The World of Sekiro: Dragon Heirs. Part III. The Girl and the Serpent.
Hi! This is the third and the last post about the Dragon Heirs. Previously we talked about lord Takeru and lady Tomoe, then about Kuro and Wolf, and today we will explore Divine Child of Rejuvenation and the Great Serpent.
Disclaimer #0 — common sense is still everything. Please do not assume that I have access to some secret true knowledge; I'm just entertained by reading Sekiro in Japanese. My lore theories are just theories so treat them accordingly.
Disclaimer #1 —
trust me, I'm a professional if this fact is somehow important - I am a certified linguist. My major is English and Japanese as foreign languages, my minor is intercultural communication. Fun stuff!
Disclaimer #2 — I am not a professional translator, I have never worked in localization. Yes, I will say that something is translated poorly and something is not, and it will be my personal point of view. People have been complaining that I am picking on minor things or have weird opinions when it comes to "better translations". I want to emphasize that it's okay to have those :) Ultimately, my goal is to give you the information so you can see if the localization was good or not, whether something important was lost or not. My opinion is just that and I choose to share it, however odd it might seem.
Disclaimer #3 — I am not an expert on Buddhism, so if I get something wrong in the religious side of things, I'm sorry :D FromSoftware had a theological consultant who helped them build the religious narrative in Sekiro. I will leave links to the Buddhist terms that we will undoubtedly encounter so you can read more on your own, if you are interested.
Why do kanji (Japanese characters) have different readings?
This is a popular question in the comment section. In a nutshell, Japanese kanji usually have two types of readings: on-reading and kun-reading, there might be a number of them in each category. On-readings have carried over from Chinese since kanji were borrowed from there, and kun-readings are native to Japanese. When a kanji stands on its own and is used as a single word, it is read with its kun-reading. When a kanji is used as a part of a multi-kanji word, it is read with its on-reading. It is slightly more complicated, but in broad strokes I think it explains it.
As far as I know, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was localized into English by Mugen Creations.
Tiny Transcription Legend
[:] — colon after a vowel means that it's a long sound;
['] — apostrophe after a vowel or before a vowel (or between two [n]) means that these are two different syllables, not a single long one.
The transcriptions I give do not follow all academic rules, and I don't think it's necessary. They are just here to represent the pronunciation.
For this research I mostly used Sekiro Shadows Die Twice Official Artworks, English wiki and a number of dictionaries.
Divine Child of Rejuvenation
Her original name is 変若の御子 [ochi no miko] where 変若 [ochi] is derived from 変若ち水 [ochimizu] - rejuvenating water. The girl bears the same title as Kuro - 御子 [miko], the Divine Child. It was probably given to her as an attempt to replicate as much of the legitimate Dragon Heir as possible. "Divine Child of Rejuvenation" is an accurate translation and it sounds great.
I was always very curious about the pictures in her room. I wondered whether it was a religious reference, why they were here and who these women were. Indeed, these pictures are religious: in the artbook they are called 天女掛け軸 [ten'nyo kakejiku]. 天女 [ten'nyo] are heavenly women that are similar in nature to the more familiar to us angels, nymphs and fairies. They are a part of a more wide concept of 天人 [ten'nin], literally "heavenly person". Tennin are spiritual beings imported into Japanese Buddhism from Chinese Buddhism, they are believed to accompany Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the Buddhist heaven. However, some Tennin lead solitary lives on mountain peaks and you need to climb those mountains to meet them.
天女 [ten'nyo] that we see on the scrolls are usually depicted as unnaturally beautiful women wearing exquisite jewelry and dressed in ornate five-colored kimono. In their hands they usually hold either a lotus flower as a symbol of enlightenment, or a musical instrument, most often a biwa or a flute. Some tennyo depicted in this room do hold flowers but those are not lotus flowers, those look like coneflowers but I am no expert and I chose not to become one for this post :D
掛け軸 [kakejiku], also kakemono, is a scroll made of paper or silk that unrolls vertically and is supposed to be mounted on the wall. Usually it's a scroll painting, like in our case, or calligraphy. In the previous post we discussed the Black Scroll, and it was a makimono scroll that unrolls horizontally and you're supposed to hold it. Oh, the wonderful world of Japanese scrolls.
