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Screening and Talk: An Introduction to Neil Gordon Munro’s The Ainu Bear Ceremony

February 11 @ 3:00 pm - 6:30 pm

Screening and Talk In Collaboration with Japan House London

11 February 2024, 15:00 – 16:30 GMT

Location: Japan House London, 101-111 Kensington High St, London W8 5SA (Map)

Booking here: https://www.japanhouselondon.uk/whats-on/an-introduction-to-neil-gordon-munros-the-ainu-bear-ceremony/

An Introduction to Neil Gordon Munro’s The Ainu Bear Ceremony

Simon Wright (Japan House London)

Dr Stephen Putnam Hughes (RAI)


The Ainu Bear Ceremony was filmedby Scottish physician, anthropologist and writer Dr Neil Gordon Munro, who lived in Nibutani for the last twelve years of his life and helped raised awareness of Ainu culture through his writings. This archival footage has only been screened in an academic setting before*, and with the permission of the Ainu community of Biratori Japan House London is presenting it to a public audience in conjunction with the exhibition Ainu Stories: Contemporary Lives by the Saru River.

This short, 30-minute film, made in around 1931, records the Iyomante rimse (also known as the Bear Ceremony), in which a brown bear is sacrificed in a spirit-sending ritual after being raised for two years in the community. The bear embodies the mountain kamuy (spirit-deity) which, after having visited the world of humans (Ainu) and having generously provided fur and meat as a bear, is sent back to the world of kamuy with a ceremony. This festival was one of the best-known ceremonies and most important of all Ainu rituals, however, it should be noted that it is no longer practised today.

This footage presents not only an important record of this now extinct Ainu tradition, but a close insight on everyday activities carried out by the Ainu community living in Nibutani in the early decades of the 20th century. Having studied Ainu culture for 30 years, Munro wanted to demonstrate that the Ainu had a cultural identity and heritage that was important to contextualize and preserve, at a time when discrimination and societal pressure threatened to jeopardize their way of life.

This event is held in collaboration with the Royal Anthropological Institute, which owns the film donated by Munro himself and shown there for the first time in January 1933.The screening is preceded by an introduction with Stephen Hughes, Film Officer & Festival Director at the Royal Anthropological Institute, and Japan House London Programming Director Simon Wright, curator of the exhibition. There is also an opportunity to ask questions after the screening.

*Please be aware that this film includes scenes of a sensitive nature and may not be suitable for some. We recommend that all those attending the screening must be at least 18 years old.

The screening is in English. Duration: approx. 30 minutes.

The exhibition Ainu Stories: Contemporary Lives by the Saru Riveris on display in the Gallery at Japan House London from 16 November 2023 until 21 April 2024.

About the Speakers

Dr Stephen Putnam Hughes is currently Film Officer and Film Festival Director at the Royal Anthropological Institute in London, UK. He earned his PhD at the University of Chicago and taught for several decades at SOAS, University of London. His specialist interests focus on the Anthropology of Media with an emphasis on documentary and ethnographic film, while his regional expertise is based in Tamil-speaking south India. He is currently working to curate the 40th-anniversary RAI Film Festival in 2025, which will be held in March at Bristol and online in April.

Simon Wright is Director of Programming at Japan House London and has co-curated the exhibition Ainu Stories: Contemporary Lives by the Saru River with the people of Biratori. He leads guided tours the exhibition highlighting little-known historical links between the UK and the Ainu community of Biratori.


February 11
3:00 pm - 6:30 pm