Understanding Kamigawa





Ever wondered what exactly a shaku is? Or what "junkyo" means? Or where all the weird Legend names in Kamigawa come from? Even though the Kamigawa block has been complete for two months, many players still find themselves lost in the flavor of the set. For many, all the odd words and names are pure gibberish. But Wizards didn't just randomly make up these names, after all. The Kamigawa world is deeply rooted in traditional Japanese culture, and most of the Legends' names have been carefully constructed to reflect their bearers' identities.

Although Wizards has written several articles about the Kamigawa world, including a brief glossary in the Arcana for each of the sets, I thought it might be nice to compile that information (and more!) into a "crash course" of sorts. In this article, you'll find explanations of almost every Japanese name or term used in the Kamigawa block, as well as some pronunciation guides for the more difficult words - anyone else tired of hearing about Umezawa's "jit"?

*Before we get started, though, I'd like to note that when discussing Japanese words, I'll often be focusing on the kanji (written characters), and individual kanji will often be read differently from the way they are read when used in a compound. As an example, the kanji in "Akki" are separately read as "aku" and "imawa," but as a compound they are read as "a" and "ki."


The Basics

Let's start simple, shall we? First of all, the block is set in the world of Kamigawa. The name comes from the combination of kami (meaning "god" or "spirit") and kawa (meaning "river"). WotC mentioned the Kamigawa river in this article, pointing out that you can actually see the river in the art of Slumbering Tora. According to the article, the river started out being an integral part of the world, being the "source of the Kamitaki Falls that flow around the Minamo School." But as the sets developed, the river became less prominent. Consequently, the name became more figurative, merely alluding to the existence of the kami (pronounced kah-mee).

The five major races in Kamigawa are the Akki (pronounced ahk-kee), the Soratami, the Kitsune-bito, the Nezumi-bito, and the Orochi-bito. The word "Akki" combines two words meaning "evil" (aku) and "detestable" (imawa). According to WotC, the invented compound "Akki" means "little monster." On the other hand, the compound "Soratami" makes more literal sense, using the words "sky"/"heavens" (sora) and "people"/"nation" (tami). Meanwhile, the other three races are based on actual animals. We have foxes (Kitsune, pronounced kit-soo-neh), rats (Nezumi), and giant snakes (Orochi), while the suffix hito/bito means "person." The Orochi is actually a famous creature in Japanese lore, particularly referring to an eight-headed serpent defeated by the legendary Shinto god Susano-o.

There are also three tribes in the Jukai forest: the Sakura-zoku ("cherry blossom tribe"), the Matsu-zoku ("pine tree tribe"), and the Kashi-zoku ("evergreen oak tribe"). And among the Nezumi, there is a gang known as the Okiba, which translates to "large fang."

The Places

The Araba (pronounced ah-rah-bah) is a barren expanse of land. Appropriately, the name is formed from "ruined" (arai) and "place" (ba). In the middle of the Araba stands Eiganjo Castle (pronounced ay-gahn-joh), which comes from words meaning "eternity" (ei), "rock" (iwa), and "castle" (shiro). Its name refers to its strength as a fortress. The other well-known location in Araba is the city Reito (pronounced ray-toh), which was destroyed by the Kami in their first attack on the material world. Thus, the city's name comes from the words "ghost" (rei) and "city" (to).

The Sokenzan mountain range is known for its iciness. The name comes from the words for "frost" (shimo), "sword" (ken), and "mountain" (yama). But the Sokenzan range isn't just frosty; it's also the home to Shinka Keep, which derives its name from the words for "true" (shin) and "flame" (hi). Other names reference the mountains' height: the Tendo peaks translate to "heaven's door" (amatsu + to). The tallest peak, Untaidake (oon-tie-dah-keh), derives its name from "cloud" (kumo), "zone" (tai), and "peak" (take).

Then there's the Takenuma (tah-keh-noo-mah), a swamp (numa) filled with bamboo (take). One of the abandoned cities of the Takenuma is Numai, which also derives its name from the word "swamp" (numa), as well as the word "residing" (i). The swamp is also the location of Shizo, a battlefield strewn with corpses; the name itself means "death" (shi) and "storehouse" (). Saviors of Kamigawa later introduced the moaning well Miren (mee-ren), which is a Japanese word for "lingering affection" or "regret."

The dense Jukai forest's name comes from "tree" (ju) and "sea" (umi). Of all the temples in the Jukai, the largest is the Okina Temple; okina means "old man," though in this context, the Okina Temple is known as a "shrine to the grandfathers." The other notable place in the Jukai forest is the great tree Boseiju. The ju suffix is the same word for "tree" used in "Jukai," while the "bosei" comes from "mother" (haha) and "master" or "saint" (sei).


Oboro: Almost as hazy as
downtown Los Angeles.

