rest of the world. The photograph shown below is from another article focused on an Ainu music festival that occurred a few months ago.
Nothing is more critical to the growth of our cultural imagination than the cross-pollination of mythic traditions, the trading of stories between one people and another. What beauty awaits us, and what opportunities for fresh stories and fresh views on our own lives, when we are given at last the gift of Ainu stories, which have had so few listeners? It is said that when an old man or an old woman dies, it is a library burning to the ground. How much of a library is lost to us, when a people with their accumulated lore are hidden away for centuries?
A small collection of Ainu myths and lore is available in English here.