Snow shoes

Ainu, early 20th century AD
From Hokkaidō, Japan

Walking through the snow

The Ainu live on the island of Hokkaidō in northern Japan. The climate there is influenced by the proximity of Siberia, sharing its long harsh winters and heavy snow falls as well as its warm summers. Adaptation to this environment is evident in the skills developed by the Ainu and other populations living in sub-Arctic regions.

Suitable clothing was particularly important and waterproof material in particular: for example, salmon skin, once dried and stretched, was used to make boots. Different kinds of snow called for a variety of shapes of wooden frames for snow shoes, such as these with leather straps.

Hunting was one of the main activities carried out by men, and required the ability to move easily and rapidly across the snow in winter and early spring. Although deer and small animals provided most of the meat in their diet, they also hunted bear, and bear hunting was the focus of elaborate rituals.

Hunting disappeared among the Ainu in the early twentieth century, partly because the massive influx of Japanese settlers led to a reduction of natural resources. However, the increasing concern over environmental degradation in contemporary Japan has generated new interest in the Ainu's traditional close relations with their natural environment.

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More information


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)


Length: 48.500 cm

Museum number

AOA 1885.12-19.35.a, b


Gift of Dr John Anderson


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