Hey~ Today we're finally going to discuss Mount Kongou, Senpou Temple and everything that has to do with the monks. We'll start with environmental art and Sculptor's Idols, then move on to character art and then to Holy Chapters that contain some quite unexpected information that never made it into the English version. Get ready for many interesting discoveries. An important note: I am not a theologist and I certainly do not possess enough knowledge to cover all the religious themes and details in Sekiro, it would easily make a separate project twice the size of this one. So I'll talk about the more obvious things or the stuff I thought was relevant enough to research, reference other much more knowledgeable people and just leave the rest.
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 or Shintoism, so if I get something wrong in the religious side of things, I'm sorry :D I will leave links to the religious terms that we will undoubtedly encounter so you can read more on your own, if you are interested.
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.
[:] — 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.
When I was doing the Abandoned Dungeon part I was like, "I need to talk about the memorial in the dungeons" and then I completely forgot to include it as you guys rightfully reminded me in the comments, so we'll look at it now.
This memorial is located in the underground passage just before the Shichimen Warrior. The monument is called 崩れた供養塔 [kuzureta kuyo:to:] — crumbled memorial tower. The English localization is somewhat confusing because it implies that here lie the vassals of the Ashina Clan executed after Isshin's Rebellion which doesn't make any sense. Why would Ashina execute their own people after they had successfully reclaimed their land? Besides, the memorial tower is really old to the point of crumbling, and Isshin's rebellion wasn't so long ago. The Japanese is more clear in this regard, especially when you apply logic: "here lie the fierce spirits of Ashina people executed after the land of Ashina was taken", the word 国盗られ [kunitorare] referring to the past events where the lands of Ashina were taken from the clan and they were forced into servitude and prohibited from worshipping the Fountainhead waters. Suddenly, this backs up the theory about Shichimen Warriors being an amalgam of restless souls because one of them is really close to this mass grave, and as we'll see later, the other two are also found in similar places.
Now let's hop on Dougen's elevator and go up the mountain.
This Idol's original name is 金剛山 仙峰寺 [kongo:zan sempo:ji] — Mt. Kongou, Senpou Temple. Mt. Kongou is a real mountain in Japan located in Kawachi region of Osaka Prefecture. The word 金剛 [kongo:] is really important here because it denotes vajra, a ritual weapon that in Buddhism symbolizes the indestructible. 仙峰 [sempo:] consists of 仙 [sen] — hermit and 峰 [po:] — summit or peak.
I think, Mt. Kongou is the most stunning area in the game, rivaled only by the Fountainhead Palace. The momiji season (autumn leaves season) in Japan is truly a sight to behold and I am a big fan, as you can probably tell by looking at Shetani's Lair logo :D
Senpou Temple has its own sigil: two leaves that I assume to be ginkgo leaves, and a five-pronged bell that we'll later find in the game as the Illusive Hall Bell but there are several of them lying around. We've already covered the bell way back when when we talked about Folding Screen Monkeys. Its real name is 五鈷鈴 [gokorei] — five-pronged bell, also sometimes called five-pronged vajra bell that can purge evil spirits from the place where a ritual is being preformed. As for the ginkgo leaves, there are plenty ginkgo trees on the mountain actually: all the bright yellow trees you see are ginkgo.
The hanging scroll the girl talks to us through is called 菩薩掛け軸 [bosatsu kakejiku] — Bodhisattva hanging scroll. I remember having a really good theory that the girl spies on the monks and on the temple as a whole through Bodhisattva scrolls like this one. That's why, I thought, she had so many ten'nyo scrolls in her sanctuary but unfortunately I couldn't find proof substantial enough, I don't think there are any more Bodhisattva scrolls like this one around the Temple.
We'll peek a little bit into her original dialogue because it's very important for us here. The girl tells us that the Temple strayed from Buddha's teachings because they were "seduced by a search for immortality" and even though the English localization interpreted the word 探求 [tankyu:] as "search" or "pursuit", it is also "quest" or "inquiry". Not only is the girl a fairly unreliable narrator who imposes her personal opinion on Wolf as soon as he arrives at the Temple, but this "search for immortality" part also makes little sense considering that the infested monks are already immortal, you can only kill them with Fushigiri, the mortal blade. They are not really searching for immortality, and later we'll untangle this little knot.
The building we arrive at is called 庫裏 [kuri] — a temple kitchen. This word can also mean "quarters of a head priest and his family" but I don't think Dougen was naughty enough to build an elevator in the head priest's quarters and then routinely commute back and forth so it's most likely a former kitchen.
Next up we have the view of the temple grounds: 境内 [keidai].
A little to the right we meet sweet Kotaro, a Taro troop warrior and a caretaker to the Children of Rejuvenation who can talk to their spirits. You can either lure him to Doujun, send him to Anayama or perform Divine Abduction on him and since it's his second one because apparently he was abducted as a child, he ends up "disappearing" for good: he travels to the Halls of Illusion and reunites with the spirits of the children.
Below we can see a 忍び凧 [shinobidako] — shinobi kite and a 凧揚げ機 [takoageki] — a mechanism to fly a kite.
This gate is called 仁王門 [nio:mon] — Deva gate, or a temple gate guarded by Deva Kings.
