Back in autumn 2016, Jomonzine published an interview with Noda Satoru in the edition focusing on the Ainu. Here, we summarise (with paraphrasing) the content of the interview, part of we once tweeted about. At that time, Golden Kamuy has just won the Kono manga ga sugoi! Award 2016.
Noda-sensei explained that the Ainu is only one of the elements making up Golden Kamuy, but he thought since there’s only a few manga dealing with the subject, then if he worked on it seriously, then it could be the number one manga that deal with the Ainu. The idea was originally to make a manga about a young man who’s just returned from the Russo-Japanese war and became a hunter in Hokkaido. With that period setting in Hokkaido, the Ainu inevitably must appear in the story.
Because Noda-sensei comes from Hokkaido, he’s known about the Ainu since he’s a child. When passing an arcade (shopping) street named Tanukikoji in Sapporo, he would see the bearded shopkeeper of a craft shop who wore an Ainu headband. At that time, he’d just think, “Wow, he looks like a Native American, that’s cool,” but he wasn’t interested enough to buy and read books about the Ainu. The Ainu was not a popular theme, maybe because works about them usually gave a feeling of “heaviness”.
However, Noda-sensei said the more he learned about the Ainu, he came to understand the bright and interesting side of the Ainu culture. They have stories of brave warriors, sweet love stories, and even dirty jokes. Thus, in Golden Kamuy he emphasises “fun!” and “osoma!” He’s glad that a lot of people welcome this.
He mentioned that when he was talking with film critic Machiyama Motohiro, Machiyama asked him whether his work was influenced by various novels. And although he kind of played along in the interview, Noda-sensei apologised because he actually hadn’t read those books.
That being said, of course there are films and novels that he uses as reference; for instance, he likes films with war veteran characters like Golden Kamuy protagonist Sugimoto, for instance Scent of a Woman, Godfather, and Rambo.
Speaking about his research, he said that when he interviewed a lot of Ainu for data collection, what impressed him the most was the stories told by people in their 50’s. They told him that when they were children, in the nearby forest there was a large tree, so large that several children can hold hands encircling it. In the tree lived an owl, a high kamuy. But the tree was cut down as the forest was cleared down for development, and at that time everyone cried. Now, every time he draws a Hokkaido forest, he thinks about how wonderful the expanse of the forests used to be.
And since it’s a Jomon period magazine, the interviewer asked Noda-sensei about his image of the period. He was embarrassed to say that he’s not familiar with the period, and he just imagined that the Jomon pottery with intricate patterns were probably used only for rituals, while in their daily lives they used plain goods. He said the Ainu were like that—they apparently didn’t wear clothes with beautiful embroidery in their daily lives, while beautiful lacquerware too was used only for rituals. The tableware they used daily seemed to be of plain design. The Ainu also used designs of spikes and spirals.
If you are interested, you can read the magazine for free here. There were also other articles and colour photographs about the Ainu, which we might discuss in some other time!