"Hunting and Hunting Paraphernalia," from The Ainu and Their Folk-lore by John Batchelor, 1901.

It has already been intimated that till within quite recent times the Ainu race was a people of meat and fish eaters, and that they could never be called agriculturists. This statement necessarily implies that the men were before all else hunters and fishermen. It is true, indeed, that these professions were not very highly developed, for there was no reason why they should be. Bears, deer, and other animals, as well as salmon and a variety of other fish, were always very plentiful in Yezo till within the last thirty or forty years. The Ainu always placed their villages either along the sea coast or near the rivers among the mountains, so that when food was required they only had to step out of their huts and go a few thousand yards to obtain venison or fish, for it is said that before the introduction of firearms the deer were very tame. It was a different thing, however, with regard to bear hunting; but this is a subject which will be treated of later by itself, no further account of it will be given in this place.

"A poison arrow." John Batchelor, 1901.

When hunting the Ainu used to poison their arrows, and one kind was made from the roots of the aconite or monkshood. The roots were dug up in the spring and peeled and put in the sun to dry. When this had been thoroughly done, the men ground and mashed them into pulp between two stones. They then soaked some tobacco and capsicums in water, and moistened the pulp with the liquor, adding thereto a little foxes' gall. It was then again put to dry, and by and by rewetted with the liquor; but this time some of the hunters first pulverised it, and then added a poisonous kind of spider thereto. Some of them, it is said, used to bury the poison in the earth for a few days, but others did not do so.

When a man wished to know whether his poison was good or not, he applied a minute particle to his tongue. If good, it was said to quickly produce a peculiar sense of tingling and numbness; but care had to be exercised in tasting it, lest by taking too much a person should succumb from the effects. Too much was said to produce drunkenness and sleep, from which it was very difficult to arouse a person. No grease of any kind was used to keep the poison moist, for it is said not to have needed it.

The poisonous part of the Jack-in-the-pulpit, or Arisæma, was also used as an ingredient in making poison. This is extracted from the bulb with a knife and pounded into paste. Before being mixed with the aconite, it is tested by placing a small portion at the base of and between the third and fourth fingers of the left hand. If kept there for a short time, say ten or fifteen minutes, a tingling or burning sensation will be experienced, and its strength is measured by the degrees of pain thus given. I kept a little of it between my own fingers one day for ten minutes, to test the proof of this assertion, and I felt quite a tingling sensation for twenty-four hours after. Why the test should be applied to the left hand rather than the right i was unable to find out.

The Ainu are particularly careful not to allow the Arisæma to touch their lips or tongue, for should they do so it is said that all the skin will quickly peel off, and cause no end of pain and trouble. To test whether this were true or not, I one day procured some of the root and chewed a small portion for some moments. At first I felt nothing, but very soon had cause to be sorry for my rashness. I shall never forget the painful burning and prickling sensation I experienced for half an hour or so after. I should imagine this must be a very cruel and painful kind of poison.

But this is not all. The Ainu think they have discovered an insect even more poisonous than the spider is supposed to be. They call it Worunbe. It is a water bug or water scorpion. Both the Notonectidæ and  Nepidæ families of these heteropterous are supposed to be poisonous, though the former are considered to be more deadly than the latter, and are therefore used in preference.

On my first visiting the Ainu I noticed that the people always examined the water when I asked them for a drink from any rivulet or stream while travelling through the forest. They would never allow me to drink water taken from a running stream unless they had first well examined it. This was the see that there were none of the insects above referred to in it, for the Ainu are very much afraid of their being swallowed. A certain and very painful death, they say, is the penalty a person must pay should he swallow one.

The following is a piece of folk-lore regarding arrow poison, and I believe it is intended not only to keep alive the tradition of its supposed origin, but that it also points to another kind of special poison which possesses magical qualities, but the art of making which is now lost. It will be observed that the myth particularly mentioned that arrows poisoned with it and shot into the track of an animal after being worshipped would follow up and slay the quarry. Indeed the arrow appears to have been mesmerized by the poison and willed into the animal's body.

