The gift of tattooing, Okikurumi Turesh Machi, younger sister of Okikurumi

Extract from “Tattooing among Japan’s Ainu People” by Lars Krutak

“Until very recently (the last fully tattooed Ainu woman died in 1998), Ainu women retained a tradition of facial tattooing lending support to the argument that the ancient Jomon employed the custom in the distant past. For the Ainu, tattooing was exclusive to females, as was the profession of tattooist.

According to mythological accounts, the art of the tattoo was brought to earth by the “ancestral mother” of the Ainu Okikurumi Turesh Machi who was the younger sister of the creator god Okikurumi.

Because tattooing represented an ancestral custom derived from one common female ancestress, it was continued down through the centuries in the matrilineal line. Viewing tattoo practices through the lens of kinship, it is not surprising that the position of tattoo artist was customarily performed by grandmothers or maternal aunts who were called “Tattoo Aunts” or simply “Tattoo Women”.”

“Batchelor says : ” The older Ainu have a tradition to the effect that a person named Okilcurumi ” (who is strongly suspected to have been none other than the Japanese hero Yoshitsune — J. K. G.) ” was the true Ainu ancestor. He descended from heaven to a mountain in Piratoru many years before the Japanese knew or were known by the Ainu. Okikurumi had a wife who was called Tiiresh, and who is always known by name — Okikurumi Turesh Machi. Okikurumi Turesh Machi bore a son, whom they called Wari- unekuru, and from Wariunekuru the Ainu are said to be descended. Some of the Sara Ainu say that their forefathers came from the islands which lie to the northeast of Karafuto, or Saghalien, meaning thereby the Kurile Islands. The Kurile-Islanders are said to be ‘ quite as hairy as the bear,’ and this accounts for the hairiness of the Ainu.” — Source: 202 Popular Science Monthly

Extracts from “Myths of China and Japan” (Open Source) by Donald Alexander Mackenzie about the Ainu people and myths:

p. 327~

~ In their own language Ainu-utara’. “utara” is the plural suffix. Their Japanese name is Temishi’^ the Chinese came to know of them first in A.D. 659, and called them Hia-i. A later Chinese name is Ku-hi  is usually rendered by Western writers as “Pit-dwellers”.  In the Japanese writings the Koro-pok-guru are referred to as ” the small people ” and ” earth spiders “.

During the winter season the Koro-pok-guru lived in pit-houses, with conical or beehive roofs. The depth of these earth houses was greater on slopes and exposed heights than on low-lying ground. In summer they occupied beehive houses erected on the level. Their ” kitchen-midden ” deposits have yielded pottery, including well-shaped vases, and arrowheads of flint, obsidian,  reddish jasper or dark siliceous rock. Like the ” pit-dwellers ” of Saghalin and Kamschatka, the Koro-pok-guru
were seafarers and fishers. Their houses were erected on river banks and along the sea coast.

Culture B deposits are devoid of pottery. The Ainu have never been potters; their bowls and spoons were in ancient times made of wood. They claim to have exterminated the Koro-pok-guru, who appear to have had affinities with the present inhabitants of the northern Kuriles, a people of short stature, with roundish heads, the men having short, thick beards, and being quite different in general appearance from the “hairy Ainu” with long, flowing beards. Some communities of Ainu present physical characteristics that suggest the blending in ancient times of the “long beards” and “short beards”. The pure Ainu are the hairiest people in the world. They are broad-headed and have brown eyes and black beards, and are of sturdy build. Their tibia and humerus bones are somewhat flat. In old age some resemble the inhabitants of Great Russia. 

The Ainu are hunters and fishers. Their women cultivate millet (their staple food) and vegetables, and gather herbs and roots among the mountains. According to their own traditions, they came from Sara, which means a “plain”. Their “culture hero”, Okikurumi, descended from heaven to a mountain in Piratoru,^ having been delegated by the Creator to teach the Ainu religion and law. 

Before this hero returned to heaven, he married Turesh Machi,^ and he left his son, Waruinekuru, to instruct the Ainu “how to make cloth, to hunt and fish, how to make poison and set the spring-bow in the trail of animals “.

When Okikurumi first arrived among the Ainu, the crust of the earth was still thin and “all was burning beneath “. It was impossible for people to go a-hunting without scorching their feet. The celestial hero arranged that his wife should distribute food, but made it a condition that no human being would dare to look in her face. She went daily from house to house thrusting in the food with her great hands.

An inquisitive Ainu, of the ” Peeping Tom ” order, resolved to satisfy his curiosity regarding the mysterious food-distributor. One morning he seized her and pulled her into his house, whereupon she was immediately transformed into a wriggling serpent-dragon. A terrible thunderstorm immediately broke out, and the house of ” Peeping Tom ” was destroyed by lightning.

