The Ainu were classified to be “noble savages”
because they were a culture of hunter-gatherers. Their lives were centered around
fishing and hunting, and gathering wild plants and herbs for survival.
The Ainu primarily fished in the rivers because it was more accessible to them, but they also fished in the sea as well using
3 to 4 meter boats. Fish were one of the main sources of food for the Ainu. In the rivers, the Ainu mainly fished for trout during the summers and salmon typically
during the months of September through January. The Ainu typically caught fish
by using spear-like tools called the marek to catch the fish individually. Another device that they used to catch fish was called the rawomap, which allowed the Ainu to catch more fish at a time. The
rawomap were basket traps made out of twigs or bamboo. Not only did they fish in the rivers, but they also fished in the sea as well. They would fish for swordfish, tuna, and sunfish as well as marine animals such as seals and whales.
The Ainu not only fished, but they also hunted as well.
They would generally hunt when they are not fishing, which is usually after the autumn season until early July. During that time, salmon fishing and plant gathering ended because of the colder weathers
and were not as plentiful as hunting for animals. The Ainu primarily hunted for
deer, but they also hunted other animals as well such as bears, foxes, and rabbits.
The Ainu would hunt by using arrows or spears whose points were covered in poison to kill the animal faster. The poison, surku, was obtained from the roots and stalks of
aconites and was often made from a secret family recipe. The Ainu were very strategic
in that they worked together as a village to capture the animal. In many cases,
the Ainu would corner the deer near the river or sea so they could shoot as many arrows to kill the deer. In addition, the Ainu would know when to hunt for bears. They
would either hunt bears while they were still hibernating or when the spring is thawing because at that time, the bear is
weak and could not escape the Ainu hunters.
Although fishing and hunting were the Ainu’s main source of food, gathering wild plants were an importance to them as
well. The Ainu gathered different kinds of vegetation throughout the year. Depending on the season, they could only gather certain plants. Gathering food were often only done by women.
Instead of eating raw meat like the Japanese, the Ainu boiled and cooked their meat for the purpose of storing their meat
in order to survive through the harsh winters or in case of famine. The Ainu
built storehouses called the pu to store most of the foods they obtained by fishing,
hunting and gathering. Fish were often smoked and then later stored in the storehouses. Animal meat, however, required a longer process to store. The process of storing animal meat required them to first boil the meat in pots, then drying the meat in
the sun, and later smoked. After the meat is smoked, it is wrapped in birch bark
and then placed in the storehouses. Not only were fish and meat stored in the
pu, but they also stored wild plants that they gathered as well. The plants were either dried in the sun or boiled and then placed in the storehouses.