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Indigenous Ainu university student shares her culture with the rest of Japan on YouTube

Maya Sekine, a university student and YouTuber spreading Ainu culture, is seen in the town of Biratori, Hokkaido Prefecture on May 11, 2020. (Mainichi/Taichi Kaizuka)

TOKYO -- A Japanese university student with Indigneous Ainu roots has taken to YouTube to share her culture and language, which she has learned to embrace over the years.

Maya Sekine, 20, runs "Sito Channel," whose name comes from Ainu grain dumplings called sito. The third-year student at Keio University in the nation's capital has made videos teaching viewers about ways to say phrases from daily life in the Ainu language, such as "I want to go to karaoke," or "Don't you have someone you like?" She also introduces her audience to traditional Ainu culture, including songs and cuisine.

Sekine was born in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido in the Nibutani district in the town of Biratori, where many Ainu live. She studied the language from a young age, and was awarded first place twice at Ainu speech contests during her elementary school years. She eventually felt overwhelmed by the expectations placed on her to play a central role in maintaining traditional Ainu culture. Sekine felt uneasy about standing out, and began to hide her ancestry once she moved away from her hometown in her middle school years.

In her third year of high school in the prefectural capital of Sapporo, Sekine worried about her future. She reflected on her roots as an Ainu, asking herself, "What is something that only I can do?" At university, she told those around her of her Ainu ancestry and began to hold language sessions. Friends her age engaged in the Ainu culture earnestly, without prejudice. One day, someone said, "It would be nice if there were more opportunities for you to spread Ainu culture," which led her to dive into the world of YouTube.

One year has passed since Sekine launched her channel. She has had the opportunity to re-educate herself on Ainu views on religion and nature when viewers asked questions about those topics. She has also begun to learn how to make mountain vegetable dishes and embroidery from family when visiting home. She has even recorded announcements for local buses in Hokkaido, and has taught Ainu language classes on the radio. The more she learns about Ainu traditions, the more she wants to share it with others.

Sekine commented, "I'm able to keep this up because it's fun to learn about and express my own culture. I don't have the sense that I'm doing this for the larger good of the Ainu people."

(Japanese original by Jun Kaneko, City News Department)

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