Hey~ We are on our way to the Fountainhead Palace now, so today we'll be exploring Sunken Valley and Gun Fort. As usual, we'll discuss environmental art, Sculptor's Idols, also character art and gain a little bit of historical context — something that is crucial when talking about literally anything in Sekiro :D
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 Shinto, 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.
Before we descend into Sunken Valley, let's rewind a little bit to the Inner Sanctum. Remember in the last post I said that there is an image of a deity behind the Child but it's so worn out and poorly lit that I cannot really tell who that is? After the post was released, one of the members of our community over on Discord (you're welcome to join the server!) managed to pull this flat texture in high resolution from the game files so we all can get a closer look. Thanks!
So, what have we here? Seems to be a whole lot of nothing because the image is still really worn out and the background doesn't really have any meaningful details, only vague forms of maybe flowers and I'm sure I'm imagining most of it. It is a Boddhisattva or a Buddha even but how do we now which one?..
Luckily, in the previous post we've done a whole LOT of research on Buddhism and specifically Senpou Temple, so we'll be able to unravel the whole thing in no time, just follow me.
This is an image of a Boddhisattva or a Buddha located in the Inner Sanctum, the heart of Senpou Temple. Must be an important deity then. One of the Five Wisdom Kings? We've already seen Fudou and Kongou Yaksha but those were kind of on the outskirts of the temple. Five Wisdom Kings are supposed to be avatars or incarnations of Five Cosmic Buddhas. Five Cosmic Buddhas fit very well because they are heavily featured in Japanese Esoteric Buddhism and specifically in Shingon Buddhism, and we've already seen them on Mandalas in the initiation hall.
Five Cosmic Buddhas are tightly connected to Pure Land Buddhism — yet another branch of Buddhism that is focused on achieving rebirth in Pure Land, a land of Buddha. It is a celestial realm where most buddhists aspire to be reborn in, and it is one of the most widely practiced buddhist traditions in East Asia. Each of Five Cosmic Buddhas has a direction associated with him and, consequently, a corresponding Pure Land. The most common pure land today — in Japanese Buddhism too — is that of Amida Buddha (it's his Japanese name, another one is Amitābha), also known as "Land of Bliss" or Western Pure Land because Amida governs West. Let's check the image of Amida against the worn out image from behind the Child of Rejuvenation. Thanks to the image pulled from the game files we can see him much more clearly now. Pay attention at how his hands are positioned, it's a very specific pose. Yep, that's him. Thus we can pretty confidently say that the deity depicted in the Inner Sanctum is Amitābha, one of Five Cosmic Buddhas and the primary Buddha of Pure Land Buddhism as it is practiced in Japan, who governs West, and his Pure Land is called 極楽 [gokuraku] (Sukhavati).
Before you get super excited about the West theme — you now, the Dragon being from the West, the Child returning him there and the presence of Amida and his Western Pure Land — I also got excited there for a second but I don't think the connection is all that strong considering that there couldn't really be another Cosmic Buddha depicted there since Amida is the central figure of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism.
We'll start our descent at 社下の谷 [yashiroshita no tani] — under-shrine valley, the name is really straightforward. The artbook doesn't really feature this Idol or anything around it so we'll take this opportunity to talk about character art. We've already looked at the Headless and if you go back from this Idol you'll eventually reach a bunch of 首塚 [kubizuka] — burial mounds with severed heads that are there to appease the Gokan Headless in the cave further along the underwater passage. If you decide to take a treasure from a burial mound, the spirits will show up and attack you. Well, one of the treasures is a Prayer Bead so I suppose we don't really have a choice, do we.
Surprisingly, both regular gunmen and heavy gunmen are just called 落ち谷衆 [ochidanishu] — Sunken Valley people or clan, the artbook doesn't differentiate between them. They are heavily bandaged and the bandages hide bleeding sores, they also cover their noses and mouths with cloth, as well as their hair. I suppose it's got something to do not only with the poisonous fumes emanating from the floor of the valley, but also with iron sand and iron production that can cause difficulty breathing and all sorts of lung problems. Later we'll see that the floor of the valley is 10 shades of red because of how rich in iron it is.
The character models for both gunmen seem to be identical, only the heavy gunmen wear a voluminous cloak, and the regular gunmen don't. They also have the cutest idle animation: they clean their guns when not alerted.
The Sunken Valley idol is called exactly that: 落ち谷 [ochidani] — sunken valley. 落ちる [ochiru] means "to fall, to drop, to collapse" and generally descend so I think Sunken Valley is a great localization and sounds very cool.
Near this idol we meet a Senpou Temple shinobi with a dialogue that puzzles me to this day. The English version is generally correct: he says that the Gun Fort of the Sunken Valley was more formidable than the rumours had it. They were reckless to go unprepared and now he's hearing the nostalgic bells of Senpou Temple as he draws his last breath.
Well, I am not sure why they even attempted to take or infiltrate Gun Fort. They obviously had more luck infiltrating Ashina Castle. What was it that they wanted so badly? Maybe, Divine Abduction? Divine Abduction was given to Senpou Temple shinobi to spirit children away to Mt. Kongo for the experiments, and then the artefact wound up in the Gun Fort. Still, Divine Abduction doesn't seem to be a reason enough to warrant a straight up assault. Gun Fort is also the more straightforward way to the White Serpent Nushi and Riven Cave but I'm not sure why Senpou monks — or shinobi for that matter — would want anything to do with those. The assault clearly was poorly thought out and thus likely spontaneous, which doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. If you have any theories as to why this shinobi wanted so badly into the Gun Fort he got himself shot by Shirafuji, please let me know.
