The spirit of the threshold. An important Ainu kamui, Apasam Kamui is the protector of the passage from the wild outside to the tame inside of Ainu culture. Though Apasam is not considered one of the “major” deities of the Ainu pantheon (that is, unlike Kamui Fuchi, Apasam Kamui is not honoured or called on at many rituals), Apasam is nonetheless the kamui called upon whenever changes of state are occurring. The most important, perhaps, is requests for Apasam to protect women during difficult labour, and to protect people from such angry kamui as the dreaded smallpox kamui, Pakoro Kamui. Apasam is often conceived of as a dual kamui, either a male and female couple or a dual entity, perhaps similar in concept to the Roman Janus.

For the Ainu, living as they did in close contact with nature, the delineation of boundaries was crucial both materially and intellectually. Each settlement of Ainu controlled a kotan, a domain from which they drew their living and that they were able and willing to defend. Yet the very nature of the society demanded that they cross the boundaries between one ramat and another, as the salmon and the deer and bears moved about. Unsurprisingly, therefore, they needed a figure that could oversee these passages and enable them to be carried out fearlessly and without trouble. The same was true of their households; the difference they saw between themselves as civilized beings, and their neighbours— the Japanese and the Okhotskians—who they viewed as uncivilized, had a lot to do with their pursuits within the house (carving, weaving, wine-making) and the contrast with the wild outside where such cultured activities were not pursued. Apasam Kamui exemplified all of these differences and the transitions
between them.

References and further reading:

  • Etter, Carl. 1949. Ainu Folklore: Traditions and Culture of the Vanishing Aborigines of Japan. Chicago: Wilcox and Follett Co.
  • Munro, Neil Gordon. 1962. Ainu Creed and Cult. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; London and New York: K. Paul International, distributed by Columbia University Press, 1995.

    Handbook of Japanese Mythology written by Michael Ashkenazi – Copyright © 2003 by Michael Ashkenazi