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The Ainu (「"アイヌ" or "アィヌ"」?; "Ainu" or"Aynu") (also called Ezo in historical texts) are indigenous people or groups in Japan and Russia. Historically they spoke the Ainu language and related varieties and lived in Hokkaidō, the Kuril Islands, and much of Sakhalin. Most of those who identify themselves as Ainu still live in this same region, though the exact number of living Ainu is unknown. This is due to ethnic issues in Japan resulting in those with Ainu backgrounds hiding their identities and confusion over mixed heritages. In Japan, because of intermarriage over many years with Japanese, the concept of a "pure Ainu" ethnic group is no longer feasible. Official estimates of the population are of around 25,000, while the unofficial number is upwards of 200,000 people.
The Ainu were distributed in the northern and central islands of Japan, from Sakhalin Island in the north to the Kuril Islands and the island of Hokkaidō and Northern Honshū, although some investigators place their former range as throughout Honshū and as far north as the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula in what is now Cape Lopatka. The island of Hokkaido was known to the Ainu as Ainu-Moshir[Citation needed], and was formally annexed by the Japanese at the late date of 1868, partly as a means of preventing the intrusion of the Russians, and partly for imperialist reasons.
The Ainu are traditionally animists, believing that everything in nature has a kamuy (spirit or god) on the inside. There is a hierarchy of the kamui.
The most important is grandmother earth (fire), then kamui of the mountain (animals), then kamui of the sea (sea animals), lastly everything else. They have no priests by profession.
The village chief performs whatever religious ceremonies are necessary; ceremonies are confined to making libations of rice beer, uttering prayers, and offering willow sticks with wooden shavings attached to them. These sticks are called inau (singular) and nusa (plural). They are placed on an altar used to help the spirits of killed animals in salvation. The Ainu people give thanks to the gods before eating and pray to the deity of fire in time of sickness. They believe their spirits are immortal, and that their spirits will be rewarded hereafter by ascending to Kamui Mosir (Land of the Gods).
The word "Oina" is an Ainu word referring to shorter epic poems, chanted principally by women about the gods.
The Oina Tribe of Ōkami are heavily based on the Ainu people. The alternate name, Ezo, is used in the naming of a mountain called Ezofuji, located near the Oina village of Wep'keer. The Oina, like the Ainu are located in the north of the country. The land they live in is called Kamui named after spirit or god that the Ainu believe exists on the inside of everything in nature.
The Poncles are a reference to a race called the "Koropokkur" or "Koro-pok-guru" from Ainu mythology. Koro-pok-guru (men-under-butterbur in Ainu) are little underground dwellers.