People of Japan, residing throughout its four major islands. Pushed north by the Japanese people over the last 2,000 years, the few remaining pure Ainu today live principally in N Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Aleutians. Originally physically and culturally distinct from the Japanese, their language and origins and their role in Japanese history and prehistory have been the subject of scholarly debate. The Ainu were traditionally hunters, fisherman, and trappers; their religion centered on spirits believed to be present in animals and the natural world.”

Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.

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