The Inner Sanctum is called 奥の院内観 [oku no in'naikan], something like "the innermost place [of a temple]", also "an inner place for introspection", there is a bunch of things in this name but I think Inner Sanctum captures almost all of them. A great place to hide something!
I think, the most interesting character in the girl's whole storyline is the old lady that you meet at different points of the game. You meet her on the bridge immediately before Ashina Castle, then near the Guardian Ape, then on Mt. Kongo. Honestly, during my first playthrough I was sure that there were at least two of these ladies demanding rice and saying gibberish, possibly more, but no. Turns out, it's always the same old lady, and she pushes forward the Child of Rejuvenation's questline, gives you information on serpent viscera and generally helps you progress along the Homecoming ending. Why though? Who is she and why is she so hellbent on helping you and the girl? How does she know about all these things?
The English localization calls her Old Hag, which is neither respectful not helpful. Luckily, the grandma is so important she is present in the artbook! Even Mist Noble didn't make it there. Her original name is 侍女の老婆 [jijyo no ro:ba], where 老婆 [ro:ba] means "old woman", and 侍女 [jijyo] denotes a lady's maid, a female personal attendant. This is not just a random grandma who miraculously knows things, I think she was the one - or among those - who cared for the Child of Rejuvenation while she was becoming the false Dragon Heir. Well, certainly she was taking care of her at some point. It's no wonder the old lady dropped a marble or two along the way, knowing what was done to the children on the mountain, but even in this state she is extremely helpful.
I never knew how her story ends until I was running around in the Main Hall recording footage for one of my videos when I just stumbled upon her. She was near the entrance that connects the Main Hall and Inner Sanctum, and when you feed the girl all the viscera, you can find the old lady there and trigger her final dialogue before she dies.
Red and White Pinwheel
Let's talk about pinwheels. The red and white pinwheels represent all the dead children that didn't survive the process of becoming a false Dragon Heir. This item's original name is 赤白い風車 [akashiroi kazaguruma] - literally "red and white pinwheel". Since pinwheels are children's toys and tell us about what happened to them, the style of their descriptions is reminiscent of little rhymes children might use. I think, the English localization did a good job with "round and round" but it probably would've been even better to relocate parts of the sentence to mimic the style: "Round and round spin the red and white pinwheels". I know that inversions are not something the English language likes very much but here, with the adverbial expression "round and round" in my opinion, it would be appropriate. Correct me in the comments if you think this sounds super weird.
I've already mentioned how important it is to keep the paragraph structure of the item descriptions intact, and the English localization follows the original very accurately in this regard. The first paragraph is the factual information on what this item is and where it was found, and the second paragraph tells the story.
Since Red and While Pinwheel's description is juxtaposed to the White Pinwheel's description, let's talk about the white one.
真っ白い風車 [masshiroi kazaguruma] - pure white pinwheel. The English localization chose not to name the item "Pure White Pinwheel" but did mention the color in the description itself, so that's alright. The "pure white" part is here mostly to emphasize the difference between this pinwheel and the red and white pinwheels of the dead children.
Both the original and the localization try to emphasize the word "child" from the last sentence as strongly as they can. Japanese uses この and the English version uses "the". Probably "only this child is right here" would've made for a better juxtaposition and given you a better idea that the others were also children:
みなは、ここにいる/Everyone is right here.
この子だけ、ここにいる/Only this child is right here.
Its original name, unsurprisingly, is お米 [okome]: honorific prefix お [o] + 米[kome] - rice. The most interesting part of the original description is the verb that describes how exactly the girl creates Rice.
