Behind the camera #2 – My Personal Bond with the Ainu Community

During the three months between my first and second visits to Biratori, I took my first trip to Colombia to donate some second-hand video equipment and to teach filmmaking to the Nasa people who live on top of the Andes Mountains. 

This was my first close encounter and living experience with indigenous people. The place I visited was a refugee camp that was formed after the explosion of a sacred volcano, called Grandfather by the Nasa people. The volcano awoke after 500 years of sleep. 

I learned many things but I will have to save the details for a future post.

After my trip to Colombia, I flew to Hokkaido and stayed at the Kawananos, who are the people who offered to let me stay at their house.

I told them about my experience in Colombia and showed them some photos and videos. They were impressed and Kazunobu, the husband, called someone and told this person “An interesting woman is staying at my house. I want you to meet her.”

Soon after Kazunobu took me to visit the Nabesawas, who later became the second subject in my film.

The Kawananos

Tamotsu Nabesawa is half Ainu and half wajin (a non-Ainu person living in Japan). He is one of the rare people who can actually speak Ainu and grew up surrounded by Ainu culture. 

He loves making  crafts influenced by Ainu culture for himself. When I started talking about the Nasa people, who live on the other side of the world, he found similarities between the Ainu and the Nasa, especially some customs in certain rituals.

Over the next ten years, I often visited the Nabesawas, and they sometimes offered to let me stay over.

Mr. Nabesawa usually spoke in Japanese, but he often spoke Ainu as well. One day, he asked me something in Ainu, and I had no idea what he was saying.

Then he laughed and told me “When someone visits, the first thing an Ainu asks the visitor is whether you will stay over or not. If they’re just visiting, we offer non-alcoholic drinks. If they are going to stay over, we offer alcoholic drinks and food and get ready for a long chat.”

I don’t remember how many nights I stayed over at the Nabesawas,  but I remember sitting next to him, chatting, laughing, eating, and drinking. 

He knew more about the Ainu than most of the community.

I didn’t film him much until 2016, when I started making my documentary about the Ainu. However, I wish I had started filming him as soon as I met him because he passed away in 2018.

But at the same time, because he and I had a bond before filming, he felt much more comfortable when I did film him.

Mr. Nabesawa is a farmer