The largest waterfall in Kamigawa is the Kamitaki Falls (taki means "waterfall"). This is where the Minamo School floats. The word minamo itself means "water surface."

Two other important locations in the Kamigawa world are the Oboro palace (oboro means "haziness") and the sacred island Mikokoro, whose name means "honorable" (go) and "heart" (kokoro).

The Legends

Not all of the Legends in the Kamigawa world have relevant names. Some are purely made up (Azami, Ben-Ben, Erayo, Ishi-Ishi, Kiki-Jiki, Meloku, Tok-Tok, Uyo, Zo-Zu), while others have names with little meaning (particularly among the Orochi). Most names derive their meaning from the characters used in writing the name OR from the meaning of the actual word. I'll briefly explain most of the significant Legend names. Note that not all of these are "official" explanations.

  • Akuta, Born of Ash - akuta (ah-koo-tah) means "dust" or "trash."
  • Arashi, the Sky Asunder - arashi means "storm."
  • Ayumi, the Last Visitor - ayumi means "walking" or a "step."
  • Azamuki, Treachery Incarnate - azamuki means "deception."
  • Azusa, Lost but Seeking - azusa means "catalpa tree."
  • Chisei, Heart of Oceans - chisei means "intelligence."
  • Dokai, Weaver of Life - dokai means "lump of earth."
  • Dosan the Falling Leaf - Dosan's name is also the name of a feudal ruler (Saito Dosan) during the Sengoku period in Japan. He was known for his ruthlessness.
  • Fumiko the Lowblood - The fumi part of Fumiko's name means "to step on" or "to trample on." ko is a typical ending for female names.
  • Godo, Bandit Warlord - Although godo has little relevant meaning (the name is written as "five shrines" and the word means "enlightenment"), the rest of his full name does have some significance. In development Godo's first name was Mifune, a name strongly associated with the Japanese actor Mifune Toshiro, who played many samurai and ronin roles, including many Kurosawa films.
  • Goka the Unjust - Goka's name comes from the words for "sturdiness" or "strength" () and "fire" (hi).
  • Heartless Hidetsugu - Hidetsugu is another historical name. Toyotomi Hidetsugu was a nephew and retainer of the great daimyō Hideyoshi, who succeeded Oda Nobunaga and ended the Sengoku period.
  • Higure, the Still Wind - higure (hee-goo-reh) means "twilight."
  • Hikari, Twilight Guardian - hikari means "light."
  • Hisoka, Minamo Sensei - hisoka means "mystery" or "secrecy."
  • Hokori, Dust Drinker - hokori means "dust."
  • Homura, Human Ascendant - homura means "flame."
  • Horobi, Death’s Wail - horobi means "ruin."
  • Iname as One - The word iname (ee-nah-meh) has no meaning, but the name is written as the combination of "negation" (ina) and "life" (inochi), reflecting Iname's dual nature.
  • Isamaru, Hound of Konda - Isamaru's name roughly translates to "full of courage."
  • Isao, Enlightened Bushi - Isao's name is written as the combination of "merit" (isao) and "hero" (osu). He holds the title of bushi ("warrior"), which in many cases is synonymous with samurai.
  • Iwamori of the Open Fist - Officially, Wizards says that the name translates to "rock of the woods," being derived from the words "rock" (iwa) and "forest" (mori). In writing, however, his name uses the character for "protect" (mori) instead.
  • Jaraku the Interloper - Jaraku's name may be based on a word meaning "to play around."
  • Jiwari, the Earth Aflame - As the kami of earthquakes, Jiwari's name appropriately comes from "earth" (chi) and "break" (wari).
  • Kaiso, Memory of Loyalty - kaisō means "remembrance" or "reminiscence."
  • Kataki, War’s Wage - kataki means "enemy," alluding to Kataki's status as the Kami of retribution.

