However, despite the difficult conditions, the Ainu maintained a degree of autonomy in the north of the island. But during the Meiji Restoration, which began in 1868, all this was to change. Hoping to modernize the country and make it more Western, the Japanese authorities launched a series of reform initiatives – one of which involved taking over the Ainu lands.
In 1899, the ironically titled Ainu Protection Act was passed by the Japanese government. These laws collectively forced the Ainu to give up their territories and effectively become citizens of Japan. Moreover, the indigenous people were required to abandon their language, religion and customs in the hope that they would become more like the Wajin. And, for a long time, the tactic seemed to have worked.
Originally, the Ainu were said to have paler skin than the Wajin, with wavy hair that was often red or blond. However, after they were forced to give up their culture, Hokkaido’s native inhabitants often intermarried with the mainlanders, hoping that their children might not face the same discrimination they had experienced.