oina

(Above) The idea that the Oina tribe members could transform into wolves came up mid-development, and I remember re-doing this draft accordingly. This is also around the time he got his fiery red hair. The Oina tribe was influenced heavily by the Ainu peoples and the Native Americans. The masks they wear represent the divine spirit that they worship, and is their way of staying close to said spirit. The masks were definitely not just a cover-up for us to avoid the hassle of designing more faces… no, they carry a very deep meaning.

(Below) An early Oki. At this point, he did not have the ability to transform into a wolf, and I was drawing him to look a little younger. The fact that he is wearing short sleeves despite being from a very cold region is an idea left over from this early stage in development. In the end, I feel it suits his hot-blooded personality perfectly…still, looks a bit chilly.

Okami: Official Complete Works, page 147

Oki

Oki is based on the Ainu hero Okikurumi. He is credited with teaching the Ainu, the native people of Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, with the arts of hunting and fishing. He is the main hero of many oina, epic poems, and thus was also known as Oinakamui (god of oina). Furthermore, he is the son of the goddess of elm trees, which were commonly used by the Ainu for fire, and so Okikurumi is associated with fire as well. This is probably reflected in Oki’s hot temperament and fiery personality (and hair). And when he became an adult, his mother gave him a sword–which, when he took it, burst into flame and destroyed the dark beings around it. The sword was called kutoneshirika. (The only further information I’ve found is in Japanese I can’t quite read.)

As it happens, it seems that Yoshitsune (Ushiwaka) and Benkei went to Hokkaido, and they taught the Ainu how to hunt, fish, and do other useful things. Yoshitsune was called Okikurumi, and Benkei was called Samai un guru, which literally means “Japanese person”. Samickle’s Japanese name is Samaikuru. Coincidence? I think not.

Okikurumi faces a wind spirit.

Anyway, maybe this is a reason behind the constant Oki-Waka dilemma!

Sources:
Kunnesiri
Sacred-texts

Bonus picture: cool Ainu robe

This is the first character I drew when I joined the Okami team. Initially, her name was Omohikane and she existed separately from Tuskle. Omohikane means “God of Knowledge”, so I tied her design to owls. Eventually, the scenario had Tuskle and Omohikane combine and become what you see today. The owls on her head are indeed alive, and it is quite possible that they are the ones doing the actual talking instead of Tuskle…

Okami: Official Complete Works, page 150