Upopoy (National Ainu Museum and Park) – Shiraoi, Japan - Atlas Obscura

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Upopoy (National Ainu Museum and Park)

Shiraoi, Japan

Learn about the indigenous people of Japan's northernmost islands. 


Set on expansive grounds with a calm lake, the Upopoy museum complex gives insight into the historical and current lives of the Ainu people, one of Japan’s least populous minority groups.

The Ainu hail from the northern islands of Japan, including Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands. The culture is quite unlike that of other regions in the country, partly due to the extreme weather experienced so far north. The indoor museum explains the unique ceremonies, clothing, food, and belief systems of the Ainu people. It also contains information about their persecution throughout the history of Japan and how they’ve worked together with the Japanese government to receive recognition. 

In addition to the indoor museum, entry includes access to the theater, where traditional Ainu performances are held, and replica cises, or Ainu houses. Some of the cises can be entered, and performances and talks are sometimes held inside. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see someone play a mukkuri, the traditional Ainu mouth harp.

Know Before You Go

Upopoy can be reached via a short, well-marked walk from the Shiraoi train station. Alternatively, there is ample parking available.

The theater performance includes an audio device that can translate to a multitude of languages; however, the performances inside of the cise are in Japanese. Much of the museum's written content is in both English and Japanese.

Outside of the museum complex, there are several food options with local specialties, as well as a gift shop.

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June 13, 2024

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