The Lost Wolves of Japan
Brett L. Walker
"Wolf worship was not confined to ethnic Japanese but occurred in certain Ainu communities as well. The Ainu, the native inhabitants of northeastern Honshu and Hokkaido, knew the wolf as the high-ranking god Horkew Kamuy (literally, the "howling god"). No doubt it was as part of their ethno-biological understanding of the world that Ainu realized that their hunting habits resembled those of the Hokkaido wolf, and such recognition fostered reverence for the animal. Over time, Ainu chiefdoms came to feature the Hokkaido wolf in regional creation myths, place-names, epic poetry, folklore, and selected ceremonial events. Ainu hailed the wolf as a deity, or kamuy (much as Japanese hailed the wolf as a kami or a divine messenger of the Daimyojin), and Ainu sacrificed wolves, as they did bears and owls, in "sending-away" ceremonies called iomante.
"In certain Ainu communities, particularly those in the Tokachi and Hidaka regions, there flourished alternative versions of the origin myth about a white wolf that mated with a goddess; the offspring from this union became the ancestors of the Ainu people. Sarashina Genzo and Sarashina Ko, who collected stories of the plants and animals connected to Ainu village life, pointed out that several regional versions of this origin myth exist and that some feature a white dog rather than a white wolf. This difference appears to have been unimportant to the Ainu because both dogs and wolves inhabited much the same space in their classifying imagination. One version of this myth, from Shizunai, in the Hidaka region of southeastern Hokkaido, explains that Retaruseta Kamuy (White Wolf God), the god of Poroshiridake Mountain, could not find a suitable mate, even though he searched the entire island. So Retaruseta Kamuy summoned his divine powers to peer all the way to lands across the sea, and in time he spotted a mate in a distant country. Again drawing on his divine powers, he coerced the woman to get into a small boat and cross the sea; once on the island, she became his wife. From this union the Ainu people were born."
"In Ainu folklore, not only do male wolves take human brides, but sometimes female wolves become the wives or concubines of Ainu chiefs."
"With so many wolf gods inhabiting the mountains, it is not surprising that legend had it that if Ainu hunters left behind portions of their kill, wolves came and ate the leftovers".
"Interestingly, in Ainu lore, wolves usually were friendly toward people, as in one story from Tokachi in which a wolf saved an elderly Ainu woman from an evil bear god while she picked wild plants."
"Rarely did Ainu prioritize distinctions between wolves and dogs when making natural identifications or classifications; nor did they prioritize distinctions between artifice and nature when crafting identities for themselves."
"Ainu see the two kinds of canines as similar and their distinction, when one was needed, as largely situational. When in the village aiding people the canines were dogs; when in the mountains hunting deer they were wolves."
"In an earlier Ainu world, a world yet to be disrupted by the Japanese intrusion from the south, the landscape was alive with wolves, busily hunting deer, raising their young, and, at magical times, aiding people and descending from the heavens to inhabit sacred moutains and forests, much as wolves did in the tradition of some Japanese villages."