Playground of the Gods

Kamui Mintara located at Burnaby Mountain Park, a short walk from SFU Burnaby. Photo by Reese Muntean.
Photo by Reese Muntean.
Nuburi Toko working on a project in Japan. Photo courtesy Nancy O'Flanagan

Title/Date: Kamui Mintara (Playground of the Gods), 1989
Artist: Nuburi Toko and Shusei Toko
Culture/Language Group: Ainu
Media: Carved wood
Credit Line: A gift to Burnaby from its Japanese twin city of Kushiro
Location: Burnaby Mountain Park, northwest of SFU campus


The Ainu people are an Indigenous population living on the Japanese island of Hokkaidō, but also once occupied areas of northeastern Honshu and the Russian Islands of Sakhalin and Kuril. The Ainu worship the natural world around them; a world in which all creatures are believed to be sacred.

According to Ainu beliefs, all things in nature are spirits sent to the Ainu mosir (human land) from Kamuy mosir (Spirit land) disguised as bears, cranes, trees, wind, rain, and so forth. Kamuy (gods) send these spirits to humans as good or bad gifts depending on how respectful humans are to nature. If humans are not respectful, the evil gods will punish them with floods, droughts, and other natural hardships.

These carved columns are directly inspired by Northwest Coast totem poles, while the location and title of this sculpture are a reference Mount Daisetsu in Daisetsuzan National park near the centre of Hokkaidō. Admired for their height, beauty, and remoteness, the Ainu refer to this cluster of volcanic peaks as Kamui mintara (The playground of the gods).

The sculpture tells the story of people, gods and creatures living together on the earth. Many gods in their animal incarnations are present, including the brown bear, the owl, the salmon and the orca. The large sculpture of bound poles represents the ties between the Ainu and their gods. The gods are represented by the animals carved on the tall poles, and the smaller poles represent the people.

Additional information

This sculpture in wood was created by Nuburi Toko, a renowned sculptor of the Ainu people. It was a gift to Burnaby from its Japanese twin city of Kushiro.


  • Anonymous. “Playground of the Gods”. Burnaby News Leader. June 7, 2011
  • Dubreuil, Chisato O. From the Playground of the Gods: The Life & Art of Bikky Sunazawa. Arctic Studies Centre, National Museum of Natural History: Smithsonian Institution. 2004. Print.
  • Dubreuil, Chisato O. (November 26, 2007). The Ainu and Their Culture: A Critical Twenty-First Century Assessment. The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. Retrieved from

Ainu Art and Culture

  • Dubreuil, Chisato O. and William Fitzhugh (eds.) Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People. 2001. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Print.
  • Hudson, Mark J. Ann-Elise Lewallen and Mark K. Watson. Beyond Ainu Studies: Changing Academic and Public Perspectives. 2014. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press. Print.

Nuburi Toko

  • Toko, Nuburi. Toko Nuburi Sakuhin- shu: Kamui Mintara (The Art Works of Toko Ntiburi: Playground of the Gods). 1995. Tokyo: Kyuryu-do. Print.