Kayano was known as an activist of the Ainu ethnic movement. He founded Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum and became the first Ainu Diet member. He was also the first person to pose questions in the Ainu language in the Diet. He played a major role in enacting the Act for the Promotion of Ainu Culture & Dissemination of Knowledge Regarding Ainu Traditions (アイヌ文化の振興並びにアイヌの伝統等に関する知識の普及及び啓発に関する法律) in 1997.
Since the major purpose of becoming a statesman was to enact the law, he left the House of Councilors after serving only one term with the words: “A hunter goes home before the darkness falls.”
When I lived in Hokkaido, I noticed that there was an Ainu language program on the radio. Since I had never heard anybody speak the language, I was curious and tuned in to the program.
The instructor was Kayano. I was surprised when his warm tone of voice wrapped me gently because I had regarded Kayano as a fierce activist. His Ainu speech exuded nothing but love.
The Ainu language is of course very different from Japanese. I soon gave up studying the language, but sometimes switched on the radio just to be enveloped by Kayano’s affection.
“Iramkarapte” is a greeting which means “hello.” However, its true meaning in Ainu is: let me touch your heart softly.
Kayano’s voice indeed touched my heart softly.
The homepage of Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum:
Although Kayano passed away in 2006, you can listen to the language program in which he once taught:
Here are some video clips of a documentary on Kayano visiting Scotland to find the roots of a Scottish doctor, Neil Gordon Munro, who had helped the Ainu people some seventy years ago.
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I’ve been fortunate to get to know some truly remarkable people in my life. One of them was an origami artist Akira Yoshizawa whom I wrote about in “Akira Yoshizawa: the Master of Origami.” Another was Shigeru Kayano whom I only knew through mass media. Kayano was known as an activist of the