The answer to the question seemed to be pretty straightforward:
Not long after the Russo-Japanese war was over, that’s for sure. A chronology in the official website stops giving a definite date after the end of the war, when the main timeline of Golden Kamuy begins.
But when was that, exactly? Noda Satoru himself said that he on purpose never writes a definite date in Golden Kamuy, and instead leaves hints everywhere of the time of the year when a particular scene happened. But could the hints be not just about the season, but also the year?
Let’s try to look for the hints and find explanation about them. We’ll update the list every time something new comes up!
Let’s start with the large time frame first.
Russo-Japanesewar began on February 8, 1904 and ended on September 5, 1905 with the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth in New Hampshire, the United States. It would take some time before the forces on the battlefield were demobilized and sent home to where they’re from.
Sugimoto Saichi himself, hailing from Kanto (Japan’s region that includes Tokyo), was part of the 1st Division, so back to Kanto he went. He returned to his village to hand over Toraji’s remains to Umeko, his widow. It was not clear yet whether this was after or before he was kicked out of the army, but to Asirpa he said that the last time he went home, he didn’t get to eating the village’s characteristic food, hoshigaki (dried persimmon) because it was spring. Persimmon is harvested in autumn, and dried as winter food, so in spring it’s probably gone. This seems to point out that it’s already at least 1906 when he returned for a short while, only to find that Umeko did not recognize him anymore.
In the interview we linked above, Noda-sensei explained that hints he put in volume 1 indicated that it’s February when Sugimoto and Asirpa met, and when Sugimoto and Shiraishi fell to the freezing river.
So: Russo-Japanese war ended in September 1905. Sugimoto came home in spring 1906, then he met Asirpa in Hokkaido in February 1907—or was it 1908?
We can only sharpen the accuracy of our guess with the materials provided. As a note, Noda-sensei has also said in another interview that he might not stick to details too much if historical accuracy would hinder the development of the story.
Now, let’s see what details we have.
- Matchbox detail
In chapter 7, after Sugimoto and Shiraishi got out of the freezing river they fell into, they tried to light matches by striking them to this matchbox.
Data in Japanese historical matchboxes in Virtual Museum ‘Match no Sekai’ show that the matchbox seemed to be this one.
The name of the company printed on the matchbox, 日本燐寸製造株式会社 (Nippon Match Company), must be read from right to left. The company was established in January 1907, when Mitsui Bussan joined two Japanese match manufacturers, Honda Yoshitomo and Naoki Masanosuke. At the time, the company “had the highest production capacity of any Japanese factory making matches for export”, according to the book Chinese Business Enterprise, which touched upon the subject of business relations between China and Japan.
- The Jintan ads
In chapter 92, we could see a promotional board featuring THE JINTAN. ‘Jintan’ is a brand name for what was originally sold by Morishita Hiroshi as a medicine, but is now known only as breath freshener. (Seems wild to us now, but there was a time when people believed Jintan could really cure various ailments.)
Scouring through Jintan historical ads on this excellent site, we can see that the word ‘THE JINTAN’ on the logo can be seen in ads from 1905 to 1910, but apparently no longer in 1912. According to Jintan website, the logo with THE JINTAN written was introduced in Meiji 38 (1905) for export, while for domestic sales, the logo just featured the letters JINTAN.
- The bank where Izuminokami Kanesada was kept
The bank that appears in chapter 34, where Hijikata took his beloved sword Izuminokami Kanesada from, is now known as Otaru Romankan. It was built in 1908, and used to be the Otaru branch of Hyakujuusan Bank. Now it houses a shop of Otaru glass & a café, which you can visit if you go to the town!
- The Onoto pen
The pen Tsurumi used to draw matchstick figures on Usami’s moles in chapter 124 seems to be an Onoto pen, first made in 1905. Although the name sounds Japanese, Onoto pens are actually manufactured by De La Rue, a British company. The pen was very influential in Japan and became the template for many early Japanese fountain pens. Famous novelist Natsume Soseki was said to own one.
- The Ford Model T
The car that appears in chapter 69 is a Ford Model T. The prototypes of the car were finished in 1907, and sales began in 1908. The car was imported for the first time to Japan in 1909.
- The hand grenade
In chapter 132, Tsukishima was seen throwing a hand grenade; apparently this one. The grenade was first issued in 1907.
- Sugimoto knowing Jeanne d’Arc
In chapter 136, Sugimoto mentioned Jeanne d’Arc. Fans were wondering how come he knew about her. Was information about Jeanne already widespread in Japan back then? Noda-sensei took to Twitter and explained that Jeanne was featured in detail in an edition of the magazine Shoujo Sekai (Girls’ World) published in Meiji 40 (1907). Shoujo Sekai was the popular girls’ magazine at that time, so Noda-sensei said Sugimoto must have read it. Not only history of Jeanne, the magazine also featured other contents, such as a Q&A corner, where diet instruction was given to a girl who’s worrying about being overweight. Yes, that question already arose back in 1907.
Noda-sensei also tweeted a picture of Sugimoto and Shiraishi enjoying the magazine!
- The Abashiri prison fire
Could this be a mere coincidence with what happens in the Abashiri arc, or maybe an inspiration, or what? The real Abashiri prison was nearly completely burnt to the ground in Meiji 42 (1909). Restoration work was finished three years later, but from that time on, the prison underwent various changes. Its current layout is now different from what we can see in Golden Kamuy.
This list will keep growing as we find more hints and we’ll notify you on Twitter, so make sure you follow us there! Also, hit us up if you think you’ve found something!