In concept, kamui are similar to the Japanese kami, sometimes translated as "god" or "divine spirit", but these translations miss some of the nuances of the term. Kamuy are numerous; some are delineated and named, such as Kamuy Fuchi the hearth goddess, while others are not. Kamuy often have very specific associations, for instance, there is a kamuy of the undertow.
Personified deities of Ainu mythology often have the term Kamuy applied as part of their names.
Also, Kamuy (Kam) means "Shaman" in Turkic and Mongolian languages.
The Ainu had no writing system of their own, and much of Ainu mythology was passed down as oral history in the form of kamui yukar (deity epics), long verses traditionally recounted by singers at a gathering. Each kamuy yukar recounts a deity's or hero's adventures, usually in the first person, and some of them are of great length, containing as many as 7,000 verses. Some yukar contradict each other, assigning the same events to different deities or heroes; this is primarily a result of the Ainu culture's organization into small, relatively isolated groups. Records of these poems began to be kept only in the late 19th century, by Western missionaries and Japanese ethnographers; however, the Ainu tradition of memorizing the yukar preserved many.
Some notable kamuy
- Ae-oina Kamuy, a culture hero who taught humans the domestic arts
- Apasam Kamuy, kamuy of the threshold
- Chikap Kamuy/Kotankor Kamuy, god of owls and the land
- Chup Kamuy, goddess of the sun
- Hash-Inau-uk Kamuy or Hash-uk Kamuy, goddess of the hunt
- Kamuy Fuchi, goddess of the hearth
- Kandakoro Kamuy, the prime originator, god of the sky
- Kenash Unarabe, a blood-drinking monster who preys upon hunters
- Kim-un Kamuy, god of bears
- Kinashut Kamuy, god of snakes
- Moshirikara Kamuy, creator of the earth
- Nusakoro Kamuy, messenger to the gods and representative of the dead
- Pauchi Kamuy, an evil spirit responsible for insanity
- Repun Kamuy, the killer whale, god of the sea
- Shiramba Kamuy, god of wood, grains, and vegetation
- Waka-ush Kamuy, goddess of fresh water
- Yushkep Kamuy, the spider goddess
- Sarurun Kamuy, the god of the marshes. Personification of the spectacular red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis), which lives in the wetland habitats of east Hokkaido and southern Sakhalin. Other species of resident and migratory birds are also given the name Kamuy.
- Ashkenazy, Michael. Handbook of Japanese Mythology. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, 2003. 187-188
- Etter, Carl. Ainu Folklore: Traditions and Culture of the Vanishing Aborigines of Japan. Chicago: Wilcox and Follett, 1949. 53
- Ashkenazy, Michael. Handbook of Japanese Mythology. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, 2003. 68
- Ashkenazy, Michael. Handbook of Japanese Mythology. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, 2003.
- Etter, Carl. Ainu Folklore: Traditions and Culture of the Vanishing Aborigines of Japan. Chicago: Wilcox and Follett, 1949.
- Munro, Neil Gordon. Ainu Creed and Cult. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.