The big gates further up are called exactly that: 大山門 [daisanmon] — big main temple gate. The view of the room above the gate is called 大山門 内観 [daisanmon naikan] in the artbook — main temple gate interior.
This room houses the statues of Four Heavenly Kings, or Four Deva Kings — Buddhist protectors of four directions. Jikokuten protects the east direction, Zouchouten protects south, Koumokuten protects west and Tamonten protects north. The one in the center is supposed to be Taishakuten, the master of the Four Kings and the greatest protector. However, that's not him at all; the statue in the center is Kongou Yaksha — one of the fierce gods that preside over all directions. The replacement of Taishakuten by Kongou Yaksha may point at the fact that the Buddhism practiced in Senpou Temple is Shingon Buddhism, as Shingon Buddhism, along with Tendai Buddhism, are parts of Mikkyou, Esoteric Buddhism, where Kongou Yaksha is heavily featured. And Senpou Monks are also dressed like Shingon monks, in black, white and yellow, so there's also that. It is worth mentioning that the Heavenly Kings are standing on Jaki (邪鬼 [jaki]) — tiny creatures that are considered Yaksha; they were evil beings defeated by the Heavenly Kings, and this depiction as a whole is supposed to emphasize their ability to repel and defeat evil. It's pretty dark in here but if you look closely, you can see the Jaki they are standing on.
Down the stairs there is a 僧堂 [so:do:] — a temple meditation hall and our first jumpscare encounter with a centipede monk.
The next Idol we reach is called 修験道 [shugendo:] — shugendo, an ascetic mountain-dwelling religious practice incorporating elements of both Buddhism and Shinto that is focused on spiritual experience and understanding the relationships between nature and humanity. When I puzzle over Shugendo being present in Senpou Temple, I cannot help but think about how Shugendo during its development took elements of Esoteric Buddhism — or Mikkyou — from Shingon and Tendai schools. Maybe Senpou Temple really is a Shingon temple.
Here we meet a Memorial Mob, we covered this one in the corresponding post. However, he has some interesting dialogue if you visit him a few more times.
After you meet the Divine Child, the Shugendo Mob tells you that she experienced "only horrible things" (辛いことばかりだった) and was the only person who, thankfully, survived. He warns you to treat the Divine Child with kindness, and as we'll later see, this point, although it seems to be quite ordinary, has more meaning when applied to the girl. He also gives Wolf a persimmon that he wanted to "share with all the children".
If you remember, some time ago we talked about persimmons and how the girl eats them to replenish her blood because persimmons were used to treat anemia back in the day. Then, from blood, she produces Rice, her version of Dragon's Blood Droplet. Since she is so fond of persimmons and the Memorial Mob wanted to treat other children to persimmons too, it makes me think that anemia was something all kids got from the experiments, not just the Divine Child. It was a part of their suffering.
If this Memorial Mob catches Dragonrot, there are some interesting bits you can hear from him about the Children of Rejuvenation with whom he apparently interacted in some capacity. He is convinced that the Dragonrot he caught is 仏罰 [butsubatsu] — Buddha's punishment, a divine retribution, and he says it is "rightful". He is just as guilt-ridden as the Master of Senpou Temple. The English localization captured the most important thing in one of his lines of dialogue: he either did not know that the children were suffering at all, or he did not know the extent of the suffering. Probably that is why he considers himself rightfully punished: he interacted with the children, shared persimmons with them, being either fully or partially oblivious to the tortures they went through. It is a very interesting piece of dialogue and a lengthy one too, given that the Memorial Mob, even when afflicted by Dragonrot, do not usually exhibit any kind of connection to other characters.
Up on the cliffside just before the bridge there is a curious place called 子守り地蔵と風車 [komori jizo: to kazaguruma] — Jizo statues protecting children, and pinwheels. Who placed these statues here? Who made the pinwheels in memory of the sacrificed kids? We'll come back to this question a little bit later. It's worth noting that the Shugendo Mob burns incense near the Jizo statues too, not just beside his tent.
We've covered the Armored Warrior and his Benkei parallels in one of the previous posts so now let's concentrate on the bridge instead. The bridge is called 通天橋 [tsu:tenkyo:] which is a word that denotes the bridge corridor at Tofukuji Temple. Well, that is weirdly specific, I thought to myself, maybe there is some other meaning to it, or this is a type of the bridge corridor named after the one at Tofukuji Temple. No, not at all — this is LITERALLY a bridge from Tofukuji Temple, you can see for yourself, they are almost identical :D Tofukuji Temple is located in Kyoto and it is a popular place to enjoy momiji, autumn leaves season. The Tsuutenkyou bridge is the most popular vista point for that as it is built above the valley of maple trees and is almost 100 meters long.
After defeating the Armored Warrior we touch the Temple Grounds Idol — 境内 [keidai], the localization is on point. The pond below where one of the Holy Chapters might be, is just called 池 [ike] — pond, and the waterfall is just 滝 [taki] — waterfall. While we are here, let's discuss character art of Senpou Monks.
Regular monks wearing yellow, black and white that we encounter all over the mountain are called 求道者 [kyu:do:sha] — literally "seeker" or "the one who seeks the way", in the context of Buddhism — the one who seeks enlightenment. Bomb-throwing monks are not really featured in the artbook — their bombs are though — but they look like Doujun, only wear yellow.