The original uses the verb 零れ落ちる [koboreochiru] - to spill over and fall, or to scatter like leaves or petals. It's a fairly rare verb that really catches attention, and we have already seen it being used in the description of Dragon's Blood Droplet. As we previously discovered, Dragon's Blood Droplet is not really blood but rather a hardened piece of the Dragon's Heritage. As the Dragon Heritage spills over and falls from the true Dragon Heirs, the gift of the Child of Rejuvenation spills over and falls in the form of Rice. I think we can assume that Rice is her version of Dragon's Blood Droplet.
「偽りなれど、竜胤の力」 - although false, [this is] the power of the Dragon's Heritage.
「その血は豊穣をもたらす」 - that blood will bring bountiful harvest.
The original says that although the power the girl has is false, her blood will still bring bountiful harvest. This is more about where the Rice comes from but we'll get to it in a moment.
「嚙めば嚙むほど甘くなり」 - the more you chew the rice (bite into it), the sweeter it becomes. This is how Wolf advertises Rice to Kuro: it's sweet when you bite into it. The English version "the flavour grows richer" is correct but I would like the sweetness to mentioned there as well, especially because it will be brought up again in the Rice upgrade.
Rice for Kuro
Rice for Kuro is called exactly that: 九郎へのお米 [kuro: e no okome]. The original repeats the first sentence from the Rice description and then adds: 「それを九郎のためにと、包んでくれたもの」 - "this rice was wrapped specifically for Kuro."
You might be confused by the line "I want nothing more than for the Divine Heir of the Dragon's Heritage to get better." What does she mean by "to get better"? Kuro is not sick or anything. To understand what she implies you need to remember one of the first dialogues with her. When she learns about Kuro, she asks Wolf if he is still human, if he is healthy, whether something bad happened to him. I think she is worried because she knows that Dragon Heirs can catch Dragonrot and it is lethal. That's why she is worried about him, that's why she sends him rice. Maybe she is not a true Dragon Heir and she cannot grant immortality but she can grant the ability to heal from grave injuries or ailments because her Rice is so good at restoring vitality. The girl is doing her best to help!
The original line goes like this: 「竜胤の御子にも、ぜひ元気になってほしい」 - "I want for the Divine Child of the Dragon's Heritage to feel well too." 元気 [genki] is not only physical health but also spirits and mood.
Well, 柿 [kaki] - persimmon. In November of 2019 before all went wrong, I was lucky to be in Japan and catch the peak of persimmon season. Persimmon fruit ripen when all leaves have already fallen off so it's quite a sight to behold: a
creepy naked black tree covered with bright red and orange persimmon fruits.
Persimmon trees need a lot of water to grow, that is why the description attributes the special qualities of Ashina persimmons to the water that feeds them. The miraculous Ashina waters are not only suitable for dragons to take root but can also produce exceptional persimmons.
"...ready to eat" part tries to convey the more objective original: 「食べ頃の柿」 - ripe enough for eating, seasonal. Judging by the momiji season on Mt. Kongo, I think the events of Sekiro take place around mid/end of November, which is indeed the persimmon season.
Persimmons become blood, blood becomes rice.
So, why do persimmons become blood? From the ancient times people attributed healing properties to persimmon fruits. They are said to relief cough and stomach pains, and not only fruits are used as natural remedies but also fruit stems, and juices. Various health benefits are associated with various stages of ripeness. Persimmon fruits are also said to help those suffering from anemia, lack of blood. This is exactly how Wolf heals the Child of Rejuvenation. She is anemic thus she cannot spill over Rice every time Wolf asks her. So he brings her Persimmons that help with anemia so she is able to use her power and turn her blood into rice. That is why persimmons become blood, and blood becomes rice.
The original says, 「血が足りぬ者には、食わしてやるといいだろう」 - "it's a good idea to treat someone who lacks blood with a persimmon."
太郎柿 [taro:gaki] - Taro persimmon. The localized version is very accurate when describing the difference between an ordinary persimmon and a Taro Persimmon: it's at the peak of its ripeness and it's even more red in color.
