The Ainu are an indigenous people of the lands surrounding the Sea of Okhotsk, including Hokkaido Island, Northeast Honshu Island, Sakhalin Island, the Kuril Islands, the Kamchatka Peninsula, and Khabarovsk Krai, since before the arrival of the Yamato Japanese and Russians. These regions are referred to as Ezo in historical Japanese texts.
Official estimates place the total Ainu population of Japan at 25,000. Unofficial estimates place the total population at 200,000 or higher, as the near-total assimilation of the Ainu into Japanese society has resulted in many individuals of Ainu descent having no knowledge of their ancestry.
Japanese assimilation policies since the 19th century Meiji Restoration included forcing Ainu off their land, which in turn forced them to give up traditional subsistence hunting and fishing. Ainu were not allowed to practice their religion and were pushed into Japanese-language schools where it was impossible to preserve their own language. In 1966, there w