The infested monks that are stationary and either vomit insects or house centipedes, are called 蟲憑きの求道者 [mushitsuki no kyu:do:sha] — infested seekers, where 蟲憑き [mushitsuki] can literally be translated as "possessed by insects or bugs".
The temple shinobi are called らっぱ [rappa] — spy.
It is exceptionally curious that monks are actually chanting or praying when not alerted; here on Temple Grounds you can see monks praying before the thrown out corpses of those who did not survive the experiments.
So, about these corpses... There was always something about them that bothered me apart from the obvious facts: they are always lying face down, and their size is kind of... off. However, on the Temple Grounds in a building heavily guarded by the temple shinobi you can actually find the monks praying near these dead bodies lying face up. And these are not kids! These look like balding middle-aged men. Why?.. There is blood streaming from their mounths and traces of blood all around their bodies. These are failed experiments, but why balding men?.. If you look a little closer, you'll see that these men are emaciated and their garments seem way too short for them — both sleeves and overall length. What if these ARE the children the monks experiment on? What if the Rejuvenating Water, when administered to children, causes them to age rapidly and this is the torture: accelerated growth and all the drastic changes in their bodies, and anemia. It's all just my theory, mind you, but I am not sure how else I am supposed to interpret this. There are two types of corpses: dressed in blue and dressed in white; I assume those dressed in blue are boys, and those dressed in white are girls, although we never see a single body in white garments face up. Maybe I am inclined to think so because the Divine Child ends up wearing white and has a white pinwheel dedicated to her. In the same chamber near the infested monk we find a Lump of Fat Wax that forms "rarely in a human body" and is a sign of a disease: the worse it gets, the bigger the lump grows. It is very likely that many of the Lumps that we find on the mountain come not only from monks themselves but from these children too. I find it especially cruel that Lumps of Fat Wax are used in occult prosthetic upgrades, including Divine Abduction.
There is a little side path where you can find a persimmon, and — I've never noticed this before — you find it under an actual persimmon tree. I think it's the only one in the game and it looks very unique, with some persimmons still on the branches. A beautiful but somewhat sad sight.
The main temple building is called 本堂 [hondo:], and if you stand before the gates to the Main Hall you can enjoy a stunning view of the mountains enveloped in red and gold. This viewing point is called 本堂からの遠景 [hondo: kara no enkei] — main temple building vista point.
The wild guys in straw hats that can murder you in a blink of an eye are called 槍術師 [so:jutsushi] — lance masters. The most curious detail about them is the type of straw hat they wear: it is rouningasa, a type of straw hat warn by rounin, masterless samurai, those who did not serve anyone. Rounin were great in number during the Sengoku period: since it was the period of warring states and many daimyou fought for superiority, the bond between lords and vassals was quite loose. If a samurai was dissatisfied with his daimyou, or his lord died, he could just choose another lord and serve them instead. These rounin, as we can see, chose to serve Senpou Temple.
We have one more stop to make before we explore the Main Temple: the building where Long Arm Centipede Sen-Un is hanging out with the smaller centipedes. Before we talk about Sen-Un and about the centipedes in general, let's look at the building where we find him.
Oh my, it feels like I've never actually been here before. I just stormed it, slapped Sen-Un in the face and ran out. This part of the temple is called 法堂 [hatto:] — lecture hall of a temple. The half-burned 曼荼羅 [mandara] that we can see on the right (on the east wall) is specifically the Womb Realm that represent the metaphysical space inhabited by Five Compassion Buddhas. This mandala is yet one more proof of Senpou Temple being a Shingon temple since The Womb Realm mandala is prominently featured in Mikkyou, Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, and it takes part in Tendai and Shingon Buddhist rituals of initiation, together with the Diamond Realm mandala...
Oh, look! Here it is, the Diamond Realm mandala, just a few steps away on the west wall, exactly where it is supposed to be. Together they make up the Mandala of Two Realms. During the initiation ritual new initiates are blindfolded and then they are asked to toss a flower upon a mandala. Where the flower lands determines to what Buddhist figure the student will devote themselves.
Apart from the mandalas, we can see a Bodhisattva statue — 菩薩像 [bosatsuzo:] and metal fuxtures adorned with snakes and lotus flowers: 飾り金具 [kazari kanagu]. In the center of the room there is a 大護摩壇 [daigomadan] — a big fire altar for making offerings and invoking deities, which is also present mainly in Esoteric Buddhism and Shugendo, and sometimes even in Shinto. Before it we can see another five-pronged bell and a vajra club.
So, there is one uncomfortable subject to talk about but I do not think that it brings a whole lot more to the Sekiro conversation other than proving further that the Buddhism practiced in Senpou Temple is Shingon Buddhism. Have you ever noticed that there are monks sitting on top of filth and centipedes in this room, where we fight Sen-Un? Well, I've never noticed them while playing so many of you probably haven't either. These monks appear to have undergone sokushinbutsu — a practice of self-mummification. We'll see it throughout the temple, not only in these monks but in all centipede-infested monks who are also essentially mummies, and all the high-ranking monks we find in the caves when we go to retrieve the Holy Chapter. The process of self-mummification involves severe abstincence for 3000 days, it was banned in Japan in 1897 by Emperor Meiji. It was practiced mainly by Shingon Buddhism and Shugendo that, as I've already mentioned, developed as a highly syncretic religion and adopted many elements of Esoteric Buddhism. If you want to read more about it, I'll leave a link to a blogpost that explores sokushinbutsu in more detail and in the context of Sekiro, too. It's a really interesting read so please give it a try if you feel comfortable enough learning about it.
