Upopoy Ainu Museum, Park Attracts nearly 200,000 Visitors in First 6 Months

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Visitors are seen at the Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park in Shiraoi, Hokkaido, on Wednesday.

SHIRAOI, Hokkaido — The Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park has attracted a total of 198,485 visitors in the six months since its opening in mid-July, the operator said Wednesday.

Although the initial target had been set at 1 million visitors per year, the Foundation for Ainu Culture, which operates the facility, said at a press conference that it “highly evaluated the figure, considering the number of visitors has been limited due to the coronavirus crisis.”

Also known as Upopoy, it houses the National Ainu Museum, a cultural exchange hall, a workshop facility, crafts studio and an area modeled after a traditional Ainu village. The Ainu word upopoy means “singing together in a large group.”

The complex opened on July 12, 2½ months later than initially planned due to the virus outbreak. The museum and hall require advance reservations in order to limit the number of visitors at one time.

According to the foundation, the average daily number of visitors during the six-month period was 1,177 on weekdays and 1,509 on weekends and holidays. By month, 44,016 visited in September, and 52,359 in October. However, the number halved to 28,795 in November when infections once again started surging, and dropped even more sharply to 8,305 in December. This is mainly because of a series of cancellations of school trips and other educational trips.

Still, the number of visitors to Upopoy as part of educational trips totaled 48,532 from 603 schools over the six-month period.

For the next fiscal year, it has already received reservations from 422 schools that are expected to bring 50,320 visitors.

The foundation believes that teachers among others in educational fields “show great interest in the facility as a place to learn about the Ainu culture.”

In order to attract more visitors while implementing measures against the virus, Upopoy later this month will start a service that can produce smartphone pictures in which visitors appear as if they were wearing Ainu folk costumes, without actually wearing them. It will also start a program that allows visitors to simulate traditional Ainu hunting and games. The museum plans to replace items on display in the special exhibition room every two months.

The foundation said it hoped many more people will learn about the Ainu culture and how wonderful it is through hands-on programs, while taking thorough measures against the virus.

“Although there are some issues to be dealt with, such as traffic congestion in the area, we are grateful for the efforts being made to revive the Ainu culture amid the ongoing pandemic,” said Tadashi Kato, former executive director of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido.