After the awarding ceremony of the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize to Noda Satoru for his masterpiece Golden Kamuy on 7 June 2018, a talk show with the author and Nakagawa Hiroshi, the Ainu language consultant for the work, was held. Golden Kamuy editor Ookuma Hakkou moderated the talk show. The following is a transcript of their talk.
Nakagawa: I have always thought that it’s just natural this work would win an award. This work excels in all three elements of skillful story development, compelling preparations, and perfectly made artwork. And for people like me who are concerned about the promotion and the revival of Ainu culture and Ainu language, this work has a strong impact in putting the spotlight on the Ainu ethnic group and culture.
Recently, even Weekly Asahi (15 June edition) published a photo feature of the Ainu culture on its first pages. Now Ainu culture has begun to be picked up by mass media that used to show little to no interest in it. It’s no doubt Golden Kamuy has created this situation. The driving force behind the situation must be the charming heroine named Asirpa.
At first, when author Noda-san and managing editor Ookuma-san showed me the manuscript of the first chapter, the character was not yet named ‘Asirpa’. I asked Noda-san not to use the name he was thinking, and then from several names he came up with, I recommended ‘Asirpa’. You came up with the name ‘Asirpa’, Noda-san, but where did you get the name?
Noda: I gave several candidates to Nakagawa-sensei for him to see. At first, there’s the name ‘Sinotca’.
Nakagawa: In Ainu language it means ‘to sing a song’. Everyone singing a song together when they’re having fun is called ‘sinotca’.
Noda: I also visited Nakagawa-sensei bringing the name ‘Asirpa’. Nakagawa-sensei told me that the image matched, so I decided on ‘Asirpa’.
Nakagawa: Where did you get the name?
Noda: I don’t remember. (laughs) Ainu people who were born in Meiji era had tattoos, didn’t they. They didn’t insert the ink using needles, but instead by making radial scratches.
Ookuma: In Golden Kamuy, the convicts got tattooed in prison. How did they make the tattoos?
Noda: They used ash and spit, just like the Ainu.
Nakagawa: In the manga, there is a scene when Asirpa’s grandmother asked whether Asirpa wouldn’t get tattoos even though she’s already of age for it, and Asirpa replied that nowadays young people didn’t get tattoos anymore. The setting was after Russo-Japanese war, right. A long time ago, Ainu women used to get tattoo around their mouth, but it was banned by law in 1876. So in Asirpa’s generation, it had been banned for a long time, and if Asirpa got herself tattooed, that would be against the law.
Ookuma: And how about Asirpa’s clothes?
Nakagawa: When I first saw Asirpa’s costume in the first chapter, she looked all set to go to the mountains. When I saw the picture, I thought this was cool, and how it was drawn well-researched to the details. Even though I know that when going to the mountains, (the Ainu) would bring items like a hatchet called tasiro, a small sword called makiri, quiver and bow, and a mountain walking stick called kuwa, I don’t think there’s any photograph ever showing them all in one picture. Noda-san drew them all together. When I saw that picture, I thought it’s absolutely awesome, and I decided to supervise the work.
I didn’t notice it at that time, but when the serialisation began, I was asked about what she’s wearing on her legs. I tried to research about it, but since (Ainu) women did not go hunting, there was no telling what they wore when they’re hunting, and the man didn’t wear bottoms either. I understand that they didn’t wear any bottoms even when they went out hunting in snow in the middle of winter. So, Noda-san, what is it that you made Asirpa wear?
Noda: It’s something like momohiki (long underpants).
Nakagawa: He’s given me that answer before, but at first, when I saw the picture I thought she was wearing some kind of tights, so I researched about tights. It turned out that tights were invented in the 19th century in France. Because this manga began in Otaru, Asirpa could have worn tights ahead of the times. When speaking in an event, I asked Ishikawa Naoaki, the head of Otaru City General Museum in Hokkaido, whether such designs were alright, and Ishikawa replied “They are. Let me show you the photo evidence”, and thus I learnt that women in Otaru already wore stockings at that time.
Ookuma: What a moment of reality catching up with fiction.
Nakagawa: As far as my discussion with museum head Ishikawa can tell, this work is very real. It’s a manga that is depicted with such details that are so real it can be discussed.
