Rebirth in Kimi no Na wa

I wrote this post a very long time ago for another blog I held. I really liked the initial ideas I had, so it will now live here. After recently re-watching Kimi no Na wa, I think I’ll do more theories surrounding it. Shinkai Makoto is one of my favorite directors and this gives me an excuse to revisit all of his works.

小野小町の恋歌の一節。「思いつつ寝(ぬ)ればや人の見えつらむ 夢としりせばさめざらましを」

“Yume to Shiriseba V” – Ono-no-Komachi

I wonder if he appeared in my dream because I fell asleep thinking of him.

I think the basis of Kimi no Na wa is the exploration of adolescence and the bonds we share– whether made organically with friends or spiritually like Taki and Mitsuha. I want to take a different route, and explore the spiritual significance of their bond.

To begin, I want to establish the fact that these events do take place three years after Mitsuha’s death.

By going to the mouth of the god, journeying to the “underworld”, and drinking the kuchikamizake – Taki brought Mitsuha’s timeline back.

If you remember, the “dream sequence” (dream because I’m sure Mitsuha was already dead at that point) the grandmother explains to the girls that they are passing into the underworld to leave half of themselves there, which can be inferred as their souls.

I plan on covering this in later posts, but in Japan sake is believed to have its own spirit. A spirit that has the power to either help the user or harm the user.

One example that comes to mind is the character Gin from Mushishi. 光の流れ [kononagare] or  the river of light was a golden, glistening river of mushi connected throughout the known world. The “kouki” mushi gave life to the forests, the mountains, and even spirited away humans who lost themselves should they indulge in the intoxicating nectar.

Another that comes to mind is the tale of Orochi from the video game, Ōkami. I’ve spoken about this game once before, but it still holds relevant in this context.

A tale of Japanese mythology in its finest, Ōkami tells the tale of Amaratsu, or “Ammy” for short. The sun goddess is reincarnated into a wolf statue and called forth during a time of great turmoil. One hundred years prior to the story, a legendary warrior by the name of Nagi used a special golden sake to intoxicate and kill Orochi.

The 8 Purification Sake rendered the demon weak, and allowed for its own exorcism.

“In exchange for returning to this world, you must leave behind what is most important to you.”

When Taki is presented with crossing the river, the younger sister Yotsuha gleefully crossed the threshold to Kakuriyo [隠り世], the underworld. It is worth mentioning that the location of the shrine is in the middle of a crater. A place of death where the comet last hit.

Grandmother notices that Mitsuha is “dreaming” and Taki wakes up and sees he cannot contact Mitsuha.

Taki sees the girl’s life flash before his eyes and also sees Comet Tiamat split, painted on stones within the god’s mouth. During the Shinto ceremonies that Mitsuha felt were embarrassing, the sisters performed a ritual to make sake. Using their own saliva and chewing rice, they left a “part” of themselves behind in the cave to be called upon should disaster strike. Rivers, streams, and really any body of water serve as purification. Rice is grown in water, and sake is made by distilling and fermenting this product of the earth.

Let’s take a look at Mitsuha and Taki meeting on the mountain, the crater of the past catastrophe, and the ritual.

Mitsuha and Taki meet at Kataware-doki, Tasogare – Twilight; when the sun is setting.

There are historical associations within religions that twilight or dusk brings about differences to the earth – it allows being that cannot exist in light fruition. Think of it as a ‘witching hour’, where supernatural activity is more common for a period of time. They are able to meet in the darkness because it’s a reset. They’ve swapped and we’re in Mitsuha’s timeline – years prior. That’s why Mitsuha in Taki’s body does not leave the edge of the God’s crater, until they switch again. She is not of the world they met in, and only after the switch she is permitted mobility in her realm, her universe, her time line, her world. Again, Taki lost consciousness in the god’s mouth, so he would not wake up back in his timeline if he drank the Musubi [a term for soul, or a bond].

The switch was able to happen between the two due to Mitsuha’s bloodline, and their brief encounter on a train in Tokyo.

“In my next life bring me back as a handsome boy who lives in Tokyo”

As previously mentioned, the high school girl completed a centuries old ritual to leave half of her soul in the God’s Mouth cave. The Great Fire of Mayugoro destroyed any documents relating to the ceremony’s purpose, but its form lived on.

“So the purpose of our festivals became unknown, and only the form lived on. But even if words are lost, tradition should be handed down. That’s the important task we at Miyamizu shrine have.”

The Miyamizu women possessed the ability to merge with another soul, due to the ancient ceremony. This is why Grandma Hitoha accounts “strange happenings” in her youth, and Yotsuha referred to Mitsuha as needing an exorcism when she was “acting funny”.

“Oh, you’re not Mitsuha?”

“You knew, Grandma?”

“No, but watching the way you behaved lately triggered some memories. I also remember seeing strange dreams when I was a young girl. Although I’ve forgotten now whose live I was dreaming about….Treasure the experience. Dreams fade away after you wake up…There were times your mother and I had similar experiences.”