"Raised on these fruits" is a great localization. I think it was vital to convey the main point of the original: 「葦名の太郎兵は、柿をたくさん食べて育つ」 - the fact that those from the Taro Troop eat a lot of these persimmons growing up. Maybe this is why they are incredibly strong and gigantic in size but have the intellectual ability of a five year old. They eat magic persimmons that grow in magic water, and it makes them healthy and extremely strong but stunts their intellectual development.
Herb Catalogue Scrap
We are slowly moving towards the Great Serpent so let's discuss the Herb Catalogue Scrap. Its original name is 薬種抄の紙片 [yakushusho: no shihen] - "herb catalogue scrap" is the most accurate and graceful localization one can come up with, splendid.
The original says that "this is a torn page with an excerpt on a herb with an exceptional effect". The English localization skipped some of it and added "a compendium of flowers and herbs" but I think it was solely because this description is quite long and there was no space to fit everything. Thanks for skipping the obvious stuff and leaving the important bits!
"Offering oneself in marriage" conveys the original 輿入れ [koshiire] that we have already seen when discussing Sakura Dragon - the bridal procession, "entering the palanquin". The people of the Sunken Valley say that the places where the Snap Seed grows are appropriate for starting the bridal procession to the Great Serpent. Well, it is backed up by evidence: when encountering the Great Serpent for the first time, we see the Palanquin and a bunch of snap seeds.
"They must enter the belly of the Serpent" is quite a curious instruction. At one point Wolf has an opportunity to enter the belly of the Serpent and when he does, he just ends up in a cave with another Serpent. Maybe, Wolf just makes for a lousy bride :D Or maybe that's exactly what is supposed to happen: the Serpent accepts the human sacrifice, his "bride", and he just carries this person to his nest.
So, the Sunken Valley has a palanquin for the bridal procession that leads to the Serpent. Mibu Village has a palanquin for the bridal procession that leads to the Dragon. Why so similar? It actually makes a whole lot of sense when you think about it. The Great Serpent is a native god of the land, these guardian spirits have been here for a very long time, and that's how people of the Sunken Valley worshipped the Serpents: by offering them brides in palanquins. When the Dragon arrived and became god, these people started worshipping him in the same fashion: with brides and palanquins because that's what they do with gods. The Okami clan and the Sunken Valley people are related: the relatives of Tomoe reconstructed the Fountainhead fragrance and ascended. When they were still people they must have worshipped the Great Serpent and then started worshipping Sakura Dragon and ended up moving to the Palace. Maybe it happened vice versa: the Dragon was the first one, and then the guardian spirit of the White Serpent came to be but anyway I think they are worshipped in a similar fashion because people extrapolated their worshipping practices from one god to the god that came next.
Fresh Serpent Viscera
Let's talk more about the Serpent! His original name is ぬしの白蛇 [nushi no shirohebi] - the guardian spirit White Snake. ぬし [nushi] denotes not only a guardian spirit bit also a beast with mystical powers that's been around for a long time. This word can point at a god of the land in the form of an animal who lives on a mountain, in a river or in a valley. In Princess Mononoke there is a giant boar god, along with the wolf goddess, and his name is 乙事主 [okkotonushi], where 主 [nushi] also points to his nature: he is a god of the land in a form of a boar.
Toxic Memorial Mob who sits at the cave entrance, calls the Serpent 蛇神 [hebigami] - a snake-god, which confirms everything said above. As for the conundrum whether there is one snake, or two snakes, or maybe it's one snake with a head on either side - I think there is at least two of them. I never really liked the theory about Shirohebi being one snake with two heads because I think, most of all, this fact would have been documented in the legends of the Sunken Valley people, and he wouldn't be just the White Snake but TWO-HEADED WHITE SNAKE GOD, and secondly, the Bodhisattva who holds the Dried Viscera has a white snake around it, and the snake clearly has a tail. In the artbook the snake's full body is depicted and it has a tail. I think that there are generations of White Snakes living in the Sunken Valley. After all, it's the people who named them gods. For all we know, it just might be a simple albino snake that grew this enormous size by drinking magical Ashina waters, and that's how the lineage of giant White Serpents came to be.
