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Yukie Chiri

Yukie Chiri (知里 幸恵, Chiri Yukie?, June 8 1903 - September 18 1922), a Japanese transcriber and translator of Yukar (Ainu epic tales), was born into an Ainu family in Noboribetsu, a town in Hokkaidō, the northernmost prefecture of Japan, at a time in Japan's history when increasing immigration of Japanese (Wajin, as distinguished from the Ainu) to Hokkaidō was resulting in the Ainu being relocated into separate communities and, in many cases, their means of livelihood being taken from them. The Ainu were viewed as a backward people, and it was the policy of the government to assimilate them into the Japanese way of life. The Ainu themselves, for the most part, saw this as the best (and perhaps only) way to survive the changing times (Sjoberg 1993, Kayano 1980).

Chiri was sent to her aunt Kannari Matsu in Chikabumi, on the outskirts of Asahikawa, when she was six years old, presumably to lessen the financial burden on her parents. Matsu lived alone with her aged mother, Monashinouku, a seasoned teller of Ainu tales who spoke very little Japanese. Chiri thus grew to be completely bilingual in Japanese and Ainu, and had a familiarity with Ainu oral literature that was becoming less and less common by that time. Although she had to endure bullying in school, she excelled in her studies, particularly in language arts. But she suffered from an ethnic inferiority complex that afflicted many of her generation (Fujimoto 1991).

Chiri was in her mid-teens when she first met the famous Japanese linguist and Ainu language scholar Kyōsuke Kindaichi during the nation's Taishō period. He was traveling around Hokkaidō in search of Ainu transmitters of oral literature and had come to seek out Matsu and Monashinouku. Kindaichi immediately recognized the girl's potential. When Kindaichi explained to Chiri the value of preserving the Ainu tales, a welcome but completely unfamiliar pride in her Ainu roots began to awaken in her, and she decided to dedicate the rest of her life to studying the yukar of her ancestors (Kindaichi 1997).

Kindaichi returned to Tokyo, but sent her blank notebooks so Chiri could record whatever came to mind about Ainu culture and language. She chose to record her grandmother's chanted tales using romaji to express the Ainu sounds, and then she translated the transcribed yukar into Japanese. Eventually she was persuaded to join Kindaichi in Tokyo to assist his work and polish the collection of yukar. Only months after arriving in Tokyo, the very night Chiri completed her yukar anthology, she died from heart failure. She was only nineteen years old (Fujimoto 1991).

Chiri's anthology was published the following year under the title Ainu Shinyōshū (A collection of the Ainu epics of the gods). Her younger brother Chiri Mashiho later pursued his education under Kindaichi's sponsorship and became a respected scholar of Ainu studies. Her aunt Matsu also continued the work of transcribing and translating yukar.

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