“Maybe those dreams that the Miyamizu people had were all for what would happen today.”

To which Granny Hitoha decides whoever is in her granddaughters body is insane and dismisses the conversation. Which is actual hilarious in the context that she accepts the possession, but does not accept the theory behind the act itself.

“The braids represent the flow of time itself…Musubi- knotting of time”

The Braided Cords of Itomori may have aided in this ability.

In addition to the kuchikamezake ritual, the shrine maidens learned how to weave Kumihimo [組み紐] braids. In Tokyo, Mitsuha gives Taki one such cord. We are all familiar with the East Asian “Red String of Fate” tale in popular media, so I don’t need to recap that in correlation to the girl’s red weaved hairband.

There are a plethora of spiritual gems in this film, but for now I will leave it here. I came across a theory stating that one of the characters from Garden of Words appears in this story, so I would like to investigate Shinkai’s works and confirm any connection for myself.

What do you think Kimi no Na wa was really about? Do you think it could be based on real-life events that are not of public knowledge? Have you read the light novels?

Leave your thoughts in the comment section, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more Shinto analysis in films!

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Madara, the Okuri-Inu| Natsume Yuujinchou | The Youkai of Anime

A new installment in the Sunday series – this week focusing on Madara from Natsume’s Book of Friends.

This series will explore yokai, their history, and prevalence in a series. Japan is a land where spirituality is prized over religion, and Shintoism is viewed more as tradition than a bind. The tradition of visiting temples on the New Year, adding yuzu fruit to baths during the Winter Solstice, Jizo statues and local shrines are so old that no one remembers its origin story.

See our previous post on Nyanko Sensei, the Maneki-Neko.

Series Name: Natsume Yuujincho [夏目友人帳]

Number of Seasons: Six

Original Air Date: July – September 2008

Manga: Yes (ongoing)

OVA/Movies: Yes

Character Name: Madara (Nyanko-sensei’s true form)

Yokai Name: Okuri-Inu [送り犬]

Association: Guardianship, banishment, protection.

Episode of Appearance: Episode 1, Natsume Yuujinchou (Season 1)

Description: A giant white wolf towering in height well beyond surrounding forest trees. Madara has red marking on his cheeks and a symbol on his forehead. He seems knowledgeable concerning purification rituals, binding of spirits and the local history of his area.

I came across really interesting information while learning more about this youkai. Wolves (日本狼) were abundant across Honshu until a strain of rabies infected the species.  Appearing first in Kyushu and Shikoku, it quickly spread throughout other islands in the nation. There is a dispute on whether the infection was brought to the island through domesticated dogs or human visitors. Others insist that the species was systematically killed off through government mandates. Either way, the last known wolf was killed near Yoshino (Kii peninsula) in the year 1905. However, that did not stop reports of the beast in rural areas of Japan well after the last official sighting.

Wolves, or ‘okami’, play a huge role in Shintoism. 狼 (おおかみ) takes the honorific ‘o’ that denotes reverence and the kami reserved for deities in its English translation. However, in Japan kami is a word that has other meanings.  It can also be interpreted as “superior”.  Norinaga Motoori is a celebrated scholar and philosopher known for his theological approach to Shinto. His practices are extremely detailed and I will elaborate on them another time once I have a fraction of understanding, but until then I’d like to cite a quote from Norinaga via an article from the Japan Times.

“I do not yet understand the meaning of the term kami,” wrote Norinaga (in “The Spirit of the Gods,” 1771). “It is hardly necessary to say that it includes human beings. It also includes such objects as birds, beasts, trees, plants, seas, mountains and so forth. In ancient usage, anything whatsoever which was outside the ordinary, which possessed superior power or which was awe-inspiring, was called kami…Evil and mysterious things, if they are extraordinary and dreadful, are called kami…”

Even if you are not familiar with Japanese wolf spirits, I am sure you at least remember hearing about a video game called Ōkami circa 2006. I had this game for the WII and it took me literal years to complete. Not because it was difficult, I thought my save file had a game-breaking bug. I was so frustrated that I didn’t touch the thing until years later where I decided to start a new playthrough then realized…I was just being dumb. I completely missed a prompt to continue a cutscene, and that is why I could never progress in the game no matter what I tried. I don’t even know if that was some sort of wisdom on my part to figure it out later, or just ascribed to finally taking my time in the game.

Either way, this mention has merit.

Ōkami is an unbridled resource for anyone interested in Japanese folklore or its ancient times. A short summary would be that it tells the story of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, saving the lands from the evil influences of Orochi – an eight-headed serpent creature. The goddess is called forth to the human realm by a guardian of Kamiki Village named Sakuya. Amaterasu, or Ammy also gives the legendary hero Susano’o the courage to slay the beast while drunk on golden sake.

