Black feng shui cat, £5.50
Height: 44.500 cm
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Ainu, early 20th century
Before the widespread use of photography in the late nineteenth century, model houses were made for large international fairs and acquired by museums to illustrate different architectural forms and techniques across the world. This model is of an Ainu house, as could be seen at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century on the island of Hokkaidō in the north of Japan.
Most villages had fewer than a dozen houses like this, along with other buildings such as storage houses. They were usually located near rivers, which provided essential transport routes and an abundant supply of fish.
Until the early twentieth century, the livelihood of the Ainu was based on hunting, fishing and on gathering a variety of plant products. The equipment needed for these activities included traps, spears, baskets, etc., and much of this would have been kept in the shed on one side of the building. The family, usually a couple and their unmarried children, lived in the main part of the house.
Although most buildings in Hokkaidō are now built according to Japanese styles, the Ainu continue to perform some of the building rituals (different from Japanese foundation ceremonies) that were associated with the traditional wooden thatched houses.
W.W. Fitzhugh and C.O. Dubreuil, Ainu: spirit of a northern peo (Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., 1999)
J. Kreiner (ed.), European studies on Ainu langu, Monographien aus dem Deutschen Institut für Japanstudien der Philipp-Franz–von-Siebold-Stiftung, Band 6 (Munich, Iudicium, 1993)