Division of Indigenous Peoples of the Far East


Focusing on the Russian Far East and North, this research examines the linguistics and cultures of indigenous (minority) peoples living across Siberia and northern Eurasia. It studies their traditional cultures and contemporary lifestyles as well as examines the cultural exchange that results from inter-community cooperation.

For most of the 20th century, these indigenous peoples suffered many changes to their general lifestyle and culture under the Soviet Union's socialist governmental and economic systems, and they continue to experience waves of marketization and globalization after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The minority languages and ethnic groups are in danger of disappearing, and the very existence of these indigenous peoples is frequently under threat. At the same time, an analysis of their traditional worldviews, ways of life, and modes of production point to connections with various peoples around them, including the Japanese. Until now, research on the peoples of these regions has been largely been conducted by Russian and other Western researchers; however, various ethnic cultures in the Far East are worth studying from the Japanese point of view, who are neighbors of this region.

Members and Staff

Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chiba University (Culture of Northern Peoples of Eurasia, Cultural Anthropology)
Chikako ONO
Research Fellow, Center for Arial Studies, Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Chiba University (Linguistics, Itelmen)

Research on the Indigenous Minority Languages of Kamchatka

Indigenous peoples such as Itelmen and Koryak have long resided on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. The Itelmen used to be known as the "Kamchadal," and were traditionally engaged in fishing and food gathering. It was thought that the Itelmen language was related to the neighboring languages of Koryak, Aleut, Chukchi, and Kerek, but it is very distinct from these four languages and doubts about its genealogy remain. The Center is engaged in research on the Itelmen language with the aim of clarifying its unique grammar and relations with neighboring languages.

Workshop for the revitalization of Itelmen (Malki, Kamchatka, June 2012)

Dogsled racing (Tigil, Kamchatka, February 2007)

Project Overview

  • Itelmen dictionary project (with the University of Alaska and University of Connecticut)
    Collaborative Research: Comprehensive Itelmen [itl] Dictionary (NSF, BCS #1263668, 2013-2016)
  • Itelmen documentation project (with the University of Alaska and University of Connecticut)
    Integrated Audio-Visual Documentation of Itelmen [itl] (NSF, BCS #1065619, 2011-2014)

Reindeer Herding among Far Eastern Peoples

Reindeer are the only deer to have been domesticated. Reindeer herding is one form of herding that has developed in the Far North and has come to play a vital role in the lives of indigenous peoples living in regions near the Far North of the Eurasian continent. The reindeer themselves are adapted to the cold, so peoples who breed them domestically have also come to adapt to the high northern latitudes and have developed their own cultural particularities. The life and culture of reindeer herders among Russian indigenous peoples is being studied particularly closely. Their situation is currently perilous due to changes in their environment brought about by resource extraction, urbanization, population decrease, and global warming. At the same time, the reindeer themselves have become valuable due to the development of markets for medicine and health foods that make use of their meat, antlers, and skin, and efforts are being made to ensure their survival. We study the culture of reindeer herders within this modern context.

Reindeer herders in Olenyok, Sakha Republic, Russia, in winter (February 2013)

Summer herding at Olenyok in the Sakha Republic (August 2010)

A Nenets nomadic caravan, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Western Siberia (November 2001)

Global Environment Research Project on "Siberian nature and people under global warming - Society's adaptation to ecological changes" (2009-2013)
Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research "Research into the culture of reindeer herders in the Far North as a symbiotic system" (2007-2009)

Research on Under-ice Fishing

Ice fishing involves cutting a hole in the ice of a frozen lake or river and threading a net through in order to fish beneath the surface. The net used can be of a considerable size. This method of fishing seems to have been developed by indigenous groups in both the Old and New Worlds to some extent, but there is little practical information on the methods and scale of this type of fishing. It continues to be practiced today by indigenous groups in Siberia and China, and possibly beyond. Rod-fishing through the ice for smelt, such as that practiced by individuals as a form of recreation, is outside the bounds of this investigation.

Regarding the current situation in Japan, under-ice fishing tends to be limited to using dragnet, gillnet, and fixed net in a few lakes scattered around Hokkaido. On the other hand, in the past, this method of fishing was used at Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture and Hachirogata in Akita Prefecture, although the practice has died out due to regulation for overfishing and global warming in the former case, and impracticalities arising from land reclamation in the latter. This method of fishing, relying as it does on the ice, is obviously very dependent upon environmental conditions and temperature. This project investigates this method of fishing within the context of relations between the environment and occupation, and the regional culture demonstrated by the method's contemporary significance.


Under-ice fishing on Hachirogata prior to land reclamation
(Akita Sakigake Shinpo, February 5, 1960)


Under-ice fishing by Nenets herders in Western Siberia (November 2001)


Under-ice fishing for Yakka (fish) that used to be seen on Lake Suwa (1958)