Kutune Shirka

The Kutune Shirka (Ainu: クツ゚ネシㇼカ), known in Japanese as Itadorimaru no Kyoku (虎杖丸の曲) or simply Itadorimaru (虎杖丸), is a sacred yukar epic of the native Ainu people of Japan. The Ainu title refers to a magic sword wielded by the story's protagonist. It is one of the most important, if not the most important, piece of Ainu literature. There have been several translation efforts since its compilation, into Japanese and other languages.


Like most epics, the plot of the Kutune Shirka is long and covers many events. This yukar is approximately 10,000 words long.[1]

The epic itself tells the tale from a first-person narrative, as is usual in Ainu oral tradition, where the storyteller takes on the role of the protagonist. Like other Ainu epics, the Kutune Shirka is recited with a rhythm of two stressed beats per line. This was enacted by the reciter, who would tap a stick every beat.[2]


The story begins with the setting of the hero's home. One day, the hero hears news of a golden sea otter. It is revealed to him that an unnamed figure has put a bounty on the capture of the golden otter. Whoever catches the otter would receive the unnamed figure's sister as a bride, along with much treasure as dowry. Many men from different tribes and locales travel to the otter's home and attempt to capture it, under the watchful eye of a red-haired hag. The hero succeeds in catching the otter, and brings it back to his home. This, however, stirs jealousy amongst the other tribes, and the rest of the poem deals with the battles and conflicts fought amongst them. The hero is aided by his magic sword which assists him throughout his struggles.

The poem ends somewhat abruptly, and it is uncertain if this was intentional. By comparing with its earlier sections, linguistic evidence seen in the last few lines suggest the beginning of a new episode in the saga. However, no other known version of the Kutune Shirka progresses any further in the story. Arthur Waley, one of the poem's translators, felt that the yukar seems to "break off" rather than come to an end.[2]

The sea otter is a significant figure in Ainu culture and mythology, and are found only at the northern tip of Japan, where the Ainu reside.


The Kutune Shirka was likely to have originated throughout Ainu history in the form of oral literature. The Ainu had a strong oral culture, and were well known for reciting folktales and epics in prose.

The modern version of the Kutune Shirka was first recorded by Japanese linguistics professor Kyōsuke Kindaichi in the 1920s. Kindaichi had heard the epic from an old, blind Ainu man by the name of Nabesawa Wakarpa. When asked about the ballad's origins, Wakarpa denied any hand in its creation and stated that he had only recited what he had heard from others before him. Wakarpa died before the Kutune Shirka was published in 1932. As such, there is no credible way to calculate the epic's age. Arthur Waley suggests a broad estimate of anywhere between the 9th and 20th centuries.[2]


The first translations of the Kutune Shirka was penned by the Ainu transcriber Imekanu, also known by her Japanese name Matsu Kannari. Professor Kyōsuke Kindaichi then recorded the version heard from Nabesawa Wakarpa, and published this version together with Imekanu's version in 1932. Imekanu's transcription in original Ainu is a vital specimen of the Ainu language, and was examined extensively in Kindaichi's later publications concerning Ainu grammar and syntax. In 1951, it was translated into English by Arthur Waley, and published in the Italian literary journal Botteghe Oscure.

See also


  1. ^ Shibatani, M. (1990) The languages of Japan. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-36918-5
  2. ^ a b c Kutune Shirka. Internet Sacred Text Archive, translation by Arthur Waley. Retrieved on May 06, 2009.
Arthur Waley

Arthur David Waley (born Arthur David Schloss, 19 August 1889 – 27 June 1966) was an English orientalist and sinologist who achieved both popular and scholarly acclaim for his translations of Chinese and Japanese poetry. Among his honours were the CBE in 1952, the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1953, and he was invested as a Companion of Honour in 1956.Although highly learned, Waley avoided academic posts and most often wrote for a general audience. He chose not to be a specialist but to translate a wide and personal range of classical literature. Starting in the 1910s and continuing steadily almost until his death in 1966, these translations started with poetry, such as A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (1918) and Japanese Poetry: The Uta (1919), then an equally wide range of novels, such as The Tale of Genji (1925–26), an 11th-century Japanese work, and Monkey, from 16th-century China. Waley also presented and translated Chinese philosophy, wrote biographies of literary figures, and maintained a lifelong interest in both Asian and Western paintings.

A recent evaluation called Waley "the great transmitter of the high literary cultures of China and Japan to the English-reading general public; the ambassador from East to West in the first half of the 20th century", and went on to say that he was "self-taught, but reached remarkable levels of fluency, even erudition, in both languages. It was a unique achievement, possible (as he himself later noted) only in that time, and unlikely to be repeated."

