Upopoy National Ainu Museum opened in 2020 in Shiraoi, Hokkaidō — around an hour from Sapporo. It is the only national museum completely dedicated to Ainu history and culture, as well as the only national museum north of Tokyo and Chiba.

What also makes Upopoy different is its seamless blend of indoor and outdoor spaces; it encompasses both the National Ainu Museum and the National Ainu Park. The operation of the National Ainu Museum is conducted by the Ainu Cultural Foundation, a designated corporation under the Ainu Policy Promotion Act.

What should I see at Upopoy?

The land that Upopoy sits on is vast, so there are quite a few activities and buildings to tick off while you’re there — the largest of which is the National Ainu Museum.

National Ainu Museum

The view from the museum looks out on to Lake Poroto. | Photo by Alex Ziminski

The impressively large National Ainu Museum houses a permanent exhibition, special exhibition halls, a library, and a movie theater. The permanent exhibitions covers six aspects of Ainu culture: language, universe, work, history, lives, and exchange. Visitors get to learn about prehistoric customs and get hands-on with some of the interactive exhibits. There are two or so special exhibitions a year.

On the second floor, you’ll find an impressive lobby featuring a panoramic view of Lake Poroto.

Photo by Alex Ziminski

Also on the grounds are the Cultural Exchange Hall, where you can experience traditional Ainu dancing and performances, a workshop and a crafts studio, the kotan, Cikisani Square (used for outdoor performances) and the Memorial Site.

Performances at the Upopoy National Ainu Museum

The performances at Upopoy are a highlight and help visitors better understand and appreciate Ainu culture. The majority take place in the Cultural Exchange Hall and last for 20–30 minutes. There are around five shows a day plus one outdoor performance (incl. projection mapping) a day in summer.

Is there a gift shop? A cafe?

You can grab lunch before or after your trip to the museum at Cafe Rimse; it is located in Upopoy Welcome Square, which is outside the entrance gates. On the menu are Ainu-inspired set dishes such as venison cutlet, ohaw (soup with vegetables) and dumplings, as well as typical cafe snacks like french fries and ice cream.

Photo by Alex Ziminski

At the gift shops in the square you can buy the famous Ainu manga, and tea picked from the local area.

How do I get to the Upopoy National Ainu Museum?

Luckily, Upopoy has a train station within walking distance; Shiraoi Station is only ten minutes away. You can get to Shiraoi from Sapporo Station on the Hokuto Limited Express bound for Hakodate (1 hour 6 minutes). You can get there quicker (around 40 minutes) if coming from New Chitose Airport Station. First, go to Minami-Chitose Station and then hop on the Hokuto Line.

  • Pictured is Masahiro Nomoto
  • Bears are respected in Ainu culture and were once part of an ancient sacrificial ceremony.