Ookuma: What’s the most impressive data collecting that you did?
Noda: When I was collecting data from a hunter of Karafuto (Sakhalin) Ainu descent, he caught a deer and cut it up on the spot. I asked to eat the brain of the deer. It’s like tasteless gummi candy. It seems like even hunters don’t eat it anymore.
Nakagawa: In the manga we can see Asirpa eating animal brain like it’s very delicious, but Wajins are afraid of eating it. How about you before you ate it, Noda-san?
Noda: My desire to eat it to know the taste was strong. However, the Ainu who was with me declined (laughs)
Ookuma: Noda-san draws based on collected data, but you’re very particular about drawing between reality and fiction in making the manga. For instance, you did so for Ainu language, but how about Hokkaido dialect?
Noda: Asirpa should have been speaking in heavy Hokkaido dialect, since Hokkaido Ainu of that time were speaking in Hokkaido dialect.
Nakagawa: That’s right. Even right now Hokkaido people speak in Hokkaido dialect. You come from Hokkaido, don’t you, Noda-san?
Noda: My mother has a thick Hokkaido dialect. Sometimes I can’t understand some words. However, if the dialogues in the manga were in Hokkaido dialect, there’s already Ainu language in it, so the language barrier (for readers) would be even higher.
Nakagawa: I agree. Curiously, even though the manga is set in Hokkaido, Hokkaido dialect is practically not used at all. Concerning the setting, even though Asirpa did not go to school, she spoke in very proper standard Japanese language. From where did you make her learn standard Japanese?
Noda: For now let’s just say from her father.
Nakagawa: But you made Asirpa’s father of mixed Polish and Karafuto Ainu descent. Up until Russo-Japanese war, Karafuto belonged to Russia, so there were only Russians there at that time. Since he was raised by a Karafuto Ainu mother and a Polish father, then he shouldn’t be speaking in Japanese, should he?
(Translator’s note: How Wilk learnt to speak Japanese has been described in chapters that were published several months after this talk show.)
Noda: The Ainu villagers learnt Japanese language to interact with the Wajins, for sure.
Nakagawa: But in Hokkaido dialect, right.
Noda: Well, yes. (laughs) Even in Hokkaido itself there are several (Japanese) dialects, as well as Ainu dialects.
Nakagawa: The first location of the story was Otaru. There were Ainu people living in Otaru too. Since Asirpa was an Ainu living near Otaru, she should be speaking in Otaru dialect, but we really do not know how the dialect was like. It’s because there is hardly any record of it ever since the beginning of the Meiji era. That’s why we decided to create one properly, but since we can’t create one out of nothing, we guessed the nearby dialects through the shape of the tombs, and based on that we mixed several dialects into an Otaru dialect.
Even though we made a fictitious Otaru dialect, Asirpa’s party has moved around in Hokkaido, right. As they moved around, the dialect spoken too should be different, and I inadvertently made mistakes too about it. As soon as the mistakes are pointed out to me, I fix them for the comic book. I have changed the Ainu language dialect used in the dialogues everywhere they go.
Noda: Karafuto Ainu language is even more different. I also get help from consultants for languages such as Russian, Uilta, and Satsuma dialect.
Nakagawa: Uilta language is used by a small ethnic group in Karafuto, and now there are only a few hundred people left of the group. I’m very impressed that you receive supervision from the only Uilta language expert in Japan, Ms. Yamada Yoshiko.
Ookuma: Lastly, please tell us what you desire going forward.
Nakagawa: This manga has caused tremendous social impact. It has drawn attention to Ainu culture. Whether it will go to a good direction from here depends on our efforts. We have to think of how to continue this impact so that the interest doesn’t diminish after the serialisation ends.
Noda: Before I began writing Golden Kamuy, I went to meet the Ainu in various places in Hokkaido. The Ainu only once told me what to do: “Please do not write about miserable Ainu, (instead) write about strong Ainu for us.” That was all.
Note: When we did a quick translation on Twitter, there was a part that mentioned another candidate name to be used for Asirpa, ‘Steno’, the name of a real Ainu woman who was born in the Meiji era. This part seemed to have been taken off the Asahi page.
Original transcript here. Corrections, suggestions welcome!