Legend Concerning Poison

This is the origin of poisons. They are divinities, and two in number, and are husband and wife, who formerly lived in Paradise. Now, when the divine Aioina came down from above he brought them with him for men to use in hunting. The name of the male poison was Kerep-turuse, i.e. "scrape and slip off." It was very powerful, a mere scratch with it causing death. The name of his wife was Kerep-noye, i.e. "scrape and twist." This was a slow poison and gentle in its action. When used, it was placed upon the arrows and twisted round the points so that a large piece was taken into the body of the victim. Now the manner of using the male poison was as follows: the hunter would place a little on the arrow point, go and find the track of an animal, offer prayer, and shoot it in the direction it was found to take. If he did so the arrow would go on and on till it came upon the animal and then strike it dead. Such arrows were invested with life, heard prayer, and did as requested. But alas, no one now knows how to make this poison. The knowledge was lost in this way.

Once upon a time a hunter took some arrows laden with this kind of poison and went and found a deer track. Upon seeing the fresh track he took an arrow out of his quiver and prayed to it thus: "O thou divine Kerep-turuse arrow, thou art indeed a noble deity, go thou along the track of this deer and kill the animal which passed here yesterday." So saying he shot the arrow which went on and on along the track. But as the deer had passed a whole day before, it could not catch it, and so fell on the ground. The hunter followed it up, and when he found it, trampled upon it in a rage and said: "O 'thou scrape and slip off' arrow, thou art altogether too weak, thou couldest not even catch a deer which passed along this way so recently as yesterday; I will take thee no more, nor will I offer thee libations." Upon this, all the arrows dipped in that kind of poison took their departure to Paradise again and have not been seen since. The poison the Ainu now use is the female; hence it is that the arrows poisoned with it sometimes miss their mark and are also so slow in killing animals.

The arrows used for carrying poison are made in three parts or section. The head (1) is made of bamboo and is two inches long. Figure (a) represents the inside of the head scooped out so as to hold the poison. It is capable of holding a good lump of aconite. Figure (b) represents the back of the arrow head; but no poison is put on this part of the arrow. (2) represents the piece of bone into which the arrow head is fixed, and (3) is the reed shaft of the arrow, while (4 ) shows the arrow fitted up ready for use, but without the poison.

When a person applies the poison to the arrows, he first dips the head into some pine tree gum; then he carefully sticks the poison on, and flattens it down with his thumb, and again dips it into the gum. The use of the gum is to cause the poison to remain firm in the arrow head. These poisoned arrows were used not only for bears, but also for deer and other kinds of animals.

The bows the Ainu use in hunting were very powerful though they look poor weak instruments. I have in my collection a bow that is just forty-seven inches long and is made of yew, having a strip of cherry bark entwined round it. Stalking deer was an occupation much beloved by the Ainu; even the women used frequently to take part in it when these animals were plentiful. But since the introduction of guns both deer and bears have become remarkably scarce. The animals have been immoderately and indiscriminately killed by Japanese hunters.

Dogs were employed in hunting the deer. The men used to take them with them in packs, and these were so well trained that they would never attack and kill a deer, but stand by and keep it at bay till the hunters came up and shot it with their arrows. Many deer were also slain by the spring-bows.

The hunters generally carried an instrument with them on their expeditions with which to decoy deer, which they call Ipakke-ni. This instrument consists of a single piece of wood made in a form which very much resembles the "horsing-irons" which are used in caulking ships. The illustration shows what it is like.

Deer Call. Image by John Batchelor

This instrument is three inches broad at the bottom or thin end, and measures two inches and a half from the top of the thick end to the lower edge. From the thick round end, at the mark in the centre, there is a hole which was made either with an awl or by thrusting a red hot nail into it. The hole starts at (1) and comes out at (2). Over the flat surface a very thin piece of fish skin has been stretched, being tied round the outside edges with fine strings made of twisted fish entrails. When a person desires to decoy a deer he wets the surface of the string which is upon the face of the instrument and blows in at the top (1), whilst drawing his two thumbs over the skin near the hole.

The noise thus produced resembles the cry of a fawn, and Is said to draw full-grown deer to the place whence the sound issues. The person decoying the animals of course keeps well out of sight and to the leeward, so that he is neither to be seen nor smelt. When the deer is within range it is shot with a poisoned arrow and then followed up till it drops.

The Ainu are said never to have made wolf hunting an occupation because wolves are so very shy and swift of foot. Nor could they often succeed in catching them in their traps or shooting them with their spring-bows "for these animals appear to understand these things nearly as well as the people who set them."

Yezo wolves, the Ainu affirm, never hunt in packs consisting of more than three or four animals. They are very fierce indeed when attacked or wounded, or suffering from hunger, but will never attack a human being unless under great provocation

John Batchelor, The Ainu and Their Folk-lore (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1901).