In the actual ancient legends, Amaterasu and Susano were siblings; created after Izanagi cleansed himself once he left his wife Izanami in the underworld. After a fight with her storm god brother, the sun goddess hid in a cave and the world fell into darkness –  with spirits running amok. The other deities assembled and tricked her into coming out of the cave, thus lighting the world once more. The gang fastened a sacred rope, or shimenawa (注連縄) [rice straw] purification rope across the cave so that her light would never be obstructed again. Susano was expelled and sent to wander the world as an outcast. On his journey, he found Kusa-nada-pime, the Rice Paddy Princess who was being attacked by an eight-headed dragon. He made the dragon drunk on sake and slew it with a sword…you get the picture.

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[If you still haven’t heard any of these names before, you have probably seen an episode of Naruto. In Naruto Shippuden, Sasuke has some sort of Sharingan eye jutsu named Susanoo that acts as a guardian taking a samurai-like form. Orochimaru is an arguably “evil” ninja who uses serpents as a summoning (Manda) and frankly for everything else. He’s pretty creepy, actually. It may be a stretch, however, to point to Sakura and Sakuya, as it seems Kishimoto never put that much thought into her character after admitting it difficult to write for women.]

The Legends

In the rural, mountainous regions of Nihon the wolves made their dens. From a spiritual perspective, they were seen as protectors of the forest and “patrons” of weary travelers. The mountains were viewed as dangerous, distrustful places where the spirits of the dead roamed freely. The rural dwellings for humans 里の世界 or Sato no Sekai were different from the 山の世界 or Yama no Sekai which were ruled by the mountain spirit – Yama no Kami (山の神 ).

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This concept is heavily touched upon in Natsume Yuujinchou and furthermore in Mushishi with Ginko always searching for a mountain’s spirit at the sight of trouble. If you remember, there were several instances where Nyanko-sensei and other Youkai would warn Natsume against travel to certain parts of the forest. Or Sensei would comment on “not knowing the forest” if the pair were traveling.

There were places that humans were just not allowed to dwell. Each forest had its own set of rules that the spirits, or yokai, were expected to follow.

The Episode

Upon the shimenawa breaking, Madara does a bunch of theatrics to intimidate Natsume and is released with an aura of dark energy. Natsume is “unfazed” and simply stares at him. Madara seems surprised that he is not quaking in fear. Nyanko-sensei mentions that he owes him for breaking the seal and that he will be his bodyguard in exchange for his gratitude. Outside of Shinto folklore, this seems to be a common arrangement amongst situational spirit – human contact. A sort of binding contract or ‘pact’ that dissolves at one party’s demise. In this case, it seems like Madara will willingly serve Natsume during his lifetime in exchange for The Book of Friends upon his death. Madara chases off problematic youkai who would bring harm to the boy, resembling a ferocious “guardian” canine or “guard dog” spirit.

A Deeper Interpretation

Madara’s surprise at Natsume’s reaction could denote his age. In this connotation, he may have been sealed during a time where these stories and legends may have been treated as fact and as such – common knowledge to travelers. Madara expected a reaction from his time period – given his manner of speech is noted to be archaic and attributed to an old man – I theorize he could have been birthed in the 1300s – 1700s at the earliest. I say this because other spirits seem to know and remember him, and youkai are said to have much longer lifespans than humans. This is also backed up by numerous yokai not recognizing gender and when Natsume corrects them on his identity (i.e. not being his grandmother, Reiko) they seem to remark on our appallingly short natural lives.

This brings us to the 番犬, or watchdog legends.

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In the mountains late at night, a wolf was said to sometimes trail a traveler.  The sending (off) wolf, or Okuri Okami [送り狼] would then disappear once the resident was near their home. If the traveler tripped or looked back while the wolf followed however, this could be taken as a sign of aggression and give reason for the wolf to attack. This begs the question: was Madara a guardian, or Okuri-Okami in his past? What happened along the way to ‘corrupt’ him and initially wish to control all the residents of his forest in Kyushu? Did he have a falling out with the mountain god, or was he just being his (usual) shady self? More questions than answers for now, but I hope the manga does allude to something like this in the future. Since it seems Madara knew Reiko better than he lets on – being able to take her form when he can only do that with “humans he gets a good look at” to paraphrase.

I may have to update or provide new entries for Madara with each season I cover of the show, otherwise this post could in theory go on forever. Maybe with more rewatches, I could come up with a theory on why exactly he is a divine being – as indicated by his markings and spiritual presence to effectively banish lower level or ‘purify’ intendedly evil ayakashi.

If this post got you interested in the series, feel free to check out Natsume’s Book of Friends, Vol. 1 and Natsume’s Book of Friends Seasons 1 & 2 Standard Edition by using these links. It supports the series and also helps out the site at no additional cost to yourself!

What do you think of Madara’s character? Is he a scorned yokai, or just an old spirit who has been through some things? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us on WordPress, Twitter and Instagram for more #YokaiSpiritSundays!