6. Ainu in Japanese (身近にあるアイヌ語)
Note: This essay is originally intended for Japanese speakers.
Ainu is heard much more often than you would imagine. For example, the word for sea otter "rakko" is in fact an Ainu word. Or, you know how Santa Claus ride sleigh "sori" led by the reindeer "tonakay." Many people mistakenly believe that they must be some Northern European word, but they are in fact Sakhalin Ainu words. Or how about shishamo, one of the favourite side dish with sake? This shishamo is from the Ainu word susam. The word susam is a compound noun of sus + ham, meaning "willow leaf." Shishamo kind of looks like a willow leaf, isn't it?
But the Ainu words are most often seen, heard and used in the place names. One may notice that the place names in Hokkaido sound just "different" from that of the other areas, and those are Ainu words. Let's take Noboribetsu. This is a Japonised form of the Ainu name Nupurpet, "muddy river." Noboribetsu comes from the Kanji transcription of Nupurpet, and thus the characters for nobori (登) and betsu (別) do not mean anything.
There are many place names in Hokkaido that end in betsu (別), nai (内), and shiri (尻). (Note: the Kanji literally mean "other", "inside", and "buttock" respectively.) This nai is from Ainu word nay meaning "marsh", and shiri comes from sir, meaning "land" or "mountain." For example, Wakkanai can be broken down into Ainu words yam wakka nay, "cold-water-river." Another place name Rishiri becomes ri sir, "high mountain."
There are many interesting findings in the study of Hokkaido toponyms. Erimo (襟裳岬) is from enrum, meaning "cape." Interestingly enough, the Kanji for Erimo preserves the character for "cape" in it: 岬. Siretoko (知床岬) comes from Sir etok, "the peninsula" which again means "cape" (岬). Ainu even gave new readings to Japanese Kanji here. But Chitose (千歳) is not Ainu in origin. The original Ainu is si kot, "large river." Sikot was originally transcribed as Shikotsu (死骨) literaly meaning "dead bones" in character. This didn't sound very appealing, and it was given a new name Chitose ("thousand years") in Japanese. Sikot remains in other place names such as Lake Shikotsu, this time with different characters: 支笏.
Now, are you interested in finding out what different place names means and what their original forms are in Ainu? Toponyms are usually given a long time ago, and they change with the history, and sometimes the same name is given to a different place later. For example, an area of Sapporo is called Tsukisamu (月寒), which used to be called Cikisap in Ainu. This later became Tsukisatpu and finally fixed in Kanji Tsukisamu. Another example is Lake Kussharo (屈斜路), from Ainu Kutcharo, "where water flows out of lake into river." This originally was just a village there, but the Japanese gave the Japanised name Kussharo to the whole lake.
The knowledge of Ainu language is necessary in order to study the toponyms of Hokkaido. What was the original name of this place, and where did this name originally refer to? For example, finding out exactly where the names for the wide regions such as Kushiro or Tokachi originally referred to, and what they mean in Ainu, is still the standard methodology in Hokkaido toponym studies.
This may sound too obvious, but the correct knowledge of Ainu language is necessary in order to analyse Ainu. If you are trying to analyse toponyms using J. Batchelor's Ainu-Japanese-English dictionary, you will often get erroneous results. For example, Batchelor lists a as the word for "to burn." This is an overanalysis of the Ainu word ape, "fire" into a pe, "something that burns." Even if a meant "to burn", the nominalised form in Ainu should be ap, not ape. Many of his analysis simply ignores the grammar, and the saying that "Mount Fuji" comes from Ainu "Huci" (grandmother) is another urban legend coming from Batchelor. There are many who believe it, but this is simply not the case.
If anyone wants to go further into Ainu studies, the following books can be of help.
Hokkaido toponym studies is the most popular field of Ainu studies and one can find more books on Hokkaido toponyms on Amazon Japan than the rest of Ainu language books combined, for example. The short bibliography above is left in Japanese as there aren't any translations, but for those who may be curious, they include "Introduction to Ainu" and "Pocket Ainu Toponym Dictionary" by Chiri Mashiho and "Study of Ainu Toponyms" (4 vols.) and "Study of Tohoku, Ainu Toponyms" by Hidezo Yamada.