Summary: The Japanese government has been instructed by the Diet to officially recognize the Ainu as an “indigenous people” in the sense used in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (press release), to which Japan is a signatory.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura Nobutaka’s statement. Yomiuri assigns to Machimura this English money quote: “The government will strive to work out comprehensive measures [for the Ainu] with the understanding that the Ainu are indigenous people.”
You can read the full text of the “Resolution Seeking to Recognize the Ainu People as an Indigenous People” (アイヌ民族を先住民族とすることを求める決議) here. Meat:
(Rough summary: The government shall recognize the Ainu as an indigenous people as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — indigenous to the northern part of the Japanese archipelago and environs, Hokkaido in particular, with a unique language and distinctive religious/cultural practices. Having adopted the UN Declaration, the government shall furthermore seek advice from knowledgeable parties at a high level and develop its existing Ainu-related policies into a concrete, comprehensive strategy for abiding by the declarations provisions.)
There are 46 articles in the UN Declaration. What will the Utari Kyōkai seek going forward?
The resolution proposes that the government “seek advice from knowledgeable parties at a high level” (高いレベルで有識者の意見を聞きながら), and in accordance with this we’d like the government to spend a year or so discussing the issue from historical, legal, and other perspectives. At that point, we would like them to sort out what can be done immediately, in the medium term, and in the long term, and proceed based on that.
It is said that the reason the government hasn’t recognized the Ainu as an indigenous people is because they are afraid of demands like “Give us our land back” or “Guarantee us seats in the Diet.”
The Utari Kyōkai has never said “Give us our land back.” When the Law for the Promotion of Ainu Culture (アイヌ文化振興法) was promulgated [in 1997], the policy details were finalized in accordance with the existing domestic situation. We want [everyone involved] to think long-term, not short-term (目先のことを望むのではなく、長いスパンを考えて対応したい).
Yeah, it’s a purely symbolic gesture at this point, and yeah, it may be partly driven by the idea that the Ainu could be used as ammunition in Japan’s ongoing feud with Russia over parts north. But a positive symbolic gesture is better than nothing … right? It’s also got to beat the Japanese government’s previous position, which was that the Ainu were indigenous, and a people, but not necessarily an indigenous people.
Rambling background and commentary in English at the BBC, via an article brought to my attention at Metafilter.