  • "That which we call a camellia,
    by any other name..."
  • Kiku, Night’s Flower - Somewhat appropriately, Kiku's name is written as the combination of "cut" (kiri) and "pain" (ku). Oddly, though, kiku is the Japanese word for "chrysanthemum," while Kiku's trademark flower is the camellia (as seen in the card's artwork).
  • Kira, Great Glass-Spinner - kira comes from the words "beautiful" (ki) and "thin silk" or "gauze" (ra).
  • Konda, Lord of Eiganjo - "Konda" has no significant meaning. His first name, Takeshi, is a common Japanese name meaning "brave."
  • Kumano, Master Yamabushi - Kumano's name seems to be a reference to the Kumano region in Japan, a mountainous area that has been long revered as a home to the gods. Many people made pilgrimages to Kumano, especially during the Heian and Edo periods. In Kamigawa, Kumano is a yamabushi, or "mountain priest."
  • Kuon, Ogre Ascendant - Kuon is a master of pain and suffering. His written name comes from "pain" (ku, the same as in Kiku's name) and "honourable."
  • Kuro, Pitlord - Kuro's written name roughly translates to "playing with pain."
  • Kyoki, Sanity’s Eclipse - kyōki means "madness." Interestingly, Kyoki's written name also means "evil oni."
  • Maga, Traitor to Mortals - Maga's name combines the words for "curse" or "misfortune" (ka) and "self" (ware).
  • Meishin, the Mind Cage - The name of this spell is derived from "bewilderment" (mayoi) and "mind" (shin).
  • Nagao, Bound by Honor - Nagao's name is a combination of "leader" (osa) and "hero" (osu).
  • Opal-Eye, Konda’s Yojimbo - Opal-Eye holds the office of yōjinbō, which means "bodyguard."
  • Reki, the History of Kamigawa - Reki's name is written as the compound of "calendar" (reki) and the suffix "chronicle" (ki). The related word rekishi means "history."
  • Sakashima the Impostor - sakashima means "reversal" or "inversion," an apparent reference to Sakashima's mastery of disguise.
  • Seizan, Perverter of Truth - Seizan's name doesn't really have anything to do with perverting truth, but for those interested, the characters used to write Seizan's name are "to die" (yuku) and "to behead" (kiru).
  • Sekki, Seasons’ Guide - In traditional East Asian cultures that use a lunisolar calendar, the 24 sekki (pinyin: jiéqì) are days used to divide the calendar into equal sections, helping to synchronize the calendar with the seasons.
  • Shimatsu the Bloodcloaked - Appropriately, Shimatsu's name comes from "death" (shi) and "festival" or "feast" (matsuri).
  • Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker - A shirei is a departed soul.
  • Takeno, Samurai General - The first half of Takeno's name indicates "warrior" or "military" (takeshi).
  • Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang - tatsu means "dragon," and the second half of the name means "true" or "correct" (tadashii).
  • Tenza, Godo's Maul - The weapon's name combines "heaven" (amatsu) and "chain" (kusari).
  • Terashi's Cry - Terashi is the kami of the sun, and appropriately its name means "shine" or "illumination."
  • Tobita, Master of Winds - The first part of Tobita's name is based on the word "to fly" (tobu).
  • Tomoya the Revealer - The first part, tomo, means "wisdom" or "intellect."
  • Toshiro Umezawa - His last name seems to have no particular significance (other than the last half meaning "swamp"). His first name is a common Japanese name meaning "talented" or "intelligent."
  • Tomb of Urami - Urami, the oni who had been caged for centuries, takes his name from the word for "resentment" or "grudge" (urami).
  • Yomiji, Who Bars the Way - Yomiji guards the passage between life and death, and accordingly the name means "road to Hades."
  • Yukora, the Prisoner - The first two characters used to write Yukora's name mean "confined in a room" () and "orphan" or "alone" (ko).



The Weapons

The Kamigawa world also introduces a variety of weapons to the Magic multiverse. Some are already well-known, such as the shuriken (a throwing blade or throwing star) and the bo (a type of staff). Others are more obscure.

  • The daishō are a pair of swords, traditional weapons of the samurai. Literally, the term means "big and small," referring to the bigger katana and the smaller wakizashi.
  • A hankyū is a small bow. The name literally means "half bow."
  • The jitte (jit-teh) was a traditional weapon used by police officers during the Edo period. There are no cutting edges; it is designed to catch an attacker's sword, snapping off the blade with a twisting motion. The word itself literally means "ten hands."
  • A kusari-gama consists of a scythe (kama) attached to the end of a chain (kusari), which would have an iron weight at the other end. By swinging the weight and throwing the chain, the wielder could effectively disarm or immobilize an opponent, then move in to attack with the blade end.
  • The manriki-gusari is a weighted chain, which can be used both defensively and offensively. Like the kusari-gama, it can be used to disarm or immobilize an opponent, or it can function much like a whip.
  • The neko-te is simply a set of claws. The name literally translates to "cat's hand."
  • The no-dachi is a type of large sword.
  • A naginata is a polearm with a curved blade at the end, typically spun and swung at opponents. The "o-" prefix used for the Magic card indicates that it is a large naginata.
  • The shuko is also known as hand claws. It consists of a thick glovelike band worn on the hand with short spikes attached on the palm side. The spikes can be used both for climbing and for combat, while the thick band can be used for blocking. The name literally tanslates to "hand armor."

