Where is the Japanese in KH?



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h.e.hassanein

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Hey all, I've been thinking about doing my masters in Japan for a while and have been reading up Japanese culture. I've also been playing KH from way back in 2004 before I even knew what Square Enix was or where they are based. Since I've been introduced to it from such a young age through a sort of Western context I find it hard to define exactly where or how Japanese culture affects this game- to a point where I almost feel I can't find any Japanese influence on the KH series (due to my own flawed POV) D:

Certainly having so much Disney everywhere doesn't help, but this game is made by Japanese people for a Japanese audience plus the international crowd. I mean, this game wasn't written just for a Western audience thus it probably isn't trying to be overly Western on purpose. So when I ask where the Japanese is in KH, I mean, sans stereotypes, what effect does Japanese culture have on this game?
 

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The character designs. I literally thought Sora was an anime character before getting into the series.
 

Zettaflare

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Kairi and Selphie were dressed in japanese school uniforms at one point in KH2. Also some of the themes such as friendship is often common in some animes such as Naruto and Pokemon
 

hemmoheikkinen

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Hmm, I don´t remember if this was ever confirmed but the Oblivon`Keyblades teeth is said to be shaped like the word "darkness" in kanji. Also this might not be easily seen, but Sora`s, Riku`s and Kairi`s names come from Japanese, meaning sky, land and ocean(the things that Destiny Islands is made from). Both of these are not easily detected on the surface thou.
 

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Traverse Town in DDD was full of shibuya touches so does that count?
 

dlppictures

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Hmm, I don´t remember if this was ever confirmed but the Oblivon`Keyblades teeth is said to be shaped like the word "darkness" in kanji.
Wait what? Googles large image of Oblivion...

...compares it with "Yami"
すごいね。
It really does resemble to some degree. Mindblown.

Also this might not be easily seen, but Sora`s, Riku`s and Kairi`s names come from Japanese, meaning sky, land and ocean(the things that Destiny Islands is made from). Both of these are not easily detected on the surface thou.
Getting a little nitpicky here, I know, but actually it is "Kai" (海) that means ocean/sea. IIRC, Nomura wanted the name to sound feminine, so he went through "Goju-On", the syllable alphabet, until he found an ending to Kai that would sound feminine.
"Kairi" (浬) means 'Nautical Mile' so that is still somewhat related,
But "Kairi" (乖離) can also mean 'separation', which actually fits with Kairi being separated from Sora.

That is also a thing Japanese like to do. Make the characters' names have special meanings.
 

ornamentelle

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Oathkeeper as well has teeth shaped like kanji (the one for light, 光)

To be honest, I don't think KH needs to have a distinctly Japanese bent to it outside of what it has (the anime-esque designs, which for the OCs were initially formed as a hybrid between Disney and Final Fantasy styles; and of course the Japanese naming theme). The main draw of the series (at least initially) was the Disney component, a very western sort of theme. Japanese people enjoy Disney too, after all. KH incorporates fairly broad themes of light vs. darkness, friendship, and a sort of fairytale feeling at times, I'd say it's a fairly universal approach to telling the story. It also makes the more Japanese influence in the manga (eating ramen with chopsticks, for instance) stand out more, at least to me.

Outside of that, later KH games (well, KH2 in particular) has a definite shonen genre bent to it--something that's been said before more than once. Sora bowing to Saix has a really severe meaning to it too, off the top of my head, but the intent is pretty universally understood.

But KH, like many stories from all over the world, likes to utilize other cultural themes. The usage of Italian and French for song names, for instance, or Latin used in epic boss themes. I wouldn't call the Final Fantasy games particularly Japanese at times; especially the ones that were very influenced by western high fantasy.
 

h.e.hassanein

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Oathkeeper as well has teeth shaped like kanji (the one for light, 光)

To be honest, I don't think KH needs to have a distinctly Japanese bent to it outside of what it has (the anime-esque designs, which for the OCs were initially formed as a hybrid between Disney and Final Fantasy styles; and of course the Japanese naming theme). The main draw of the series (at least initially) was the Disney component, a very western sort of theme. Japanese people enjoy Disney too, after all. KH incorporates fairly broad themes of light vs. darkness, friendship, and a sort of fairytale feeling at times, I'd say it's a fairly universal approach to telling the story. It also makes the more Japanese influence in the manga (eating ramen with chopsticks, for instance) stand out more, at least to me.

