After centuries of disrespect, land robbery and forced assimilation the descendants of the ancient Jomon people (the first known to work pottery anywhere, in spite of being hunter-gatherers) will be finally been acknowledged a status as indigenous group today by the Japanese Parliament.
The Ainu, descendants of the epipaleolithic Jomon culture dwelt once in all or nearly all Japan but were displaced by the agriculturalist Yayoi invaders beginning c. 500 BCE, who migrated probably from coastal China (Jiangsu province). In the following centuries they were displaced further and further northwards until the rather unhospitable island of Honsu became their last refuge.
An Ainu elder from the times of B&W photography
Japan has a centralist nationalist tradition and had so far declined to accept the existence of the Ainu as a separate ethnicity. They even called them "former aborigines", suggesting that assimilaton was the only way to go. Japan has also another ethnic minority in the south: the Ryukyuans, whose language is akin to Japanese (Japonic family) but different.
The new legal recognition comes as response of growing Ainu activism and ethnic pride in the last decades. It is so far only of symbolic value but should be the basic legal frame that may allow the administration to develope further measures in the future. Time will say but is at least a step forward.