Some place names in Hokkaido are derived from the Ainu language, the Ainu people were indigenous people of Hokkaido. The Ainu language has no traditional written form and is in danger of extinction.

With the selection of words below it is possible to figure out the meaning of some of the place names in Hokkaido, let’s explore some of the placenames.

mountain – nupuri

river – pet -nay

water – wakka

lake, bog – to

road – ru

big – poro

Below is a selection of place names that have had their meanings literally deciphered.

Sapporo – sat poro pet (dry, large river)

Rusutsu – ru sut (road end)

Noboribetsu – nupur pet (muddy river)

Lake Toya (Toya-ko) – to ya

Below is a selection of place names that have been translated into a slightly more understandable level of English. Using some of these examples and the websites below, give translating some Ainu place names a go!

You may notice that the some of the place names below are longer or shorter than how we are used to seeing them, this is mainly due to the fact that the Japanese people were not able to pronounce some of the Ainu words correctly.

Niseko – nisey ko an pet (cliff jutting over a river)

Lake Shikotsu (Shikotsu-ko) – shi kot (large valley)

Shiraoi – shirau o i (place with many horseflies)

Muroran – mo rueran (small slope)

By the way, Ainu means “human beings”. We are all “Ainu”.

The ladies playing traditional instruments “Mukkuri”.

The Ainu Association of Hokkaido

The Ainu Musium Porto Kotan in Shiraoi