Outside of that, later KH games (well, KH2 in particular) has a definite shonen genre bent to it--something that's been said before more than once. Sora bowing to Saix has a really severe meaning to it too, off the top of my head, but the intent is pretty universally understood.

But KH, like many stories from all over the world, likes to utilize other cultural themes. The usage of Italian and French for song names, for instance, or Latin used in epic boss themes. I wouldn't call the Final Fantasy games particularly Japanese at times; especially the ones that were very influenced by western high fantasy.
That's true, there is no written rule that the series has to adhere to Japanese culture and tradition, or that any of their fantasies have to be grounded in Japanese traditional folklore or anything like that. That is a valid response, and the way I understand it is like the difference between me being myself VS. me acting out how others define me. The latter would be me doing stereotypical things I get flack for and overacting- but in the former I still would do things typical of myself just because that's natural. So I guess I meant what could be more natural outcomes of Japanese culture on the series, just like the shonen influence on KHII (which I've heard a lot about too in passing)
 

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Hey all, I've been thinking about doing my masters in Japan for a while and have been reading up Japanese culture. I've also been playing KH from way back in 2004 before I even knew what Square Enix was or where they are based. Since I've been introduced to it from such a young age through a sort of Western context I find it hard to define exactly where or how Japanese culture affects this game- to a point where I almost feel I can't find any Japanese influence on the KH series (due to my own flawed POV) D:

Certainly having so much Disney everywhere doesn't help, but this game is made by Japanese people for a Japanese audience plus the international crowd. I mean, this game wasn't written just for a Western audience thus it probably isn't trying to be overly Western on purpose. So when I ask where the Japanese is in KH, I mean, sans stereotypes, what effect does Japanese culture have on this game?
Honestly, this game was designed for an international audience. If it was solely designed for Japanese audiences, Disney wouldn't have given this franchise the greenlight. Sure, Kingdom Hearts was made by Japanese developers, but you shouldn't look at it as a culturally Japanese game. It should be looked at as what it was intended to be looked at as. A Square Enix + Disney game. Plus, Disney owns the copyright for the series.



But going back to your point of Japanese influences, Marluxia is the biggest Japanese influenced character. The pink petals that he's associated is symbolic of death in Japanese culture, and because he wields a scythe: he's a representation of the Grim Reaper. But on a more general level, the grunts and pauses that the characters makes during cutscenes are directly from Japanese anime and video games. That by default can count as a Japanese influence.
 

h.e.hassanein

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Honestly, this game was designed for an international audience. If it was solely designed for Japanese audiences, Disney wouldn't have given this franchise the greenlight. Sure, Kingdom Hearts was made by Japanese developers, but you shouldn't look at it as a culturally Japanese game. It should be looked at as what it was intended to be looked at as. A Square Enix + Disney game. Plus, Disney owns the copyright for the series.



But going back to your point of Japanese influences, Marluxia is the biggest Japanese influenced character. The pink petals that he's associated is symbolic of death in Japanese culture, and because he wields a scythe: he's a representation of the Grim Reaper. But on a more general level, the grunts and pauses that the characters makes during cutscenes are directly from Japanese anime and video games. That by default can count as a Japanese influence.
I disagree with Disney not investing anything catering to a largely-Japanese audience. If that were true they never would've come near Studio Ghibli- even when you dub their films the stories themselves are so rooted in Japanese culture. Even their adaptions of Western stories have a Japanese twist to them.

But definitely Marluxia is a great example of this, and the way names have meanings (even if they're not Japanese names, like the Foretellers)
 

Audo

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I almost feel I can't find any Japanese influence on the KH series (due to my own flawed POV) D:
I mean, the entire series has a Japanese influence because it was made by Japanese people. The fact that it's not always overly obvious with big neon signs doesn't make that any less true. Similarly, everything I write has a Canadian influence because it was made by me, a Canadian, who grew up in this culture, but that doesn't mean that everything I write is going to have Aboriginal folklore in it or reference hockey or Tim Hortons or the existential dread of living on the Prairies. Doesn't make it any less Canadian though.

That being said, I don't know what you're focusing on, but the KH series has a lot of clear observable Japanese touches and references to the culture.

Everything about Destiny Islands' island culture is very much based on Japan, even complete with the school uniforms. The names of Sora, Kairi and Riku, as already mentioned, also clearly bear this influence and touch. Twilight Town as well is also pretty Japanese with low-sitting beds, an emphasis on public transport, one month vacations (which also extends to other series characters' like Axel who believes this too despite growing up in an entirely different world), etc.