Finally, the viscera! 生の蛇柿 [nama no hebigaki], literally "raw snake persimmon". When the grandma tries to sell you the idea of the serpent viscera, she doesn't actually call these items "viscera", she says 生柿 [namagaki] and 干し柿 [hoshigaki] - a raw persimmon and a dried persimmon. The English localization names them "serpentine fruits" which is poetic beyond belief, sounds awesome. Just note that in the original it's specifically persimmon, not just any fruit. I think "Serpent Viscera" is a good localization, it's not as accurate but in conjunction with the "persimmon-like" part of the description it leaves no questions.
The original also tells us what a ぬし [nushi] is.
ぬし [nushi] is a god of the land.
The English localization says that this is a heart, the original uses the word 心包 [shinpo:]. It's a very curious word, it's not really a heart but rather a pericardium, and not in the usual medical sense but in a Traditional Chinese medical sense. Buckle up folks!
A medical Japanese term for pericardium is 心膜 [shinmaku]. Pericardium is a sac that contains the heart, it separates the heart from other organs and helps it stay in place and prevents it from stretching too much. The original description uses the word 心包 [shinpo:] which denotes pericardium in a more narrow sense as a part of the Traditional Chinese Medicine. What's the difference? In a nutshell, the Traditional Chinese Medicine views the pericardium not as an anatomical organ but as a set of interconnected parts. Pericardium is considered to be an yin organ (vs yang organs). In general theory it's not really distinguished from the heart. I am, obviously, not an expert, I just think that here they use the more mystical non-traditional pericardium 心包 [shinpo:] and not the anatomical pericardium 心膜 [shinmaku], and not the anatomical heart 心臓 [shinzo:] just to emphasize the mystical nature of this item. After all, it's the internal organs of a god we're talking about. The next line explains exactly that:
「心包は、神たる御霊を宿す臓である」 - "pericardium is a viscera that houses the spirit of a god."
Dried Serpent Viscera
乾き蛇柿 [kawaki hebigaki] - dried snake persimmon. Curious that the grandma calls it 干し柿 [hoshigaki] using the word 干し [hoshi] for the "dried" part because usually this word goes with actual persimmon fruits. The item uses 乾き [kawaki] for the "dried" part because this word usually goes with dried snacks (乾き物 [kawakimono]) like nuts, dried squid, etc, not the persimmon fruits.
The first line is identical to the first line of the Fresh Serpent Viscera, the next one just says, "the same thing but dried". The second paragraph explaining who nushi is, is also the same.
「乾いた蛇柿を御神体として崇ったという」 - "it is said that the dried snake persimmon was worshipped as a shintai."
The most interesting part of this description is the word 御神体 [goshintai]. Shintai is an item that people worship because they believe that it contains the spirit of a deity. Usually this item is kept in a shrine, like Dried Serpent Viscera is. The description leads me to believe that the denizens of the Sunken Valley didn't murder their god to dry his heart and then enshrine it (this is a bit much), but rather found one of the snakes already dead, probably with the heart already dried. Then they enshrined it - because it's still the viscera of their god of the land - and started worshipping it. I think that Wolf marking one of the snakes by wounding its eye and then meeting another snake with eyes intact is the way to tell us that there are several White Snakes in the Sunken Valley. They have their own cycle of life and death, so probably at some point there was a dead snake from whom the people of the Sunken Valley took the dried heart.
Inside the shrine there is a statue covered in blood with a hole in its stomach, and there is a serpent coiling around it. This statue is called 社の蛇菩薩 [yashiro no hebibosatsu] - the Snake Bodhisatva of the shrine. 菩薩 [bosatsu] - Bodhisattva, the one who achieved enlightenment but vowed to save all beings before becoming a Buddha. There are a lot of Bodhisattvas in Sekiro, a whole valley of them, but this one is very special.