The most chilling detail about these particular monks is that they seem to have unique character models, and if you attack them, they bleed.
And now let's talk about Centipedes.
The only piece of information we have on the Centipedes is the Sixth Prayer Necklace. The first important thing is that the original calls them 百足衆 [mukadeshu] — centipede clan or centipede people, much like there are 夜鷹衆 [yotakashu] — Nightjar people and 孤影衆 [koeishu] — Lone Shadow people.
Before we continue, let's look at the Centipedes a little closer. They are heavily bandaged much like the people from the Sunken Valley, with hooks protruding from various points of their bodies, no doubt, to give them more resemblance to a centipede. The claws are clasped onto wrists, and the Centipede leaders indeed have long ones.
So, why are they called Centipedes and what are they even doing in the world of Sekiro? As you might remember from the previous post, centipedes were a popular motif in helmet embellishments because centipedes are said to always go forward and never retreat. They are also ferocious and highly aggressive — the trait that found its way into the Centipedes' design in a form of this long aggressive combo they try to shred you with. I think, the most tangible theory about the Centipedes is that they were a clan of miners. In medieval Japan miners were associated with centipedes not only because they always go forward and they are ferocious, but also because they were supposed to burrow through mountains like centipedes burrow through the ground. Two most precious materials not only during the Sengoku period but especially then, were iron and gold. Iron manufacturing and iron sand extraction were heavily associated with snakes because of the ancient legend of Orochi — a giant serpent who lived in the Hii River, the fountainhead of which was rich in iron. Thus, those occupied with iron manufacturing and collecting iron sand were called 大蛇 [daija] — big snakes, a word that also can be read as [orochi], the serpent himself. And those who mined gold were associated with centipedes because gold veins look like centipedes. It all fits pretty well with Snake Eyes down in the Gun Fort mining iron sand and Long-arm Centipede Sen-Un, who was apparently hired by the Senpou Temple, mining gold on Mt. Kongou for the monks to turn profits. As for the Long-Arm Centipede Giraffe, he also fits pretty neatly into this picture and we'll talk about him in the next post. I thought about the Centipedes a lot and this seems to be the most rational explanation for their existence.
「百足衆は、己の「星」を探す者たちだ」- "Centipede people search for their own "star".
Well, this is the most confusing part of the original. The English localization translates "star" as "leader" which kind of gets mixed up with "chief" in the next line, and the whole description sounds like the centipedes are searching for a leader among themselves and then cling onto him. Japanese literally says "star" — 星 [hoshi], and puts the kanji into quotation marks.
「星を見出せば、それに仕え、時に名すら変える」- "When the "star" is found, they serve it and sometimes even change their name".
After much thinking I've come to the conclusion that the "star" is not necessarily a single person, it can also be an organisation or even something more abstract, like you know, a calling, if you will — something that will define the centipede's future. The name change seems to be partial: it is more evident with Giraffe, honestly, but I think Sen'un can also be viewed with this in mind. His original name is 長手の百足・仙雲 [nagate no mukade sen'un] — Long-arm Centipede Sen'un. The place where we find him is somewhat odd, considering he is a miner employed by the Senpou Temple. He is in the part of the temple where the initiation ritual is held — or, rather, was held before the temple fell into ruin. He is staring at the sacred fire altar that was used to invoke deities and give offerings. Curiously enough, the item before the altar is Black Gunpowder, quite an unusual item for the Senpou Temple but something that the centipedes routinly drop along with yellow gunpowder. Did he bring it to the altar as an offering? His name 仙雲 [sen'un] shares the first kanji with 仙峰 [sempo:], and I think this is the partial name change the Centipedes undertake when they find their "star". I've spent quite some time trying to understand where the 雲 [un] part might have come from but my research didn't yield anything convincing enough; that is why I think the name change is partial, and the 雲 [un] part might have belonged to this Centipede chief in the first place. Maybe he was so taken by the Senpou Temple that he decided that the temple is now his star. Remember that it is just a theory, do take it with a grain of salt.
The Main Hall Idol is called just 本堂 [hondo:] — main temple building. On the either side of the table with the Hall Bell we can see 燭台 [shokudai] — candle stands made in a form of a snake on top of a turtle.
If you look closely, you'll notice that those stationary monks who vomit crickets also had a centipede in them at some point but it died, because apparently there was nothing to feed on anymore: you can see its dead shriveled body underneath the monk. This same part is alive and moving in other monks who carry living centipedes. If by any chance you thought that these are some kind of fantasy centipedes, I hate to be the person who tells you this, but these are actual Japanese centipedes :D Their size has been exaggerated, sure, but otherwise they look very realistic. Google "japanese sentipede" — or don't.
