By: Peggy Sue Wood | @pswediting
If you know me at all, you’ll know that Natsume Yuujinchou is probably my all time favorite anime/manga. It is to me as Yu Yu Hakusho is to Casea, @coffeewithkrow (if you know, you know).
And one of the things that always has stood out to me about Natsume is the importance of names within the story. It’s not expressly said, and you don’t have to know the name’s meaning to enjoy or get the story, but it is a beautiful detail that has been implemented throughout the work.
As someone who had yet to study Japanese, I knew very little about kanji or the meaning behind different names. However, after taking some Japanese courses in college my interest grew.
Names are obviously very important to the story, after all–they’re what make the Book of Friends. With each yokai name returned, we get to see the glimpse of Reiko’s story and it is ultimately names that are guiding Takashi through her life and his own.
Names have power in the the Book of Friends–literally signing one’s name and giving it to another gives that person power over you, but telling a name also gives power, for example: through a single name Natsume is found by Matoba and, using the knowledge of his identity, a threat could be made.
But names also give another side to the story. They give a hint to the meaning of the encounter Reiko had and meaning to Takashi who views the memories of his grandmother through other’s eyes.
For example, Misuzu uses the character: 三=three; 篠=bamboo grass. The three may refer to his three extremities (a hand, a holf, and his wispy lower body) while the 篠 can refer to his nature as a water god/spirit/yokai. Together they also imply a relation to rain, fitting his role as a yokai.
Or, as another example, Hishigaki, which is spelled ひしがき in hirigana and, using characters, I believe is spelled 皮脂ガキ. 皮脂ガキ means “sebum kid” (sebum being “an oily secretion of the sebaceous glands”). I don’t know for sure if Hishigaki is in some way sebum-like–but she is like kid… Maybe my point isn’t hitting home with this, let me course-correct.
Almost every named character has a meaning. For example, in Chapters 88-89 we’re introduced to Sōko Morinaga. Sōko is a miner character, but she spells out her name to Reiko clearly defining that the ‘Sou’ in her name means “blue”, while the ‘ko’ in her name means “child,” hence her name means “blue child.” This name ties into the story, matching with the blue flower field that Reiko had intended to show Sōko regarding her name that Sōko never gets the chance to see. It’s a good symbolism that you can find all throughout Reiko’s stories and it’s a theme carried on in Takashi’s timeline too.
My my personal favorite examples of this are the Fujiwara couple, Touko and Shigeru. Their family name, 藤原 uses the characters for 藤=wisteria; 原= meadow. Wisteria are a typle of flora that have twining vines which wrap around each other in an aesthetically beautiful support. And meadows are often seen as places of calmness–an expanse of grassland often used in media to symbolize peacefulness and a place to rest and regain one’s self.
In essence, their family name implies support, comfort, and peace.
Then we have this individual names, Shigeru (滋) uses the character for nourishing, and in the chapters where he is most present we see how fitting the name is. Whenever Takashi spends time with Shigeru, they are often quiet. However, that does not mean that the time isn’t nourishing to Takashi. Takashi grew up in environments that were lonely and, given the glimpses of his past, he experienced abuse both mental and physical. The quiet peacefulness is probably welcomed to Takashi. Moreover, when something does happen, like the paper walls of his room and the glass exploding–Shigeru doesn’t yell he makes sure Takashi is okay, tells him that it’s his home too, and that they’ll fix it together. These experiences are mentally nourishing to the boy who was deprived of such stability, comfort, and gentleness.
Then we have Touko (塔子) whose name uses the characters 塔, meaning pagoda (a Hindu or Buddhist temple or sacred building), and 子, meaning child. Touko is a solace for Takashi. She’s his mother figure and he feels safe with her even from their first meeting–and, wouldn’t you know it–the only other places he’s felt truly safe in the past is in temples or on sacred land. Her name reflects her role in his life.
Looking at the Natsume name, we get the characters of 夏, meaning summer, and 目, meaning eye. Summer is the season in which the name is given, and reflects the yokai that gave it while “eye” likely refers to the ability the Natsume family have to see things that others cannot. Takashi’s name uses the characters 貴 (precious) and 志 (intention), which is just so fitting for his nature as both a precious child and well intentioned owner of the Book of Friends.
It’s just a really cool addition to the work that I love so much I decided to talk about. For more examples of names and meanings, I found this great post (LINK) by @scorpionatori that gives a lot more examples of names and their meanings.