SAPPORO -- The Sapporo District Court proposed on March 25 the return of Ainu bones from Hokkaido University -- which had dug them up for research purposes from the 1930s to the 1950s -- to their original villages, saying that the excavation interfered with ancestral rites.
The proposal was accepted by both university officials and plaintiffs representing the Ainu community, which include the Urahoro Ainu Association as well as specific Ainu individuals from whose towns the remains were taken.
Under the proposal, the remains are to be returned to the Kotan no Kai, an organization headed by Yuji Shimizu that is seeking to restore previously existing Ainu villages.
While the remains of 1,636 Ainu individuals are presently housed at a total of 12 universities around the country, the majority are found at Hokkaido University.
The national government published guidelines in May 2014 specifying that identifiable remains should be returned to the individuals who are able to perform ancestral rites for them. Unidentifiable remains, meanwhile, should be kept together in a memorial facility inside a complex to be built in the town of Shiraoi, called the Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony.
While the remains of only 23 Ainu individuals have been identified, the plaintiffs in the case have sought the preliminary return of 78 -- emphasizing that "Ainu ancestral rites take place in villages, and even if the remains have not been identified, this is where they must be returned."
During the consultation held on March 25, it was decided that the unidentified remains of 11 individuals that had been excavated from the Kineusu district in the town of Urakawa should be returned, along with the remains of one additional individual that has been identified.
Meanwhile, Hokkaido University is working to ascertain where to return the remains of four other identified individuals for whom it is unknown who can perform ancestral rites.
Ryukichi Ogawa, 80, a plaintiff in the case who is originally from Urakawa and now resides in Sapporo, will be receiving the remains of his uncle.
"I would like to thank the presiding judge (Akira Honda)," Ogawa commented.
The case is scheduled to come before the court three times, with the settlement having been signed for the first round. Hokkaido University representatives declined to comment as the case is presently under litigation.