Apart from the mummified monks, there is the Illusive Hall Bell that we discussed in Remnants, a backdoor that leads to the caves with more mummies, and the main point of our interest: the Master of Senpou Temple just before the bell. He will be here only if you haven't beaten Genichiro yet so if you don't find him here, this is probably why. His dialogue is honestly heartbreaking is Japanese, he is absolutely destroyed by his guilt and his inability to get to the Child of Rejuvenation to explain to her why she was created in the first place.
A brief reminder that in Japanese both Kuro and the girl are called 御子 [miko] — a divine child, only Kuro is 竜胤の御子 [ryu:in no miko] — Dragon Heritage Miko (or Dragon Descendant Miko), and the girl is 変若の御子 [ochi no miko] — Rejuvenation Miko.
The Master of Senpou Temple repeats many times that she must be so lonely, hiding in that place all alone, and then, when he recognizes that Wolf serves the Dragon Heritage Miko, he says:
「そなたは… そなたの御子を、独りにするでない。行きなされ… 失ってから悔いるのでは、遅いのじゃ…」- "You... don't leave your miko all alone. Go [to him]... once you lose them it's too late to regret..."
And he urges Wolf to go back to Ashina Castle, to Kuro, to not leave him alone. Because, as he says a couple lines before that:
「御子は、貴い… じゃが、貴き者とて… 人は人… オォォ… 愚かな儂は… それが分からなんだ… 」- "Miko are holy... but holy or not... they are still human... I was a fool and didn't understand that..."
So the Master of Senpou Temple attributes their failure to the fact that they mistreated the Child of Rejuvenation which caused her to refuse to cooperate and hide where they could not get to her, derailing their whole operation.
Upon hearing that you are a shinobi, he expresses faint hope that you might be able to get to her (I think by that he is referring to the Folding Screen Monkeys' trial) and asks you to give the girl Holy Chapter: Infested because she "wanted to know the reason for her fate".
Its original name is 永旅経・蟲賜わりの章 [nagatabikyo:・mushitamawari no sho:] — scripture of the eternal journey・chapter on being given insects. Sounds clunky, I know, let's divide it into parts. Holy Chapter: Dragon's Return is also a part of this "Scripture of the eternal journey" that I think monks had been writing ever since they contracted the centepedes and became infested. This chapter is specifically about 蟲賜わり[mushitamawari] — "the granting of the insects" — or, in other words, their thoughts on being "given" the centipedes. The Master of Senpou Temple said that this will help the girl understand her purpose. The word 賜る [tamawaru] means "to be given", "to be granted", and it is a kenjougo (humble) word that is likely used here because monks suspect the Dragon is the source of the centipedes but he is still a god and needs to be addressed properly.
I'll just translate the whole thing so we can focus on the original meaning.
「長い悟りの旅路へいざなう経典。その一節」- "This is a paragraph from a sacred book that was taken along the endless journey of enlightnement".
Weirdly enough, the next line is different in the artbook:
「「変若の御子に」と見返しに記されている」 — ""to the Child of Rejuvination" is written on the end paper".
While the in-game item says,
「あの子に渡して欲しいと、託されたもの」 — "It was entrusted [to Wolf] with a plea to give it to that child".
... which is essentially the same thing, it's just odd that these two discriptions are a little bit different between the game and the artbook. Never happened before :D
「我、蟲を賜わり、幾星霜」 — "It's been many months and years since I have been infested/given insects".
「死なずとは、永き悟りの旅路なり」- "Being undying is to undertake an eternal journey to enlightment".
「死なぬ訳もまた、悟らねばなるまい」- "I still have to understand why I am undying".
「神なる竜は、西の故郷より来られたという」- "It is said that the dragon god came from his birthplace in the west..."
「我に、蟲を受けられたは、なにゆえか」- "How did I get infested?.."
The Master of Senpou Temple not only tries to solve the riddle of immortality itself but he also does not know where he contracted the centipedes and how he became infested in the first place.
So, the high monks of Senpou Temple contracted the centipedes and became infested: they do not now when, they also do not know why the centipedes cause undeath but they suspect that Dragon god has something to do with it and they decide to invest their seemingly unlimited time now to finding the answer to all of these questions.
If you do not encounter the temple master at the Main Hall, the Holy Chapter can be found on the bottom of the pond in Temple Grounds where he likely tossed it, abandoning all hope for good. If you never speak to him and find the Chapter there, you have no clue what to do with it, but when you show it to the Child, Wolf says "it's written here that I should give it to you". Not in the English version, unfortunately.
When the monks created the Child, they failed to treat her like a human and she ran away, ruining their plan forever. The Master of the Temple held on to the faint hope of explaining to her what she was meant to do.
When you give the Child this Holy Chapter, she is not enthusiastic about it and says that she still hates them.
There is no Idol in the Halls of Illusions but let's explore the place nonetheless. We won't dwell on the Monkeys themselves, we have already covered them in one of the Remnants posts.
The place is called 幻郎 [genro:] — halls of illusion. All special chambers have names, so let's visit all of them.
灯り堂 [akarido:] — light chamber.
奈落堂 [narakado:] — Naraka chamber, Naraka meaning Buddhist Hell — a pretty horrible place if you read about it. Here I think it's used more in the sense "the depths".
轟き堂 [todorokido:] — rumbling chamber.
