Emishi language: a review of Emishi Aterui no tatakai


Reviewing the question of Ainu and related languages in the Tohoku and the Tungus theory. Kuji Tsutomu. Emishi Aterui no tatakai. Tokyo: Hihyosha, 2002. 


This book is a maddening mix of accurate information on the Emishi and unfounded speculation.  It is to be approached with caution.  However, there are two key issues that are addressed which I think will give greater depth to the discussion about the Emishi, and rather than shy away from addressing these controversies I think by confronting them head on will actually strengthen the overall information I present. These issues have to do with the language spoken by natives of the Tohoku, matagi, and Emishi ethnicity.


I.matagi language:

The most helpful information is the section on linguistic affinities between the Ainu language and the Emishi language (80-82). Even though the latter is a dead language the author is able to posit a clear relationship with a known language used by the mountain people of the Tohoku, matagi, found in the mountains of the Tohoku.  Could this be the clue in unraveling the Emishi language? This language though uncommon has many words that are the same or similar to the living Ainu language.  If substantiated this would be empirical evidence that there is a language in the Tohoku that has a real affinity to the Ainu language. This goes beyond place names as it compares known languages though both languages are in limited use. The caveat would be that just because there is a language with affinity to Ainu that exists in the Tohoku does not necessarily mean this language is the Emishi language. What it does show is that the Ainu impact and most probable settlement in the Tohoku becomes much more plausible than a reliance on place names alone. There is a living mountain people who still use a language that is related to the Ainu language.

It goes beyond this, however, in that even in the historical documents the Emishi are known to have inhabited the mountains of the Tohoku, and known as people who lived by hunting and gathering. Are these people the actual descendants of the Emishi, the yama-I?

The author makes a good case for the Ainu language and the Emishi language being related as sibling languages whose root is an older Jomon language from where these two originated.  Obviously, the Emishi language is a far more ancient language than Ainu.  The interesting thing about his assertion is that rather than being a straight ancestral relationship of parent to child language he speculates that they were slightly separate but related languages. Can this be proven? No, however, change takes place in all languages even in the course of a few centuries. We know this from the evolution of American English. It is very different from King James English, and from Colonial English.  We could understand their speech more or less but it would take some careful listening.  However, middle English spoken during the medieval period for most modern English speakers would be unintelligible.

So to think that the old Emishi language would be the same as the Ainu language even if related is not possible.  The most remarkable thing is how many words are nearly the same or similar sounding between matagi and Ainu.  Below are a few examples from the author of words used in everyday life compared (and corrected using an Ainu dictionary): 


                English                     matagi                          Ainu

                water                         wakka                         wakka

                 dog                           setta                           seta

                heart                         sanpe                          sanpe

                leather                      kappo                         kapkapuhu

                head                         hakke                           pake

                big                             horo                             poro

               small child                  hono                            ponpe


I have found some other interesting material on matagi (an English introduction here) that suggests that the language was kept up by local people who lived in the mountains of the northern Tohoku and used when they entered the mountains in a  semi-religious, ritualistic manner particularly in the modern period though the language was probably used in everyday life in the past. This would challenge the notion that this language is still a living language used in the daily life of a people.  It is now limited in modern times to a specialized language of the hunt specifically used by small groups of hunters in the northern Tohoku. A Cursory comparison would suggests a definite relationship to Ainu though not as clear as the above examples suggest.  

In some sense it is remarkable that this language has survived such a long time, and specifically in the hunting context lending all the more credibility to the connection between hunting and the Jomon like lifestyle this represents.  The real question is how was it transmitted? And how old is this language? How far back can it be traced? More research is necessary on this tantalizing fact of the remains of an Ainoid language in the Tohoku.


II. Tungusic people:


From time to time, see pp. 31, 33-4, 41-2, Tsutomu asserts the Tungus theory out of thin air. There is no evidence given for this assertion. For example, in pp.33-4 he carefully builds a plausible argument based on historical evidence for the appearance of the Jomon and Emishi people connecting the latter to the former convincingly.  All of a sudden he brings in the Tungus as the main component of the Emishi. There is no lead up to this or any linguistic or historical evidence given.  The only thing that serves as the weak generalization that the Jomon were an admixture of many different groups of people from both the southern Asian route and the northern Asian route, and that the Emishi have characteristics that are more northern and thus culturally are more close in affinity to the northern hunting-gathering cultures such as found in the Amur river area and Lake Baikal, and thus the Tungus.

There has to be much more historical evidence particularly if the main component of the Emishi is Tungusic ethnically and culturally, particularly at this late date (7th to 9th centuries AD). There is just no evidence for this. There is evidence of a group related to the Tungus for the Mishihase, and an earlier Okhosk culture that at one time took hold of northern to central Hokkaido much earlier (5th century AD), but at the late historical date of the rise of the Emishi we see the contrary evidence, that in fact it was the Emishi themselves or a related group(s) that took over Hokkaido from the Okhosk culture, not the other way around. For a Tungus related group to have been the main component of the Emishi there has to be some kind of evidence for a northern invasion from Hokkaido to Tohoku that was culturally Okhosk in nature. 

The evidence suggests that the opposite was the case.   That is, the Jomon ancestors of the Ainu (and Emishi) took over Hokkaido from the Okhosk culture related to the Tungus.  At the same time this Jomon group spread into the Tohoku as well in the 4th through 7th centuries AD and came face to face with the Japanese expansion from the south.  



Kenjiro  2011.9.2