Summer is getting closer with each hot day – the sun is out, bugs are buzzing and the temperatures keep rising. And you know what that means? It’s Japan’s season for ghost stories!
Today we don’t simply want to highlight ghost stories, but the general depiction of Japanese mythology in anime. Japan is a country with a rich culture and a long history. It is proud of its beliefs and unique folktales and often incorporates it in every-day life. Mythology in anime is just one of the many examples of this trend.
Stick through until the end to find out more about ancient stories and mythical creatures. Enjoy!
Nippon no Mukashi Banashi
Let me start with a show that has dedicated itself completely to Japanese folktales. Furusato Saisei Nippon no Mukashi Banashi – or Folktales from Japan – is an anime produced by TV Tokyo that first started airing in April 2012. This series adapts traditional Japanese stories and adds narration to make them more attractive to modern viewers.
If you have the slightest interest in Japanese culture you should definitely check this show out. It features all of the most commonly known stories starting from the story of a Rolling Rice Ball to legendary tales like Urashima Tarou or Kintarou. You might ask yourself, why should I know these old stories? Well, not only are they entertaining, they are also a huge part of Japanese culture.
Japan and its people are proud of their culture – that’s why you will find characters like the peach boy Momotarou or the mythical Kappa in modern advertisements and as mascots for local brands. Knowing Japanese folktales is vital for understanding a lot of references and jokes. Nippon no Mukashi Banashi is perfect for those of you who want to find out more about Japan’s ancient culture.
GeGeGe no Kitarou
When talking about Japanese mythology Kitarou just needs to be included. No other fictional character has entertained generations of Japanese children without losing his special charm.
GeGeGe no Kitarou tells the story of one-eyed Kitarou who tries to establish peace between humans and youkai, Japanese ghosts. It features all members of Japan’s unique and haunting afterlife. You thought all ghosts looked the same? Well, think again; Japan has a whole universe filled with mythical creatures, spooky spirits and haunting monsters.
Again, this show is a fun way to get introduced to Japanese mythology. Japan’s ghost stories could make up a whole article by themselves, so I will stop myself right there and just strongly recommend everyone to give GeGeGe no Kitarou a try. Its beginnings reach as far back as the 1960s and until today there have been numerous new seasons. Just compare the opening of the very first season to its modern version and you will understand how essential this story is to Japan’s people.
As I have already mentioned before, Japanese mythology and traditional folk tales are so important to Japan’s culture that they have found a way into a big number of anime shows and movies. Mentioning all of them in just one article is impossible. Still, I want to give you a feeling for how many of your favorite shows have actually been influenced by ancient Japanese culture, so allow me to give you a quick insight into the backgrounds of two more creations.
One of my all-time favorites and dearest childhood memory, Inuyasha, actually introduces its viewers to a lot of Japanese mythology. More precisely, you can see quite a few references to Shintoism. Priestess Kikyou, for example, wears a traditional shrine priestess outfit consisting of a red hakama and a white haori. Similarly, demons and spirits just like Inuyasha himself represent a lot of Japanese beliefs and accurately show Japanese folklore.
We have already given you an introduction to Studio Ghibli and its importance for representing Japan abroad. While most of the major movies depict smaller parts of Japan’s culture, the more unknown Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko is actually one of the best movies when it comes to Japanese mythology. It revolves around the tanuki, an animal that is lesser known abroad but dearly loved in the land of the rising sun. Even though it is a real animal, it has been subject to folklore and has earned some supernatural traits like the ability to shapeshift. Once again, I do not want to give too much of its plot away, but let me just say that this movie is charming and entertaining like no other and like most other Studio Ghibli movies is still as valuable today as it was in 1994.
This ends our excursion into the world of Japanese mythology. Trying to sum up all references, explanations and hints in one article is nearly impossible. Still, I hope that I was able to show you just how often Japan’s culture and its way of thinking influence anime shows and movies. Of course, you don’t have to be interested in mythology to be able to enjoy them. However, understanding the background of a show makes you appreciate smaller aspects and see how much effort the producers and directors put into their work.
Are you familiar with Japanese mythology and are you able to spot it in your favorite shows? Tell us what you think of traditional folklore and hidden references in the comment section down below. Your input is more than welcome.