In the UK, most widely remembered is the “Dig for Victory” campaign launched by the British Ministry of Agriculture in 1939. It was so successful that the number of allotments grew to 1.7 million in just three years, while private gardens with vegetable produce numbered five million.

Food prices are going up, and fresh produce is going to be at a premium

During the same period, a horticultural magazine paraphrased Napoleon’s claim that the English were a nation of shopkeepers, instead writing: “We might with equal justice be called a nation of gardeners”. The claim stuck. Our obsession with gardening stretches far beyond a national pastime; it is rooted in the British psyche. The garden is considered a private sanctuary but also a site of creative expression and personal pride, as reflected in the highly competitive British annual “giant vegetable” competitions that spring up from Harrogate to Carmarthenshire. For Britons, growing our own produce has the added value of bringing locals together.

Victory gardens were also not just about food: cultivating fruit and vegetables boosted morale and built momentum. Growing for the greater good banded together communities and enabled those stuck at home to play a part, however small. Perhaps this is why the gardens’ legacy can still be felt today. While using the analogy of war to describe a viral pandemic is controversial, it makes sense that we‘ve connected the two moments in time. It is the sense of community spirit we want to revive – and a victory garden quite literally says we are in this together.
Today, visitors can wander around the same maze of chambers and roads used by its residents roughly 1,000 years ago. Some of the structures used to create the roofs and different floors are long gone, but their remains clearly reveal how they were built. Approximately 200,000 wooden pillars were used in the construction and were most likely hand-carried from the Chuska Mountains and Mount Taylor, more than 112km away.

The Chacoan roads are another impressive feature of the complex. There are about 650km of them, some 9m wide, built mostly in straight lines that cut through the rough topography instead of going around it. Their positioning, starting at a central structure and running towards notable natural elements, such as lakes and mountains, suggests they represented symbolic connections between man and nature. Yet, it doesn’t mean they weren’t practical: studies have shown that walking on those roads is less tiresome than walking on the rough terrain next to them.

Over the years, archaeologists have come up with different theories for why Chaco was built. Although the place seems to have been a trade hub, the buildings suggest it may also have been an important ceremonial site and point to the Chacoans’ impressive astronomical knowledge. The walls are aligned with the axis of the sunrise on an equinox and the north doorway faces almost exactly true north. Contemporary New Mexico Pueblo tribes, such as the Zuni, still consider Chaco Canyon a sacred site and they return there for ceremonies.
The latest step forward for this community is the Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony in Shiraoi, Hokkaido, a new complex currently under construction by the government to showcase Ainu culture. Made up of a National Ainu Museum, the National Park for Ethnic Harmony and a memorial facility, it was scheduled to open in April 2020 in time for the Olympics, but has been delayed due to Covid-19.

The recognition is very symbolic, but not so meaningful

However, many experts believe that the recent recognition of the community is not enough, saying it is merely lip-service by the government, with the new Ainu bill failing to provide Japan’s indigenous people with clear and strong rights.

“The Ainu still cannot fish their salmon and dams are still being built that submerge sacred sites,” said Yoshida. “There’s no self-determination, no collective rights and no reparations. It’s just a cultural performance.”

“The recognition is very symbolic, but not so meaningful,” he added with a sad laugh, noting that Japan is far behind the world standard in treatment of indigenous people. “It’s a shameful situation. That’s the reality.”

As I followed Naraki on her tour of the kotan, it seemed clear, however, that public interest in Ainu culture is strong. Groups of Japanese people and other visitors, who’d arrived by bus-load from Sapporo, jostled for pictures in front of the pu, the hut for storing food, which is located directly opposite the poro-ci-set, where the village chiefs lived in order to keep a stern eye on the village’s communal larder. “The elders would resolve any disputes in the village,” Naraki said. If no one could agree, they would discuss for three days and three nights and then make a decision.
The Ainu built their homes along rivers or by the sea where water was plentiful and safe from natural disasters.
Recently, however, things have started to look up for the Ainu. In April 2019, they were legally recognised as an indigenous people of Japan by the Japanese government, after many years of deliberation, which has resulted in a more positive appreciation of Ainu culture and renewed pride in their language and heritage.

"It is important to protect the honour and dignity of the Ainu people and to hand those down to the next generation to realise a vibrant society with diverse values," said government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, as reported in The Straits Times.

Naraki continued showing us around the Ainu kotan (village). Still smiling, she pointed to a wooden, cupboard-like structure. “This is the toilet for the men,” she said, giggling. Next to it was a smaller, teepee-style hut. “And this one is for the women.”

I want to tell the world that Japan has indigenous people

Naraki leads tours of this kotan to teach visitors about her culture. It is part of the Sapporo Pirka Kotan (Ainu Culture Promotion Centre), Japan’s first municipal facility featuring indigenous people, where visitors can experience Ainu handicrafts, watch traditional dancing and imagine traditional Ainu life when this area was a vast wilderness and the people lived on and with the land. Located approximately 40 minutes by car from downtown Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital city, the centre was opened in 2003 to teach both other Japanese and foreign visitors about Ainu culture and spread their message to the world.

“97% of Ainu are underground. But the people who come here to events are very proud of their culture,” said Jeffry Gayman, an educational anthropologist at Hokkaido University who has been working with the Ainu for 15 years.
This is our bear hut,” the short, vivacious woman shouted through a hand-held loudspeaker, her smile creasing her forehead with deep wrinkles. A blue hat was perched on her head and her short tunic, embroidered with pink geometric designs, was tied sharply at the waist. She pointed at a wooden structure made of round logs, raised high above the ground on stilts.

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“We caught the bears as cubs and raised them as a member of the family. They shared our food and lived in our village. When the time came, we set one free back into nature and killed the other to eat.”

Having treated the bear well in life, her people believe the spirit of the sacred animal, which they worship as a deity, will ensure the continued good fortune of their community.

Kimiko Naraki is 70 but looks decades younger. She is Ainu, an indigenous people who now live mostly on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, but whose lands once spanned from northern Honshu (the Japanese mainland) north to Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands (which are now a disputed part of the Russian Federation). The Ainu have long been of interest to anthropologists because of their cultural, linguistic and physical identity, but most travellers will not have heard of them. That’s because although they were the earliest settlers of Hokkaido, they were oppressed and marginalised by Japanese rule for centuries.