Japan enacted legislation on Friday recognizing the Ainu ethnic group in northern Japan as an indigenous people of the nation.
The legislation, approved at an Upper House plenary session on Friday, is aimed at supporting the culture of the Ainu people through state-backed financial assistance at central and local levels and promoting Ainu culture and heritage.
Stipulating for the first time that the Ainu group are an indigenous people in Japan, the law, in part, is aimed at better preserving the Ainu culture that group has struggled to maintain since Japan introduced its assimilationist law in 1899 that saw the group's centuries-old cultural heritage forcibly eroded.
While the law was abolished in 1997 and another one introduced to purportedly protect the Ainu culture, it fell short in many respects, including not stipulating that the Ainu people were an indigenous people in Japan.
The new law seeks to help the Ainu people maintain their traditional ways and a deregulation of existing laws will allow them to collect wood from national forests and catch fish in rivers, in their time-honored, traditional ways.
The law also mandates a subsidy program for regional revitalization to assist local authorities in implementing projects to promote Ainu culture, industry and tourism.
The government will also open a national Ainu museum and park in April 2020, in Shiraoi town in Hokkaido.
Some representatives from regional branches of the Ainu Association on Friday, however, expressed disappointment in the new law for not reflecting the true will of the Ainu people, and, for ostensibly being no different to the previous law.
Ainu activists in March demonstrated on the streets of Sapporo in Hokkaido, insisting that the legislation at the time be scrapped for being inadequate and not representative of the group, which has long-been maligned and suffered from discrimination in Japan.
The head of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, Tadashi Kato, prior to the legislation being enacted, said it does not contain ways to improve the living standards of the Ainu people, and fell someway short of his expectations.