Connecting indigenous Ainu, university and local industry in Japan: The Urespa Project

Koji Maeda, PhD, Kaori H. Okano, PhD


This paper examines how collaboration amongst university, indigenous
community and private sector companies can promote Ainu participation
in higher education, drawing on a case study of the Urespa Project
in Sapporo University, Japan. In this project, the university offers
scholarships to Ainu students, requiring them to take a special course in
Ainu culture and history and develop collaborations with partner private
sector companies.
We suggest that ‘the two-way learning’ that the Urespa Project advocates
signifies a challenge to the conventional approach to Ainu education,
which has long centred on the majority wajin providing uni-directional
assistance to the Ainu in order to help them achieve the national
educational benchmarks. The ‘mutual learning’ approach (sodateai in
Japanese, urespa in the Ainu language) stresses a nurturing environment
in which both Ainu and non-Ainu students feel included. That such
initiatives came from private universities, rather than the national
government, is indicative of how Ainu education is perceived as a local,
rather than national, issue in Japan.

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