- Ikumi Watanabe
Take a Japanese History Quiz! What Is Haniwa from Animal Crossing? Where Does the Word “Tempura” Come From?
In this article, the history of Japan will be featured in the form of a quiz! From a character that appears on Animal Crossing: New Horizons, up to the origin of the word “tempura,” you will surely have a lot of fun learning about Japan’s history while answering questions. All right, let’s see how many questions you can answer correctly!
- Q1. This Thing Also Appeared in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. What Is a “Haniwa”?
- Q2. When Did the Yen Become Japan's Currency?
- Q3. The Word “Tempura” Came From Which Language?!
- Q4. When Did Christianity Come to Japan?
- Q5. How Many Female Emperors of Japan Have There Been?
Q1. This Thing Also Appeared in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. What Is a “Haniwa”?
In the game "Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” there is a character that is inspired by the Japanese "haniwa" (terracotta figure). It's cute for sure, but for what purpose were haniwa originally made in Japan?
1. To announce weddings
2. As toys for wealthy families
3. To decorate graves
[A] 3. To decorate graves
[Explanation] A haniwa is a figure that was placed around ancient burial mounds (called “kofun” in Japanese, referring to the tomb of a person in power at that time) around the 3rd to 6th centuries to signify that the person buried was a powerful person and to show the status of that person’s funeral. They were originally made cylindrical in shape, but eventually took on the form of ships, houses, animals such as horses and birds, and dolls (people). Now, the unique form of haniwa has been transformed into a character and is featured in Animal Crossing: New Horizons as a character that moves next to a bridge that is being built. There is also another character inspired by a haniwa in the game called Yayoi (“Coco” in the English version) who is a little creepy but cute at the same time. I want to invite Yayoi to my own island in the game!
Q2. When Did the Yen Become Japan's Currency?
Japan's current currency is the yen. What year did the yen become the official currency of the country?
[A] 2. 1871
[Explanation] During the Edo period (1603 - 1868), the Edo Shogunate (the central government at the time) issued its own currency, but in addition to this, each region in Japan also had its own currency. A large number of silver coins also came into Japan from other countries towards the end of the Edo period, causing major issues with the many various currencies being circulated in the country at that time.
Therefore, once the Edo Shogunate lost power and the new Meiji government took over, it was decided that the country's currencies should be standardized. Thus the yen debuted in 1871. The following year, a new currency called "Meiji Tsuho" was also issued.
Q3. The Word “Tempura” Came From Which Language?!
Tempura is a Japanese dish that is also quite popular with tourists visiting Japan. However, tempura was originally based on the food of another country, and the word "tempura" itself also derives from that country's language. What language did the word “tempura” come from?
[Explanation] It was about 450 years ago that the way of cooking tempura was introduced from Portugal to Japan. The name “tempura” is actually derived from the Portuguese word "temporas,” a period of prayer and fasting for Catholics. Eating meat is prohibited during this period, so Catholics would dip vegetables and fish in batter made with flour and then fry them.
Nagasaki tempura, known as the origin of tempura in Japan, is inspired by that dish from Portugal. It is characterized by its thick and seasoned batter that is made by mixing flour, eggs, sugar, and salt without any water. To this day, you can still savor this local specialty in Nagasaki.
Q4. When Did Christianity Come to Japan?
When was Christianity first introduced to Japan?
[Explanation] Christianity was introduced to Japan in 1549 by the Spanish missionary Francis Xavier. The daimyo (a feudal lord governing the land) of the Kyushu region at that time apparently tried to protect Christianity to secure the right to trade with other countries.
Such a relationship between a daimyo and the missionaries was regarded as dangerous, so after that period, the Edo Shogunate imposed a strict policy banning Christianity for more than two centuries. The Hidden Christian Sites in Nagasaki and Amakusa, which showcase the history of Christians who stayed true to Christianity but kept their faith hidden, have been designated as World Heritage Sites.
By the way, most people in Japan either don't identify as being a part of any religion or follow the practices of Shintoism and/or Buddhism. As of 2017, Christians only accounted for 1.1% of the total population in the country (and 4.35% of those Christians belong to parishes in Nagasaki).
Q5. How Many Female Emperors of Japan Have There Been?
Enacted in 1947, the Imperial House Law in modern Japan limits the qualifications for succession to the imperial throne, stating that “only a male offspring in the male line belonging to the Imperial Lineage” may ascend to the throne and become emperor. However, Japan did have female emperors in the past. So, how many female emperors has Japan had until today?
[Explanation] The following are the female emperors that have ascended to the throne in Japan thus far.
・ 6th - 8th centuries
Empress Suiko, Empress Kogyoku, Empress Saimei (refers to Empress Kogyoku’s second reign as empress), Empress Jito, Empress Genmei, Empress Gensho, Empress Koken, Empress Shotoku (refers to Empress Koken’s second reign as empress)
・ 17th - 18th centuries
Empress Meisho, Empress Go-Sakuramachi
Both female emperors were from the "male line" as their fathers had been emperors, and were either widowed by or divorced from their husbands, or unmarried. It seems that these empresses ascended to the throne when there were multiple male members in the imperial family who were candidates for the throne, or when the successor to the throne could not ascend to the throne yet due to their young age.
Q6. In Japan, the Three Most Beautiful Women in the World are Cleopatra, Yang Guifei, and Who?
In Japan, the "three great beauties of the world" are considered to be Cleopatra of Egypt, Yang Guifei of China, and a Japanese woman who lived about 1,100 years ago. Who is that Japanese woman?
[A] Ono no Komachi
[Explanation] Ono no Komachi is a poet who lived in Japan around the 9th century who was said to be a woman of unmatched beauty. At Zuishin-in in Kyoto, the main temple of the Shingon sect, there are even historic remains of the “Ono Fumizuka” (letter mound) where thousands of love letters sent to Ono no Komachi are said to be buried. I sure wish I could live the kind of life where I got to receive thousands of love letters!
They say that if you visit this mound of letters, you will be bestowed with improved skill in writing love letters, better writing ability in general, and success in love.
How many questions did you get right? If you got all of them correct, you've proven yourself to be quite an expert on Japan! I think that learning more about the history of Japan can help you enjoy Japanese anime and games even more, so I recommend learning as much as you can!
*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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