泥々堂 [dorodorodo:] — murky chamber.
As for the postings in every chamber that have little tips on what you're supposed to do with them, those were localized correctly, there was nothing special in the original.
However, there are a few more chambers in the Halls of Illusion that do not take part in catching the monkeys and therefore often escape attention. These are abandoned rooms with sutras scattered on the floor, with bamboo mats marking the places where monks would sit and study. Apparently, when the monks of Senpou Temple could still reach this place, they studied or meditated here, conducted Buddhist practices. Now it is a trial arena, and only one monk is here with no intention to ever leave this place.
The Hall Monk describes what the monkeys are called and gives hints on how they can be caught. By far the most curious part of his dialogue is about someone like Wolf, who was also on a "mission" but couldn't catch the monkeys and left. It is my firm belief that that "someone" was Tomoe. She came here for the Mortal Blade, couldn't catch the monkeys and left, which ultimately led to Takeru and her dying in Ashina lands as they were unable to reach the Fountainhead Palace.
Inner Sanctum is 奥の院 [oku no in] — the innermost place of a temple. I previously thought that 内観 [naikan] was also a part of the name, because of it "introspection" meaning, but no, I've come to realize that 内観 [naikan] in the artbook is used more in the sense of "interior" (VS "exterior"), sorry for misleading you in the earlier post. Sanctum connects directly to the Main Hall and I think in the past it was the heart of the Senpou Temple, before the Child ran here and locked the doors.
We discussed the hanging scrolls with Heavenly Women (天女 [ten'nyo]) before so we'll skip them here. The Child herself does have an early concept art in the artbook: she looks much the same, only a part of her garment has a different pattern. The one she wears in game appears to have buddhist mandala motifs and lotus flowers. In her final concept art she is cradling something is her arms, and I have no clue what it is, looks like a piece of wood (?) In the game she isn't holding anything, so it's just an odd little detail.
Behind her on the wall there is a faded image of a deity that I cannot recognize — it's probably really important but I have no clue who that is. If you have — please, tell me in the comments!
Later in the playthrough you have an opportunity to eavesdrop on her talking to the other Children in the Halls of Illusion. She is telling them that she doesn't know what to do because you're pursuing Fushidachi, Immortal Severance:
「不死断ちが、成った時… 私はまた… 大事なものを失くしてしまう…」- "When Immortal Severance comes to pass... I, once again... will lose something (someone) dear to me"
Since for this dialogue — and the Dragon's Return ending — to happen you need to give Kuro her rice and then give her back his thanks, I think by "losing someone dear" she means losing Wolf and Kuro because she's grown attached to them. She spent such a long time hiding in the Sanctum that any human connection is precious to her. When she says "I will lose someone dear to me AGAIN" — I think she is referring to losing her brothers and sisters, the other Children of Rejuvenation.
She doesn't really know how the process of Dragon's Return goes so she tells us to find the founder of Senpou Temple (開祖 [kaiso]). Before we enter the cave where the founder is, we go through a narrow passage that in the artbook is called 胎内くぐり [tainaikuguri], which is a Buddhist practice of passing through narrow caves and grottos that symbolizes rebirth. This practice was widely used in Shugendo. The statues in this cave are called 阿羅漢 [arakan], and that is a super-complicated Buddhist notion but in general it denotes prominent practicioners of Buddhism that achieved certain stages of enlightnment. Maybe the monks that retreated into the cave — including the founder — hoped for some sort of rebirth, leaving all their sins behind.
From the founder we get Holy Chapter: Dragon's Return but before we discuss the most curious item of all that pertain to the Senpou Temple, let's go a little bit further.
On the cliffside outside the cave there is a 五重塔 [goju:to:] — five-storey pagoda, and in that pagoda — Senpou Esoteric Text. We take it from a destroyed statue: it is in a pretty bad shape so it's difficult to say for sure who that is, but I think it's Fudou — a deity that converts anger into salvation, also worshipped as a deity who can bring monetary fortune. He is actually supposed to hold a sword in his right hand, here it is outstretched with his palm facing up. His aureole of flames that is supposed to burn the material desires to purify the mind is discernible even in his current state. I also think that this is Fudou because he is the only one of the Wisdom Kings that can be positioned seated, and also the only one who has just two arms and not more. Fudou is especially venerated in Shingon Buddhism, so here is one more point to my theory that Senpou Temple is a Shingon temple. By the way, Kongou Yaksha, whom we discussed earlier in the post, is also a member of the Wisdom Kings, just like Fudou.
And now let's read about Dragon's Return.
Well, this item is kind of the Divine Grass of the Senpou storyline. Its original name is 永旅経・竜の帰郷の章 [nagatabikyo:・ryu: no kikyo: no sho:] — scripture of the eternal journey・a chapter on Dragon's Homecoming.
「永い悟りの旅路へいざなう経典。その一節」- "This is a paragraph from a sacred book that was taken along the endless journey of enlightnement".
「我、死なず。竜の帰郷をただ願う」- "I am undying. The only thing I desire is Dragon's Homecoming".
「みな死なず。永く待とうぞ」- "We are all undying. We will wait a long time".
「竜胤の御子が、つめたい竜の涙を飲み干し」- "Dragon Heir shall drink the cold dragon tears".