And of course there's TWEWY's inclusion, with Shibuya and the characters being very obviously Japanese (though one can argue that all OCs in KH are coded Japanese, too).

Some of the most obvious is with BBS and TAV. Proper Keyblade teaching and culture is very clearly samurai-inspired, with pretty much all of the main characters having Japanese-style clothing in their outfits (Aqua's kimono sleeves, Terra's hakama pants, Eraqus'... entire character design basically lol).

Other influences that people have mentioned are of course KH2's more shonen bent, the cultural context behind Sora bowing to Saix, and the designs of certain Keyblades.

Some of this stuff is lost in the localization of course such as the fact that dialogue in the original Japanese games use honorifics, which are completely removed when localized. One such example is when Donald chastises Sora in KH2 to "show some respect" when meeting Yen Sid. In addition to Sora not bowing, Donald is also chastising Sora for not using the proper honorific to address Yen Sid in the Japanese version.

Some of the Organization weapon names in 358/2 Days are also references to Japanese culture.

Many also believe Riku's haircut in DDD to be a sign of Japanese culture as cutting one's hair like that is often considered symbolic of starting a new journey and leaving the past behind.

Translator Goldpanner has also stated in the past that the way Kingdom Hearts X is written is very much in the style of a Japanese Fairytale, and that she believes that is one reason why the dandelion imagery is used so extensively in the game.

Those are just some of the instances off the top of my head, I'm sure there's many more as well.

But, you know, Disney themselves have said that they consider the core themes of the series revolving around the heart as very "Eastern thinking", and that's what the entire series is based upon. The series also puts a great deal of emphasis on the importance and good of collectivism and of people coming together and supporting each other in order to become strong and the like, which at times directly contradicts more Western thinking that proclaims individualism to be the highest order (it's no surprise, for instance, to see many fans react strongly to Xigbar's lines in KH3D (and Kairi's in KHII) that Sora is only strong because of the people he connects his heart to). I would say that is probably the biggest influence as it is the foundation for the entire series.
 

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Audo pretty much hit the nail on the head. Having read through the thread, I've only now just noticed how much this series appears to be an example of Western Orientalism. Like, damn.
 

ornamentelle

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I can't believe I forgot about BBS and Riku's hair! I've brought up those myself as more obvious examples.

Funny thing, though, I've never read much Japanese culture into Destiny Islands... But I dunno if that's my own skewed perspective (living in Hawai'i and being ethnically Japanese, though several generations removed from the country). Pretty nearby there's a private school that uses the sailor-styled uniforms (similar to the ones used in Japanese middle schools) so the Destiny Islands school uniforms didn't stand out to me even if they're a bit different, and the tropical setting makes me think of where I live too. I've never thought of the series as having an "Eastern thinking" core... Though I dunno how much of that is because I've seen "Eastern thinking" is sort of normal to a certain extent? Huh... Neat.

Though the town stood out to me a bit. (So many chimneys for an apparently tropical setting; though admittedly in places where it gets a little chilly there are houses with chimneys. Bit odd for being so close to the beach though.)

The localization is definitely a big factor, and I hadn't thought about it before. The thing about Japanese fairytales and X is pretty cool. I'd love to hear more about that.
 

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I disagree with Disney not investing anything catering to a largely-Japanese audience. If that were true they never would've come near Studio Ghibli- even when you dub their films the stories themselves are so rooted in Japanese culture. Even their adaptions of Western stories have a Japanese twist to them.
The only reason as to why Disney dubbed Studio Ghibli movies was because of the relationship between Pixar's John Lasseter and Hayao Miyazaki. Because they were both study buddies during their times in studying animation, Hayao Miyazaki only trusted John Lasseter to dub Studio Ghibli at the time because Miyazaki knew and trusted Lasseter on a personal level. And because John Lasseter had connections to Pixar because of their distribution channels with Disney, he used Disney as the platform to release Studio Ghibli movies. Every Disney dub of a Studio Ghibli movie was exceutively produced by John Lasseter.

But back to Kingdom Hearts, to see it primarily as a "Japanese products" really undermines the core value of the franchise. Disney Animation movies can be seen in the same light as "American products" but the creators core intent of those products to think beyond the regional origins.
 
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