菩薩 [bosatsu] is also the title of the shinto kami in manifestation theory. And manifestation theory (本地垂迹説) says that Shinto gods are manifestations of Buddhas. So, as I take it, this Snake Boshisattva might be the buddhist embodiment of the White Serpent. I don't really know if this is relevant at all or maybe I've done a whole lot of digging in a completely wrong direction BUT look closely at the statue. You can see snake scales on the right side of its face.
Let's quickly go over some other things relevant to the cave:
The cave itself is called 蛇の巣穴 [hebi no suana] - snake's den/nesting place.
The shrine is called 巣穴の社 [suana no yashiro] - the den's shrine.
Charming folks who jump out of the walls with spears are 岩もぐり [iwamoguri] - literally "rock divers" :D
When Wolf gives the girl all the viscera, she transforms into a Cradle and loses the ability to turn her warm blood into simple rice. Instead, she now creates 細雪 [sasameyuki] - small snow flakes. This word can also denote light snowfall, "Fine Snow" is an accurate localization. It's actually Wolf who gives the cold rice this new poetic name.
"The cold sweetens the rice" is a very accurate translation of the original 「つめたさは、米を甘くする」. Generally, the description of Fine Snow is not much different from the description of regular Rice: it just says that it's even sweeter than before, raises your spirits even higher and restores more vitality.
氷涙 [koorinamida] - ice tears, or frozen tears. This descripton uses two different words for "cradle", one is 揺り籠 [yurikago] in the first paragraph, and the second is 揺籃 [yo:ran] in "Cradling ritual". This fact made me curious and I spent some time trying to find how these two words are different.
I can't say that I found much, 揺り籠 [yurikago] and 揺籃 [yo:ran] seem to be fully synonymous and even interchangeable so I couldn't find any hidden meanings relevant to our discussion. 揺籃 [yo:ran] just might work better as an attribute, that's why it was used in 揺籃の儀 [yo:ran no gi] - Cradling ritual, instead of 揺り籠 [yurikago].
The recipe for success is translated exactly as it is in the original: give Kuro both Dragon Tears and Frozen Tears to get Cold Dragon Tears and complete the ritual.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around why you need the help of the White Serpent to return Sakura Dragon home. Is that because the White Serpent is the native god of this land and the Dragon is an outsider? Is that because only with the Serpent's help you can create a cold cradle to transport other gods? Maybe there are no answers for these questions in the game, and maybe I just can't find them.
The White Serpent always inspired my curiousity because I could never figure out why he has a role to play in this story at all. I wasn't sure if there is just one snake or multiple snakes, or one snake with many heads but I think now I have kind of figured it out. I still don't really know what connection the White Serpent has with the Child of Rejuvenation. I think, there might be no connection at all. I thinks it's just that she can survive the transformation into the Cradle because of her false Dragon's Heritage that makes her especially endurant. It's not a question of a personal connection to the god of the land but rather who can survive the feast of god's viscera and emerge a cold cradle.
I also found the juxtaposition of the White Serpent and Sakura Dragon to be very interesting. One is the god of the land who has been worshipped for centuries, the other is an outsider who became, in a sense, a god of the land too and has been worshipped in much the similar fashion. And one can help the other return home, albeit unintentionally.
In the cutscene when Wolf and the girl depart to the west, she calls him 竜の忍び [ryu: no shinobi] - shinobi of the dragon. Gives me goosebumps every time.
Next time we'll talk about Dragonrot. Happy New Year!
As usual, stay tuned here and on the Lair's YouTube channel not to miss out on anything.
Thank you for your time.
The World of Sekiro: Dragon Heirs. Part II. Kuro and Wolf
The World of Sekiro: Dragon Heirs. Part I. Lord Takeru and Lady Tomoe
The World of Sekiro: Remnants I
The World of Sekiro: Remnants II
The World of Sekiro: Remnants III
The World of Sekiro: Sugars, Spiritfalls and the Headless