Miscellaneous

There are many more words and terms throughout the Kamigawa block that need some explanation. Here's a quick glossary:

  • akuba: The akuba is an evil hag-like spirit. The name comes from "evil" (aku) and "hag" (uba).
  • baku: In Chinese and Japanese mythology, the baku are chimera-like spirits that can eat the bad dreams of humans. In the Kamigawa world, the baku have turned hostile like the other kami, so they eat both good and bad dreams.
  • budoka: "budoka" refers to the Kamigawa monks that study martial arts. budō is a term referring to Japanese martial arts.
  • bunrei (boon-ray): In Shinto, a bunrei is a divided spirit, or refers to the process of dividing a spirit. When establishing a new branch of a shrine, a bunrei of the deity is taken and enshrined in the new branch.
  • garami: A garami is an entangling spirit.
  • genjū: The genjūs are spirits of the land. The word comes from the combination of "origin" (gen) and "beast" (kemono).
  • gohei: In Shinto rituals, a gohei is a ritual wand decorated with zig-zag paper streamers.
  • goryo: A goryō (or mitama) is a spirit of a dead person. In the Kamigawa world, the goryō are vengeful entities.
  • hana: hana means "flower."
  • hanabi: hanabi means "fireworks."
  • haru: haru means "spring."
  • hatamoto: In feudal Japan, a hatamoto was a direct retainer of a shogun or daimyō.
  • honden: In a Shinto shrine, the honden is the central structure designed to house the shrine's deity.
  • imi (ee-mee): imi means "taboo."
  • junkyō (joon-kyoh): junkyō means "martyrdom."
  • jushi: In Kamigawa, the jushi are wizards. The word is derived from the word for "spell" (noroi) and a variant of "samurai" (the same shi in bushi).
  • kabuto (kah-boo-toh): kabuto means "helmet."
  • kaijin: kaijin means "sea god," usually referring specifically to Poseidon/Neptune. For the Japanese print of Kamigawa, however, the word is replaced by suijin, which is used to refer to any god of water.
  • kaminari: kaminari means "thunder."
  • kannushi: kannushi is a term referring to a Shinto priest.
  • kanzashi: Kanzashi are hair ornaments used by women in traditional Japanese hairstyles. There are many different types of kanzashi.
  • kappa: In Japanese folklore, kappa are mischievous water imps. They are generally depicted as having thick tortoise-like shells.
  • kemuri: kemuri means "smoke" or "fumes."
  • kiri: kiri means "fog" or "mist."

  • A kirin from the Ming dynasty
    (taken from Wikipedia)
  • kirin: The kirin (pinyin: qílín) is a mythical hooved creature, originating from Chinese mythology, that is said to be a good omen. Traditional Chinese depictions show it as having the head of a dragon, while the Japanese describe it as being more deer-like.
  • kodama: Kodama are tree spirits. One currently popular depiction of kodama can be seen in Hayao Miyazaki's film Princess Mononoke.
  • koto: The koto is a traditional string instrument, played by plucking. A typical koto is several feet long and has 13 strings, each of which has a movable bridge used in adjusting the pitch.
  • kumo: kumo means "spider."
  • miko (mee-koh): miko is commonly translated as "shrine maiden." Traditionally, miko were young female attendants in Shinto shrines, involved in many of the shrine ceremonies and functions.
  • myojin: myōjin translates to "bright divinity." In Kamigawa, the myōjin are very important kami.
  • netsuke: Netsuke refer to miniature sculptures (now typically carved) used as toggles for pouches or containers hung from the sashes of traditional Japanese robes (which had no pockets).
  • nikkō: nikkō means "sunlight."
  • oni: In Japanese folklore, oni are creatures similar to ogres and demons.
  • onna: onna means "woman." Be careful with this word, though, since it can have a somewhat derogatory connotation.
  • reikai: reikai ("spiritual world") refers to the realm of the kami.
  • rōnin: A rōnin is a samurai without a master.
  • shaku: A shaku is a ritual scepter or baton. It originated as a formal attire accessory for court nobles, but now is used as an accessory for Shinto clergy.
  • shinen: The term shinen is a combination of shin ("spirit") and en ("flame"). This should not be confused with the word for "thought" (shi + nen).
  • shinobi: The term shinobi is often equated with "ninja." It roughly translates as "one who is concealed."
  • shōji: A shōji is a screen consisting of a wooden frame covered in paper (known as washi). Shōji are generally used as a sliding door in traditional Japanese architecture.
  • tora: tora means "tiger."
  • torii: A torii is a gate/archway found at the entrance to a Shinto shrine. The set symbol for Champions of Kamigawa is a torii.
  • uba: See akuba.
  • yuki: yuki means "snow."

Owari (The End)

Whew! Talk about information overload! Don't worry if you don't remember everything; just think of this as a little guide that you can look at every now and then, each time learning a little more about the rich flavor behind the Kamigawa world. Wizards of the Coast has crammed quite a lot of Japanese culture into the block, and the more you understand, the more you can appreciate and enjoy the set. And as an added bonus, you'll be able to properly pronounce words like jitte!

That's all for now! Ja ne!

-fadeblue

Credits: bad banner by Qwerty, editing by Goblinboy

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