Yukar (ユカラ) are Ainu sagas that form a long rich tradition of oral literature. In older periods, the epics were performed by both men and women; during the 19th and early 20th centuries, when Ainu culture was in decline, women were generally the most skillful performers.
Traditional tales describe floating worlds with "Ainu Mosir", or the land of the humans (as opposed to "Kamuy Mosir", the land of the gods), resting on the back of a fish whose movements cause earthquakes.
Professor Kyōsuke Kindaichi collected yukar and translated them into Japanese.
In August 2006, the Asahi Shimbun reported in its article that Japan's Agency of Cultural Affairs (Bunkacho) would discontinue funding by fiscal year 2007 of the project to translate and transcribe the yukar compilations of Imekanu, Kannari Matsu Notebooks (金成マツノート Kan-nari Matsu Nōto ), which consists of 92 yukar stories written in Romaji with the tenth story lost and 49 stories left untranslated. It is said that the stoppage is because of Shigeru Kayano's death in May 2006.
In 1999, a multi-national group of educators and translators established "Project U-e-peker" with the intention of making more Ainu folktales available in English. They have produced English versions of two of Kayano's books under the titles The Ainu: A Story of Japan's Original People (Tuttle Publishing 2004) and The Ainu and the Fox (RIC Publications 2006). Future projects include picturebook English versions of the yukar recorded in Ainu Shin'yōshū (アイヌ神謡集), an anthology of stories from the Ainu oral tradition which were first put into writing and translated into the Japanese language by Chiri Yukie (1903-1922), the niece of Kannari Matsu, an invaluable assistant to Kindaichi until she died at the age of 19.
In 2013, a freely-available English translation of the thirteen yukar of the Ainu Shinyoushuu was completed by Project Okikirmui.
Perhaps the only book relating the epic songs of the Ainu in English is Songs of Gods, Songs of Humans: The Epic Tradition of the Ainu by Donald L. Philippi. Philippi translates 35 epics, all of them originally recorded by women, the majority by Imekanu.
The Ainu epic Kutune Shirka is a major example of the yukar style.
- Donald L. Philippi, Songs of Gods, Songs of Humans: The Epic Tradition of the Ainu. University of Tokyo Press, 1979; North Point, 1982. ISBN 0-691-06384-2.