Japanese Culture As Seen in the Record-Breaking Hit Anime “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba”
The popular anime Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba showcases many aspects of Japanese culture. In this article, we will present some interesting information about these elements that you may have seen in the show.
What Is Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba?
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is a manga and anime series set during the Taisho Era of Japanese history. It tells the story of a young boy named Tanjiro Kamada whose family was slaughtered by demons. His sister Nezuko was turned into a demon, and in order to find a way to return her humanity, he must battle demons with the help of comrades he meets along the way.
The original manga was serialized in the magazine Shonen Jump, but the series gained major popularity after being adapted into an anime series.
The manga is so popular that it has sold over 100 million volumes to date.
On October 16, 2020, the film Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train was released, causing another boom for the series in Japan.
Demon Slayer's Setting: The Taisho Era
The time period during which Demon Slayer takes place, the Taisho Era, is the shortest period in Japanese history, lasting only about 15 years from 1912 to 1926. This period contained many important events in modern Japanese history, such as the spread of democracy via “Taisho Democracy,” the outbreak of the First World War, and the Great Kanto Earthquake.
As common citizens and women began to attain a higher status in Japanese arts and culture, the popular culture being created in urban areas bloomed. It was also during this time that Japanese fashion turned towards Western influences. While compromises between Japanese and Western fashion were popular, such as hakama worn with high-laced boots or Western school uniforms worn with haori, Western-style clothing did not prevail in the countryside, where Japanese clothes remained the norm.
The characters in Demon Slayer were on the cutting edge of fashion for their time!
Also, in the first episode, there is a scene in which Tanjiro buries his family members, but during the Taisho Era, the rate of burial was only around 65%. This was the period during which Japan transitioned from burials to cremation.
What Is a Demon?
Demons appear frequently in Japanese folklore and proverbs. The Japanese word "oni" comes from the word "onu", which means a figure that can’t be seen or that exists in a different realm. In Japan, they are generally considered to be invisible, supernatural creatures that cause harm to humans. In Demon Slayer, they take the form of corporeal, terrifying creatures that devour humans.
Water Breathing and the Meaning Behind Kagura
Tanjiro and Giyu Tomioka both use a technique called Water Breathing. This allows them to manipulate water and is often used during their battles. In the anime, this is represented by crashing waves that resemble the Ukiyo-e paintings of Hokusai. The beautiful, dynamic movement in the anime caught the eye of many fans.
Tanjiro also has another ability called Hinokami Kagura. This is a special breathing technique that allows him to drastically increase his physical strength.
Originally, Kagura was a ritual performed at shrines, involving playing music and dancing as a way to welcome deities. To this day, this ritual is still performed during religious festivals, so if you are visiting a shrine, make sure to check it out.
Distinctive Cultural Items That Appear in Demon Slayer
・Wagara: Traditional Japanese Designs
The haori (formal Japanese coats) worn by the characters in Demon Slayer all have distinctive patterns. These traditional patterns are known as "wagara," and date from the Heian Period (794 - 1185). They are used as designs for kimono and handicrafts, and have various meanings, such as inviting good fortune or good harvests, or warding off evil spirits.
An ukiyo-e painting of women wearing kimono featuring a variety of patterns.
Tanjiro’s haori: Ichimatsu, or checked pattern
This unbroken, continuous pattern is a good omen that represents eternity, progress, and prosperity. It is also said to cleanse the wearer of evil or disease.
Nezuko’s haori: Hemp-leaf pattern
Hemp is a grass that grows long and straight, so it has long been used to pray for the healthy upbringing of a child. It is often seen on the kimono of newborn babies or children.
Zenitsu’s haori: Scale pattern
This design, made up of equal-sized triangles lined up neatly, is one of the oldest designs in the world. In Japan, it is meant to evoke snake scales, whose molting represents rebirth or warding off evil.
The series features many other designs as well.
Susamaru, one of the demons that Tanjiro battles, uses kemari, a traditional Japanese toy, as a weapon. Susamaru's special ability also evokes the game of kemari. Kemari was a sport popular among nobles during the Heian Period, in which players competed to continuously kick a ball made of deerskin up to a certain height. Today, kemari events are still held at some shrines.
Many characters in the series are shown wearing masks. Below are some of the meanings behind these masks.
Sakonji Urokodaki: Tengu mask
Tengu are legendary creatures from Japanese folklore, with red faces and long noses. They are sometimes treated as deities, and sometimes as terrifying phantoms, and appear in many folktales across Japan.
Hotaru Haganezuka: Hyottoko mask
Hyottoko masks feature pursed lips and a droll expression. The name is a corruption of the word "hiotoko", which refers to a boy blowing air through a bamboo tube in order to light a stove.
Sabito: Fox mask
From ancient times, foxes were revered as deities who protected crop fields from mice. Over time, their meaning as deities changed, and fox masks began to be used in various festival rites and sold as tokens of good luck.
In Japan, deities were thought to be dwelling in their masks, so wearing a mask allowed the wearer to work in place of a deity. There was a custom where those who were working for a deity during a festival would wear a mask.
Later, this transformed into the idea that wearing a mask transforms the wearer into a different person, which is why masks are used in traditional Japanese styles of theater such as Noh and Gigaku.
In the series, the family supporting the Demon Slayer Corps that Tanjiro joins uses a wisteria flower crest.
Japan has built a unique culture around family crests, and they are used to show one’s lineage, pedigree, social standing, and place in the social hierarchy.
There are said to be around 6,000 types of family crests across Japan, with the wisteria flower being among the most popular.
Originally, the crest was used by the noble Fujiwara family, as well as their descendants around the country. Many variations of the crest exist.
Sagarifuji, one of many variations of the wisteria flower crest.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba provides many opportunities to learn more about Japanese culture. Make sure to keep your eye out for more aspects of Japanese culture while you enjoy the series!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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