「竜胤の揺り籠が、二つの蛇柿を食すのを」- "The Cradle of the Dragon's Heritage shall consume two serpentine fruits".
「揺り籠の命果てず、御子を宿さば、西への帰郷は叶うだろう」- "If the Cradle survives and carries the Dragon Heir, the Homecoming to the West shall come true".
There is a couple of things that make the English version more confusing than the original. Firstly, I think they went overboard with stylistic choices. Yes, this was probably written by the founder of the Senpou Temple, but in Japanese it is a fairly simple text, its style does not at all correspond stylistically to what the English localization looks like. In Sekiro everyone speaks according to the portrayed time period, they use a lot of archaic words, A LOT of archaic grammar and a whole bunch of archaic versions of kanji. I am kind of used to it, and to me, the Senpou founder's text doesn't look like anything that stylistically different from the rest to warrant "lo" and a bunch of "let us" :D The fact that the paragraphs of the original description were squished together and some sentences were combined doesn't really help either.
Anyway, secondly, the most important part is the last sentence: "Let the cradle endure, giving Him shelter, granting His return to the west". Who is "he", in this case? Because it is in capital letters, as befits when mentioning a god, and because the text is about the Dragon's homecoming, I always assumed this part meant the Dragon. But no, in Japanese it is written clearly: 御子, miko, the Dragon Heir. The Dragon Heir was a part of the plan.
And now we arrive to the most important point: Senpou monks created their Divine Child specifically to become a cradle and to send the Dragon back home. They did not want to replicate the Dragon Heir because they wanted the immortality: they needed BOTH the Cradle and the Dragon Heir to get rid of their immortality because they believed that the Dragon was somehow responsible for it. Since the girl ran away from them before they managed to explain to her that she was created to save them all, and save the whole land of Ashina, she spent years imagining her own version of the story and then she projected it onto Wolf, who then relayed it to Kuro and it made him sad: people got so corrupted by the dragon power that they now want to manufacture false Dragon Heirs to harvest it. And yet, it is literally the opposite of what actually happened.
At some point after the Dragon took root in Ashina lands, having drifted here accidentally from the West, the Senpou monks contracted centipedes. It is my firm belief that they did so in the Sunken Valley. They either lived there at the time, or, what is more likely, took pilgrimage to Bodhisattva Valley. Mt. Kongou does not immediatelly connect to the Fountainhead Palace and its waters, however, in the Sunken Valley "the Fountainhead waters pool deeply", and there we can meet another centipede-infested character: Guardian Ape.
After getting infested, they came to the conclusion that this state was likely caused by the Dragon outsider, and they decided to send him back home. Their plan included the Dragon Heir, and the appropriate vessel strong enough to attempt the transportation. Thus the process of the Divine Child creation began: they employed their shinobi to steal children with Divine Abduction and then tried to create a fitting cradle that could house the Dragon Heir. They felt it was the only way to restore balance in the Ashina lands; they buried the children and brought Jizo statues to watch over their restless souls, and they made pinweels in their memory. But it was the only way. That is why you see loose Spirit Emblems everywhere on the mountain, expecially near Jizo statues or Bodhisattvas. Mibu Balloons of Spirit are found almost exclusively in this area of the game and very often they are placed as offerings to Bodhisattvas — undoubtedly, by monks.
Apart from the Cradle they also needed the Dragon Heir. The problem with Dragon Heirs is that they get sad in the mortal world pretty quickly and try to attempt Fushidachi — Immortal Severance — or turn into humans, or go back to the Divine Realm, and it all runs contrary to the Senpou plan. Luckily, all of that could be prevented with cutting their access to the only thing that can harm them: Fushigiri, the Mortal Blade. Since Senpou Temple has direct access to the Sunken Valley, and I think they used to visit that place, they either stole the Mortal Blade from the Tomoe people, or just took it because the clan ascended and did not need it anymore. The wooden case of the Mortal Blade bears — albeit faint — a sigil of the Tomoe clan, it is their sword. Tomoe was denied the artefact of her people, and it makes her story even more heartbreaking.
So, upon retrieving the sword from the Sunken Valley, the monks hid it in the Inner Sanctum — the heart of the temple. Their experiments suddenly bore fruit and one child survived — a prospective cradle — however, they mistreated her and forgot that she was still a human, and not just an item, and she ran away, ruining the Senpou plan forever. She hid away in the sanctuary where the Mortal Blade was stored, and the restless souls of her brothers and sisters veiled her, so that the monks, who had strayed very far away from Buddha at that point, would never reach her. That is why you find the Master of the Temple in the Main Hall near the bell and near the Sanctum too: he knows where she is, but he cannot get to her.
After the Child slipped away, the Temple truly fell into ruin. For a while they continued their attempts to make one more cradle (they are probably continuing them even now), although they did not bury the children anymore; they also seemed to abandon their Divine Abduction strategy and laid the artefact to rest in the Sunken Valley; instead the Senpou assassins just abducted children with no promises of accumulating merit. They promised the Armored Warrior immortality for Robert and took him. However, they could not make any more cradles. All hope was lost.
