First Fish - First People, Traditional Ainu Life: Living off the Interest

Kayano Shigeru
Translated from Japanese by Jane Coddry Langill with Rie Taki

To the kind readers of this book, Shigeru Kayano sends his warmest greetings from the large island at the north of Japan known in the Japanese language as Hokkaido and know in the language of Ainu people who have lived here for centuries as Ainu Moshir, “the peaceful land of the people.”

In the Ainu language, the word ainu means “human,” and it could only be applied to a respectable human being, so the word ainu was very important in our society.

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Leslie Langille Benson
Matthew 26:47 And while he is yet speaking, lo, Judas, one of the twelve did come, and with him a great multitude, with swords and sticks, from the chief priests and elders of the people. (YLT)

Salmon Coming Home in Search of Sacred Bliss
Mieko Chikappu
Translated from Japanese by Jane Coddry Langill with Taki Rie and Judith Roache

The salmon come riding home

Home from long journeys through great seas

How magnificent they flash!

Look, home is just ahead, up there

Push on a little more.

Weaving the waves together, the salmon

Dance in small, joyful jumps

Scales shining a bright silver.

Riding the rhythm of the breaking waves,

They twist their bodies and leap!

But it does not always go as well as hoped.

Twice and three times they jump, and again.

Exhausted, some become swallowed by the waves,

Where they crest on sandy shore

Weakly, twice, three times they try to jump again

And finally fall back where they lie.

Awaiting them, the gulls and the crows,

Their ordeal fated from beyond time.

Yielding to the resistance of the river

The salmon come riding home

To their birth place, home

To their precious motherland.

This river that sent them off to sea,

This home from where they emerged

Home river, resisting, not holding them back

Whispers promises of life.

The crashing waves of the river

Never troubled with such matters,

Break on the shore again and again, unchanging.

Only those who catch the rhythm of these waves

Will last to create life anew.

Ride the waves and jump!

Ahh, a splendid leap!
Yes, you will be fine now

You have made it through the hardest part.

Now you need only swim home, swift now

For home is just up there, just ahead.

As the salmon go home to their mother river, the river,

The river goes home to its mother, the mountain

And in the home mountains

Reside the wisdom and teachings of the ancestors.

Maku-Ta-Fuchi (Ekashi), ancestors

Deep mountain-dwelling - grandmothers (grandfathers).

Our progenitor god, the guardian deities.

The mountains, the breasts of mother earth.

The rivers that flow there,

The mother’s milk of mother earth,

Take from the mountain-dwelling ancients

Full measure of nurture

To nourish the salmon.

The salmon following

The familiar scent and taste

Ride the river home.

Aflame with the crimson color of marriage, the salmon

Seek their lovers.

Spinning out life

Is an act of death.

For the salmon

Life lives in death.

The salmon bets its life on love,

Beautiful evanescent ceremony,

Bodies pressed together on the river bed.

Lovers push each other’s passion

Until it hurts.

Pure, straight love for survival.

The single act of love

Risks all.

The salmon die

Ahh, so tenderly.

So fiercely flames their passion

They love each other to death

In transcendent moment of ultimate bliss.

To perform this sacred ceremony of love

The salmon ride the river home.

Now cradled in the arms of home,

You may rest

For you will live on

In the memories of your children

You will endure forever

So rest well now,

Kamuy chep

Oh, most sacred fish!