The three lives changed by Golden Kamuy

47 News published the stories of three people whose lives have been changed by Golden Kamuy. This writing summarizes their stories, re-paraphrasing some of the content, with additional information from other sources. It would be great if you could also click the links provided to the 47 News’ articles, to increase their number of clicks and make them know that the articles generate interest. Thank you so much!

Kaizawa Toru still remembered that day in June 2016 when a taxi stopped in front of his workshop Kita no Kobo Tsutomu in Nibutani, Hokkaido. A medium-sized man, a baseball cap on his head and a backpack on his back, stepped out of the taxi. Kaizawa, an Ainu craftsman, asked the man where he’s from and what he’s doing – the usual answer would be “sightseeing”. Nibutani is popular among tourists because there’s an Ainu cultural centre in the city.

The man answered, “I come from Tokyo. I make manga.”

Kaizawa remembered a manga that was much talked about that time, even though he himself hadn’t read it. He mentioned it to the man, “There seems to be a manga based on the Ainu.”

The man replied, “Actually, that’s my manga. I’m making it even though it’s shortening my life.”

The man was Noda Satoru, who originally hailed from Hokkaido but had moved to Tokyo in his youth to chase after his dream of becoming a professional mangaka. At that point in time, he had spent years as an assistant to other manga artists, sharpening his skills, and after a debut considered a failure, had started publishing a work that must be the reason why you’re here reading this – Golden Kamuy.

Kaizawa, to be honest, didn’t think the man looked like a mangaka. However, the man was serious about his manga. Noda asked Kaizawa to make the makiri (knife) that was used as a reference for drawing Kiroranke’s makiri in the manga. Ever since then, Noda-sensei has visited Nibutani several times and kept in contact with Kaizawa. And now, there’s a Golden Kamuy corner in the workshop, where various items are displayed, including signed copies of Golden Kamuy and a handwritten letter from Noda-sensei, “I have drawn in the manga the makiri that Toru-san made for me.”

Kaizawa smiled when he said he never imagined it, but the manga has changed his life greatly. For one, previously his visitors were mainly middle-aged tourists. However, now there are many young women, fans of the manga, who visit him. Some come in cosplay too! They come from as far away as Okinawa and the US, wanting to get in touch with the culture they have read in the manga.

Many ask for their own makiri too. A makiri, priced about 100 to 150 thousand yen, takes about half a month to produce. Kaizawa used to get only 2 to 3 orders in a year, but now the number has increased by five times. Asirpa’s and Kiroranke’s makiri are the models that are especially popular. If you order a makiri from Kaizawa now, you might have to wait for a year before you receive yours! Kaizawa also mentioned that some people came to show him the makiri they made, so it seems like there are people now learning the craft too.

Lastly, as an Ainu himself, Kaizawa praised Golden Kamuy for showing Ainu’s way of life in Hokkaido as something that is full of life, not something that’s miserable, and the Ainu as equal to the Wajins – the majority ethnic group in Japan, the ones commonly called using the broad term “Japanese” to denote ethnic group, not nationality. Kaizawa has been invited several times too to talk show about Golden Kamuy and Ainu culture in general, including the Urespa Festa in Sapporo University.

In that same university, a young woman named Ueno Fuuka (20) has had her life changed by Golden Kamuy too. When her story was published, she was a second year student in Sapporo University. She’s an Ainu, but she used to find the culture uninteresting – not to mention the discrimination toward her people, which had made Ainu people like her unwilling to openly express their identity.

All changed when she picked up Golden Kamuy in her local library.

Golden Kamuy made her think that Ainu culture is interesting, and, above all, she felt the pride radiated by Asirpa. She was going to a vocational school after high school, but she decided to go to Sapporo University instead. She passed the entrance test with an essay about the sense of identity that sprouted in her thanks to Golden Kamuy.

Now at the university, which offers scholarship to Ainu people, she is also active in the Urespa Club, where people learn about the Ainu and their history and culture – their dances, their songs, their food, their ceremonies. The club regularly holds events for the Ainu and the Wajins alike to learn about the Ainu. Ueno felt so happy that she could dance the Ainu dances in an event that her father attended. He had never spoken about the Ainu to her, probably because the discrimination he had felt when he was young himself. However, now his daughter has found her way back to their culture. Young Ueno planned to continue spreading the Ainu culture after she graduates one day.

Lecturer Honda Yuuko, the club founder, said that Golden Kamuy, with its wealth of reference, has a big presence among the Ainu youth. She believes that the transmission of culture is possible when many people realise of its value – something that the manga has consistently promoted.

Golden Kamuy has brought great effects to the lives of many Ainu – but how about the Wajins? Aren’t they also the ones whose thoughts and opinions about the Ainu need to be changed? 47 News presented the story of Hayashi Sawako (26), a doctor and a resident of Tokyo. When she was still a medical undergraduate student, she surprised her family when she told them that she’s going to Hokkaido for a Golden Kamuy pilgrimage before the national examination to become a doctor. Her determination was firm: she would go. Golden Kamuy had made her heart captivated by Hokkaido so much.

A friend who understood her manga preference had recommended Golden Kamuy to her, and she had fallen head over heels. She read the manga in the weekly magazine, and for every volume of tankoubon, she would buy at least three copies: one to be read daily, one to be kept as collection, and one to be taken for reading outside. She also bought the digital books. She wanted to know more about the things Golden Kamuy portrays: she began looking into them, and planned and went on the pilgrimage.

After the journey, she took several weeks to make a full-colour leaflet with information about the 30 places she had visited, such as the Abashiri Prison Museum. She would hand out the leaflet to fellow fans during events, hoping that it could help those who wanted to go on a pilgrimage to the holy land of Golden Kamuy too.

Hayashi passed the national examination, and had gone on another pilgrimage – to Karafuto, or Sakhalin – and made another leaflet.

However, probably most importantly, she too learnt from the museums she visited, the stories of the people she met, and the literature she read about the dark history of the harsh treatment and the discrimination that the Ainu had received. She learnt about the Shakushain’s revolt, when Ainu chieftain Shakushain lead a rebellion against the Matsumae clan who was Japanese authority in Hokkaido in the 17th century. It ended with assassinations of the Ainu leaders by the backstabbing Matsumae warriors after a peace settlement was reached. She learnt about the language that was forcibly erased by Japan. She learnt about the banning of fishing and hunting. She was not good in history back in school, but now she had learnt – and continued to learn –  so much.

Her meeting and interaction with the Ainu had helped her understand more about them – and it all started with her interest in Golden Kamuy. She would continue reading and learning from Golden Kamuy and collecting the related materials. We probably should believe in what she believed in too: “Knowing should lead to understanding, and understanding should lead to co-existence.”

Has your life been changed by Golden Kamuy? If yes, share with us the story in the comments!

See also: Kaizawa Toru’s page on Nibutani Ainu Takumi no Michi.

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