University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Ainu Robe from Japan [Object of the Day #31]

July 30, 2012

Ainu Robe from Japan
Ainu Robe from Japan

This Ainu robe was collected by  Hiram M. Hiller (1867-1921) a physician and amateur ethnologist during a trip to Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan. The trip itself lasted only a month but covered an area stretching from the southern coastal villages of Hokkaido, near Shiraoi (where this piece comes from), to a circuit around the Volcano Bay. His main intention was to make notes on “manners and customs” of the Ainu, ranging from clothing and ornaments to religious beliefs, charms, and burial preparations . His assistant Jenichiro Oyabe proved quite useful in procuring artifacts from the Ainu through use of trading and bartering, often laying objects next to artifacts of equal worth and negotiating a fair price. His skill and knowledge of Ainu language and customs created favorable relations among the Ainu and allowed for some unique purchases.

When Hiller finally left Japan, he had collected over 263 artifacts and filled three journals with notes.  His camera had also produced about 50 photographs showing the Ainu in their daily activities and giving context for many of the objects that he collected. Satisfied with this effort, Hiller sent the collection back to the Museum where it was immediately put on display by Stewart Culin in two cases in the galleries .  The collection as a whole, including photos, books, journals and artifacts, is not only valuable for its insight into traditions that were dying out among the Ainu, but also serves as a glimpse into the early twentieth century travel  and collecting expeditions that have become a hallmark of the era. A large subset of the collection was loaned in 2008 to two venues in Japan for the exhibit: アイヌの工芸 : ペンシルバニア大学考古学人類学博物館ヒラーコレクション ( Ainu collections : University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Hiller Collections).  A nice catalog was produced for the show as well.

Penn Museum Object #A397A.

See this and other objects like it in Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database.

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