When Tomoe came on her "mission" to retrieve the blade, she could not, because by that time the Sanctum was already hidden. All of this leads me to believe that the Divine Child is actually fairly old, maybe older than Wolf, she just doesn't age, much like Kuro and Takeru. Tomoe was denied the blade as she could not catch the Monkeys and get to the Sanctum, so she left.
I think that monks may have undergone sokushinbutsu — self-mummification — as the last resort. Now that the Cradle slipped away and the new one was impossible to create, there was no Dragon Homecoming and no freedom from the centipedes that they hoped for, only the eternal suffering. All the centipede monks that we find are just mummified husks the centipedes feed on, and all the monks in the cave, including the founder, have the centipedes on them that appear to have withered and died because they could not feed on them any longer.
It does not puzzle me anymore that the Rice Lady is pushing the serpentine fruits quest and knows all about the Divine Child: she was a part of the Senpou Temple, she knows the plan, and she never abandoned hope, even though she definitely lost a couple of marbles over time.
This is how we see the temple when we arrive: mummified monks crawling with centipedes, all attributes of Buddhism burned, soiled, broken, abandoned and forgotten, and mountains of dead children, some buried, others not. If previously I wanted only a Tomoe DLC because I wanted more of her story, now I also want the Senpou DLC where this story would get explored in detail: how they got infested, how they devised the plan, how succeeded and then immediately failed.
Choosing the Dragon's Return ending — arguably, the true ending of the game — means following the Senpou plan exactly as they wrote it. The only thing Wolf does that they failed to do, is treating the Divine Child as a human being. Turns out, that was the key.
"Miko are holy... but holy or not... they are still human... I was a fool and didn't understand that..."
"[...] don't leave your miko all alone. Go [to him]... once you lose them it's too late to regret..."
Interestingly enough, Priestess Yao, the False/True Monk, is also infested with centipedes. I wonder if, unlike the monks, she embraced the centipedes and chose to guard the Crimson Bridge against anyone who would attempt to get to the Dragon and try to bring to fruition the homecoming plan.
This is what I think transpired on Mt. Kongou, and I am sticking to this theory at the time. At least now I have some sort of explanation as to why Fushigiri, the blade of the Tomoe clan, was hidden in the Senpou Temple of all places. As usual, take all my theories with a grain of salt, I am only trying to build with the blocks that the Japanese original adds to the ones I already have.
This Idol's original name is pretty simple: 鐘鬼のお堂 [sho:ki no odo:] — temple of the bell demon. The place where the bell itself is located is called, unsurprisingly, 鐘楼 [sho:ro:] — bell tower. We have already discussed the Bell Demon in a Miscellaneous Items post so we'll just move on.
I intentionally skipped the Sunken Valley Cavern so we can discuss it along with Black Badger. His original name is 黒笠のムジナ [kurogasa no mujina] — Badger with a black kasa hat, or Blackhat Badger. I think it's about the only thing we haven't covered about him: in earlier posts we discovered that he was the leader of Senpou shinobi because he possessed Iron Fortress — a mark of a master shinobi. We also found out that he had a son, for whom he made a Mibu Pilgrimage Balloon. The boy unfortunately passed away, and Badger's personal quest is about getting him to the Sunken Valley Cavern where his son is buried.
Sunken Valley Cavern is called exactly that: 谷落ちの洞窟 [ochidani no do:kutsu] — Sunken Valley cave. There is nothing exceptionally interesting about it apart from the Badger's son grave and the fact that it leads to one of the Serpents. It is yet another way to the Sunken Valley from the Mt. Kongou — the cave connects to the Sunken Valley Passage.
I think that Senpou Temple is peak environmental storytelling. FromSoftware has always been incredibly good at it, but in Sekiro in general and on Mt. Kongou specifically, I feel, their mastery reached new hights.
This is one of those things that for me personally elevates a game from being great to being legendary: when the worldbuilding is solid reagrdless of the player knowledge. When everything just works and makes sense but the game never explicitly tells the player anything and it is just left for them to discover if they are willing to. Well, it's a little bit more complicated in Sekiro because you have to have very specific knowledge to be able to appreciate all these layers of worldbuilding but I hope you get my point. I was completely blown away by how carefully Senpou Temple was designed as a fully functioning Buddhist Temple where all religious attributes are there not just as a backdrop to create the feeling and the atmosphere, but they all make sense. It blows my mind how well Senpou Temple was thought out, especially considering that many players wouldn't be able to fully appreciate it because, you know, not many people possess the required knowledge. But the game doesn't really care, and it doesn't even explain much or give any context, there aren't NPCs that would tell you all you need to know. It's just either you can already see it, or you get curious and do your own research, or you just grab the Mortal Blade and go. I understand it might be annoying for some but I love unraveling these things, it's like I am looking at the surface of the water and then suddenly I can see all the way to the bottom.
As I've said before, the whole idea for this project stemmed from the fact that I completed Sekiro and felt like I barely knew what it was about but I wanted to know more. Senpou Temple was a big part of that frustration because I couldn't understand what really happened, why they had the Mortal Blade, why they continued abducting children if they felt guilty for it, and what they even tried to achieve. I feel like with this part of the research I found satisfying answers for many of those questions, and I hope you did too.
As usual, stay tuned here and on the Lair's YouTube channel not to miss out on anything.
Thank you for your time.