Posted in 2018, analysis, Anime, Fiction

Golden Kamuy and the Ainu

One of the only two new series that I am currently up to date with this season, Golden Kamuy is an interesting series that I didn’t expect. Of course when it comes to anime you always get what you least expect. Like one of the new series is about race horse girls. I definitely did not expect that. Golden Kamuy follows the adventures of Sugimoto a soldier who survived the Russo-Japanese war that ended shortly before World War 2 as he tries to make money by panning for gold in Hokkaido. Along the way he hears rumours of a hidden stash of gold that had been stolen from the Ainu and then hidden. He then partners up with Asirpa, a young Ainu woman, in order to both survive in the wilderness and find the stolen Ainu gold.

This is a series that interests me a lot because this is my first real exposure to Ainu culture. I knew they existed, I just didn’t know much about them. This is a series that takes its time to explain cultural differences between Japanese and Ainu customs, uses the quickly dying Ainu language of which there are apparently four dialects (only one is still spoken by 15 people as of 2013), and also occasionally acts as a cooking series with Ainu foods. One of the things I like about fiction is the fact that you can learn a lot from it. I will go over some of the traditions and cultural aspects of the Ainu that have been mentioned in the series so far. This post will contain spoilers up to episode 6.

But before I get into my list I think I should explain who the Ainu are. They are the indigenous people of Japan. Their ancestors came to the islands from North-Eastern Asia unlike the ancestors of modern Japanese people who immigrated from China. The Ainu are traditionally sedentary hunter-gatherers meaning that they don’t move a whole lot while living off the land. Golden Kamuy is set during the late Meiji period of Japan which was between the years of 1868 and 1912. During this time period policies were put in place by the Emperor to assimilate the Ainu with Japan. These policies included banning the Ainu language. You can see the effects of these policies in the series though the policies themselves have yet to come up.

So here’s my list of five things I looked up about the Ainu in relation to Golden Kamuy. I’m not an expert and there are a lot of things I don’t know so it’s possible that some information in this list may be slightly wrong since there is a lot of misleading and biased information on the internet. I recommend that you do some research of your own if you’re interested. Now here is my list.

  1. The Title “Golden Kamuy” and the Bears

    Screenshot (103)The Ainu people refer to anything that is of use to them as well as anything that is out of their control as “kamuy”. Kamuy were basically gods who came to help the Ainu. The word Ainu is the exact opposite of Kamuy. Ainu and Kamuy are meant to help each other and to scold the other group if they have done something wrong. They have a relationship of mutual assistance. Sometimes in English we refer to anything at the top as being golden so therefore “Golden Kamuy” refers to an Ainu god that is near the top. This could refer to the gold that the characters are all actively searching for or it could have something to do with bears.
    One of the most important kamuy is Kim-un Kamuy or the god of bears and mountains which is rather fitting considering that a lot of this series has been taking place in the mountains and there have been multiple bears. I think that this is the main reason why all the bears in the series are drawn in a different art style so that they look like they don’t entirely belong. This had to have bene a conscious choice.

  2. The Bear Cub

    Screenshot (107)After Sugimoto uses a hibernating bear to deal with his pursuers in episode 3 he takes in the small bear cub. This leads to Asirpa bringing both him and the cub to her home village so that the cub can be raised. She warns him not to get too close to the cub because of an Ainu tradition where a young bear cub is taken from a wintering den and raised as an Ainu child. It is then sacrificed to send its kamuy back to Kamuy Mosin or the land of the kamuy. Ainu Mosin is the homeland where the Ainu live. Both the sources I was looking at stated this fact and I even found pictures of a bear cub being raised by Ainu.

  3. Appearance

    Screenshot (100)Ainu women were tattooed around the lips when they were old enough to marry. Men don’t shave after they are old enough to marry which is a few years after women come of age. Everyone has hair that is about shoulder length. In the second episode when Asirpa and Sugimoto go to that town it is mentioned how she does not have tattoos because she is too young. She is also wearing traditional Ainu clothing. You can also see examples of clothing in the Ainu village.

  4. Naming of Children

    Screenshot (109)It is mentioned in an episode that Ainu children are given names of disgusting/annoying things in order to ward off the demon of ill-health. Once they reached a certain age they got their permanent names which would be related to their behaviour, events that already happened during their lives, or their parents’ wishes for their future. Another interesting detail about how children are named, the Ainu tried their hardest to name everyone something different so you don’t see too many repetitive names. This wasn’t mentioned yet in the series.

  5. Food

    Screenshot (104)I didn’t find much about what they ate, however through my research I learned that the Ainu rarely ate raw meat. Asirpa has been shown multiple times already during this series preparing raw animal organs such as deer lungs and brains and getting Sugimoto to eat it. This was mainly done during hunting trips. I didn’t find anything about eating anything but organs raw so I don’t know about chitatap, however I’m sure that like many other aspects of this series research was put into portraying this culture.

I decided to end this post at only five aspects of the Ainu culture in Golden Kamuy. I did some quick research to learn more about this culture because I knew practically nothing about it before watching this series. If you want to learn even more go to the sites that I’ll list below. This is where I did most of my research. There are so many things about Ainu culture that have yet to be mentioned in the series.

References

http://www.ainu-museum.or.jp/en/study/eng01.html
https://www.tofugu.com/japan/ainu-japan/

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