This is an interesting Far Eastern version of the Godiva legend^ of Coventry.

Greatly angered by the breaking of the taboo, Okiku-rumi returned to the celestial regions. His dragon-wife is not only a Godiva, but another Far Eastern Melusina.^

Okikurumi is said to have worn ear-rings. He had therefore a solar connection. The Aryo-Indian hero, Karma, son of Surya, the sun-god, who emerged from an ear of his human mother. Princess Pritha, was similarly adorned at birth with ear-rings. The Ainu have from the earliest times considered it essential that they should all wear ear-rings, and the ears of males and females are bored in childhood. It was similarly a ceremonial practice in ancient Peru to bore the ears of Inca princes.

Jacob objected to his wives wearing ear-rings, and buried those so-called “ornaments” with the gods of Laban under an oak at Shechem.^ Bracelets and ” ear-ornaments “were similarly favoured as religious charms and symbols by the Ainu.

It is of special interest to note that mummification was practised by some Ainu tribes or families. Whether or not they acquired this custom from the Koro-pok-guru is uncertain. Women tattooed their arms, their upper and lower lips, and sometimes their foreheads. Tattooing and mummification similarly obtained among the Aleutian Islanders. The same peculiar methods of preserving corpses obtained among the Ainu, the Aleutians, and certain Red Indian tribes of North America.^ Another link between the Old and New Worlds is afforded by American-Asiatic bone plate armour.’

Like the Ostiaks and other Siberian tribes, the Ainu worship the bear. Their bear feasts are occasions for heavy drinking and much dancing and singing. Drunken-ness is to them “supreme bliss”.

The bear-goddess was the wife of the dragon-god.
She had a human lover, and that is why bears, her descendants^ “are half like a human being”.  


Okikurumi is name of Aynu cultural hero (Pilsudski thought that Okikurumi was closely connected with the area of Saru and other areas mythology knows another name: Mocarok, Kasunre, Ikoresuye, Sirakte). Okikurumi was the main hero of oina, mythology poems. According to the evidence collected by B. Chamberlain Okikurumi had taught people to hunt and to fish and his younger sister named Turesi Maci had taught people to sew and to weave. N.A. Nevski, considered Okikurumi as founder of each sphere of Aynu culture each their faithOkikurumi was also named Oinakamuy that mean deity of oina. Okikurumi was also named Aynurakkur or Aeoynakamuy (person smelling Aynu people or person about whom we compose poems). So, I think, that term god or deity isn’t correct in connection to such being as Okikurumi is. I believe that considering Okikurumi as superman being ( in Nietzschean understanding) can be more usefull and correct.

According to a legend Okikurumi was born by the following way: the highest deities ordered to kotan kara kamuy (settlements made deity) to descend to the earth and to set it to right. Kotan kara kamuy had dug through rivers’ valleys and had driven his mattock into the ground, then he ascended to the heaven. This mattock took root and became elm-tree, more exactly the goddess of elm-tree – Cikisani. Pa kor kamuy (deity of year) was flying above the land, admiring about made work and sat at the elm-tree to have a rest. Due to this chance goddess Cikisani became pregnant and she bore son, late named Ookikurumi or Aynurakkur. Elm-tree was used by Aynu people in getting fire by friction. So Okikurumi is connected with fire. K. Kindaiti also studying this question paid attention to the semantics of word Cikisani literally it means: ‘tree from which they get fire’. When Okikurumi become adult Cikisani made a present to him – magic sword. When Ookikurumi snatched it out around this sword immediately appeared flame annihilating ghosts of darkness and evil…” –Source: Okikurumi ai kor saito (An Ainu website)

See also The Ainu World about the Ainu worldview and concepts of important spaces.

The world in Aynu language can be

classified into eight semantic fields:

1.atuy, rep, pis, sa, ruru ( ocean ), nupuri ( mountain )

3.cise ( dwelling )

4.kotan ( settlement )

5.mosiri ( island ) ( river )

7.Aynu mosiri ( land of aynu=people)

Toponyms and anthroponyms also must be considered as a part of the Aynu mosiri semantic field.

8.Kamuy mosiri ( land of kamuy ) has the same structure as the semantic field of Aynu mosiri  furthermore it is possible to distinguish a field of parts of the human body and clothing, and a field of anthroponyms – position or place indicators.

The largest semantic field is that of ocean, for it includes all other semantic fields in such a way as the island is included within the ocean, the settlement on the island, the dwelling in the settlement. Thus the semantic field of ocean is the most highly structured. Kotan and mosiri are structures that organise the space. They have the same structure, for they all have head (pa) and back (kes) in their structure. And river is the mediator between

mosiri pa and mosiri kes ( more exactly between atuy and kim).

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