Spiker, Christina M. “Golden Kamuy and the Discourse of Ethnic Harmony: Defining a Multi-Ethnic Japan in Anime and Manga,” paper planned to be delivered at the 50th Annual Popular Culture Association Conference, Philadelphia (April 15-18, 2020). [CANCELLED DUE TO COVID-19]
The question of Japan’s status as a multi-ethnic nation has been intensively debated by scholars such as Tessa Morris-Suzuki since the 1990s. The development of a new national museum in Hokkaido dedicated to the indigenous Ainu minority called The Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony (民族共生象徴空間, or Upopoy in the Ainu language) has renewed many of these debates on the eve of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. While many scholars, such as Morris-Suzuki, have discussed the concerns with this new contemporary site and the line between celebration and exploitation of indigenous culture, these perspectives have not adequately addressed the role of popular visual culture in spreading an ideology of ethnic harmony in relation to Japan’s indigenous minorities. My paper addresses this issue in a case study of the popular visual cultural representation of the Ainu in the historical manga and anime Golden Kamuy (manga 2014-; anime 2018-) by Noda Satoru. I argue that the way that this show introduces Ainu culture to a non-Ainu majority is in line with many of the issues we see playing out in the political sphere regarding the tension between Ainu recognition by the Japanese government and the government’s unwillingness to take responsibility for past colonial aggressions. In conclusion, by examining Golden Kamuy we can begin to acknowledge the role of visual culture in informing a widespread understanding of indigeneity as we approach the Tokyo Olympics and the torch relay race that will go through this new ethnic museum and park in Hokkaido, Japan.