Bibliography of the Ainu

This is a bibliography of works on the Ainu people of modern Japan and the Russian Far East.


Imekanu (イメカヌ, November 10, 1875 – April 6, 1961), also known by her Japanese name Kannari Matsu (金成 マツ), was an Ainu missionary and epic poet. Along with her niece, Yukie Chiri, she wrote down and preserved numerous Ainu yukar she learned from her mother.

Kamui (manga)

KAMUI (カムイ) is a Japanese shōjo manga series by Japanese author Shingo Nanami. The manga was serialized in the Monthly Stencil magazine, and later serialized in Monthly Gangan WING magazine, and published in Japan by SQUARE ENIX.

The English language translation of the manga is published by Broccoli Books.

List of epic poems

This is a list of epic poems.

Sea otter

The sea otter (Enhydra lutris) is a marine mammal native to the coasts of the northern and eastern North Pacific Ocean. Adult sea otters typically weigh between 14 and 45 kg (31 and 99 lb), making them the heaviest members of the weasel family, but among the smallest marine mammals. Unlike most marine mammals, the sea otter's primary form of insulation is an exceptionally thick coat of fur, the densest in the animal kingdom. Although it can walk on land, the sea otter is capable of living exclusively in the ocean.

The sea otter inhabits nearshore environments, where it dives to the sea floor to forage. It preys mostly on marine invertebrates such as sea urchins, various molluscs and crustaceans, and some species of fish. Its foraging and eating habits are noteworthy in several respects. First, its use of rocks to dislodge prey and to open shells makes it one of the few mammal species to use tools. In most of its range, it is a keystone species, controlling sea urchin populations which would otherwise inflict extensive damage to kelp forest ecosystems. Its diet includes prey species that are also valued by humans as food, leading to conflicts between sea otters and fisheries.

Sea otters, whose numbers were once estimated at 150,000–300,000, were hunted extensively for their fur between 1741 and 1911, and the world population fell to 1,000–2,000 individuals living in a fraction of their historic range. A subsequent international ban on hunting, conservation efforts, and reintroduction programs into previously populated areas have contributed to numbers rebounding, and the species occupies about two-thirds of its former range. The recovery of the sea otter is considered an important success in marine conservation, although populations in the Aleutian Islands and California have recently declined or have plateaued at depressed levels. For these reasons, the sea otter remains classified as an endangered species.


Yukar (Ainu: ユカㇻ) are Ainu sagas that form a long rich tradition of oral literature. In older periods, the epics were performed by both men and women; during the 19th and early 20th centuries, when Ainu culture was in decline, women were generally the most skillful performers.

Traditional tales describe floating worlds with "Ainu Mosir", or the land of the humans (as opposed to "Kamuy Mosir", the land of the gods), resting on the back of a fish whose movements cause earthquakes.

Professor Kyōsuke Kindaichi collected yukar and translated them into Japanese.

In August 2006, the Asahi Shimbun reported in its article that Japan's Agency of Cultural Affairs (Bunkacho) would discontinue funding by fiscal year 2007 of the project to translate and transcribe the yukar compilations of Imekanu, Kannari Matsu Notebooks (金成マツノート, Kan-nari Matsu Nōto), which consists of 92 yukar stories written in Romaji with the tenth story lost and 49 stories left untranslated. It is said that the stoppage is because of Shigeru Kayano's death in May 2006.In 1999, a multi-national group of educators and translators established "Project U-e-peker" with the intention of making more Ainu folktales available in English. They have produced English versions of two of Kayano's books under the titles The Ainu: A Story of Japan's Original People (Tuttle Publishing 2004) and The Ainu and the Fox (RIC Publications 2006). Future projects include picturebook English versions of the yukar recorded in Ainu Shin'yōshū (アイヌ神謡集), an anthology of stories from the Ainu oral tradition which were first put into writing and translated into the Japanese language by Chiri Yukie (1903-1922), the niece of Kannari Matsu, an invaluable assistant to Kindaichi until she died at the age of 19.

Books which relate the epic songs of the Ainu in English include Chiri Yukie's Ainu Shin'yōshū, translated by Benjamin Peterson of Project Okikirmui in 2013, and Songs of Gods, Songs of Humans: The Epic Tradition of the Ainu by Donald L. Philippi. The Project Okikirmui collection contains thirteen yukar, while Philippi translates 35 epics, all of them originally recorded by women, the majority by Imekanu.

The Ainu epic Kutune Shirka is a major example of the yukar style.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.