They are Japan's indigenous people, inheritors of a culture shaped by the nature of their northern home, the island of Hokkaido.
There are about 200,000 Ainu living throughout Japan, but modern socialisation and fear of marginalisation have resulted in those with Ainu backgrounds hiding their identities.
Due to this and confusion over mixed heritages, official estimates of the Ainu population are of only around 25,000.
Traditionally, the Ainu were a society of hunter-gatherers, who lived mainly by hunting, fishing, and farming, and the people followed a religion based around phenomena of nature.
They still have a close relationship to Hokkaido's stunning natural landscape.
But over the last century, they have seen their traditions and their language stripped away, along with their ancestral lands.
Now, after generations of oppression, racism and forced assimilation, change is in the air for the Ainu and their fight for cultural survival.
On this edition of 101 East, we ask if government action and a new spirit of activism can bring the Ainu in from the cold, to take their place in modern Japan.
Presenter Harry Fawcett will be joined by Tadashi Kato, the head of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, and Katsuya Ogawa from the Democratic Party of Japan.
This episode of 101 East airs from Thursday, February 4, 2010 at the following times GMT: Thursday: 1230; Friday: 0300, 1730; Saturday: 0330, 1730; Sunday: 0330, 1130; Monday: 1630; Tuesday: 0430; Wednesday: 0830; Thursday: 0630.
Source: Al Jazeera