The view of the Gun Fort from this Idol is called 鉄砲砦遠景 [teppo:toride enkei] — gun fort vista. The big rock on the side is called 鉄砲砦の岩山 [teppo:toride no iwayama] — gun fort rocky mountain.
Underbridge Valley in Ashina Outskirts is also technically a part of the Sunken Valley. I have a few close-up screenshots of the 白蛇の輿 [shirohebi no koshi] — White Snake's palanquin. It is very, very old, and the metal fixtures bear the motif of sakura flowers with five petals.
Both Shirafuji and Shirahagi are called Snake Eyes; the original word for it is 蛇の目 [ja no me] — literally "snake eye(s)" but it is also a set expression that means "bull's-eye pattern" that is usually on a target. Conveniently, "Snake Eyes" part of their name not only ties into the whole "big snakes mining iron sand" plot that we discussed in the last post, and White Serpent Nushi that people from the Sunken Valley worship, but also lets you know that both ladies are incredible markswomen. Shirafuji is written in katakana (シラフジ) but it is a Japanese word, and the kanji for it would be 白藤 [shirafuji], which is "white" + "wisteria". A curious choice of flower considering that wisteria seeds are poisonous. Shirahagi is also named after a flower, which is very cute and makes dying to both of them a more elevated experience.
Shirafuji is an Okami descendant and as such she is very vulnerable to Sabimaru's poison, contrary to her colleague Shirahagi, who is completely immune. We'll talk more about her in the Ashina Depths post.
I have to say, entering Gun Fort is probably my favorite sequence in the game, I just run across the chasm, grapple 100 times up the cliff, run past every gunman, triggering all the firecrackers on the ground, barge into the fort itself, run past heavy gunmen and touch Idol. It's great every time :D Its Japanese name sounds INCREDIBLY COOL, it's 鉄砲砦 [teppo:toride] — iron gun/cannon fortress or iron gun fort.
As for the firecrackers and firearms in general, there is a little history backdrop maybe involving Armored Warrior and little Robert. As we already discussed in a corresponding post, Robert's firecrackers were a product of Nanban Trade, a period that started in 1543 with Portuguese merchants establishing trade routes to Japan. They introduced matchlock firearms, Christianity and some of their own customs. The Firecracker's description says that Robert and his father sold them to sustain themselves during their travels and I wonder if that's how the firecrackers ended up in Gun Fort, adding to its impenetrability. As for the firearms, the Sunken Valley people appear to use iron cannons (鉄砲 [teppo:]) that were introduced to Japan in the 13th century so that's very historically accurate. The Portuguese merchants during Nanban trade brought matchlock firearms called Tanegashima, and I think this is what Kensei Isshin uses.
There are a couple of notable sights inside the mountain, the first one is 割れ目の岩窟 [wareme no gankutsu] — chasm cave, where a big rift splits the wall in half.
Another interesting area is 鉄砲砦の社 [teppo:toride no yashiro] — gun fort shrine, 社 [yashiro] meaning a Shinto shrine. Here Long-Arm Centipede Giraffe is guarding Divine Abduction and the only way to White Serpent Nushi. It makes me wonder if that Senpou shinobi we met earlier was sent to infiltrate Gun Fort to get to the Serpent Nushi and obtain the viscera...
In the shrine there is a statue of a Boddhisattva holding a snake, in the artbook it is called 社の蛇菩薩 [yashiro no hebibosatsu] — snake bodhisattva of the shrine.
If you remember, White Snake's den also has a shrine that houses the same snake Boddhisattva holding the Dried Viscera, only that one has a part of their face covered in scales. What's up with those, you may ask? Well, in an earlier post I briefly mentioned the manifestation theory and it's time we discussed it in a bit more detail.
Manifestation theory or 本地垂迹 [honji suijaku] is a religious theory that states that Buddhist deities choose to appear in Japan as native kami. In other words, according to this theory, some kami (but not all of them) are manifestations of Buddhist deities.
Kami were not doubted by early Buddhists but viewed as inferior to Buddhas which resulted in a lot of resistance and tension between Buddhism and the Japanese people who wanted to continue worshipping their native kami and have them at the same status levels as Buddhist Buddhas. Thus, buddhists chose to integrate kami into Buddhism to harmonize the two religions, and the manifestation theory was one of several steps in assimilating Buddhism that resulted in such high levels of Shinto-Buddhist syncretism.
By the 10-11th centuries there were already numerous pairings linking native kami to Buddhist deities; by the time Kamakura period (1185–1333) began these pairings were fully established in bigger temples and shrines. Up until the end of the Edo period (1603-1867) this theory, which was the last step of Buddhism assimilation, defined Japanese religious life. Sometimes the theory was even applied to prominent historical figures like Kūkai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, who was claimed to be a manifestation of a kami, that, in turn, was a manifestation of a buddha.
Probably the most amazing thing about honji suijaku was the fact that this theory was never formalized, systematized or fixed in any way, that is why the Japanese medieval religious scene is so incredibly confusing. Despite this confusion, the manifestation theory was omnipresent and greatly influenced every aspect of life: not only religion, but culture, society in general and even economy. There was also a lot of nuance in how some doctrines viewed parity of kami and Buddhas: whether kami are just a manifestation of a Buddhist deity or they are completely equal. For example, Ryōbu Shintō, a doctrine derived from Shingon Buddhism, viewed Buddhist deities and kami as one indivisible whole, two sides of the same coin.
The theory also saw wide application in religious art: some showed only Buddhist deities, some — only kami, others — both of them. Even though the Bodhisattva-snake representation is not a painting but a statue, it still depicts both a native kami and a corresponding Buddhist deity. Since we have a lot of proof of Shingon Buddhism being practiced in Ashina lands, Ryōbu Shintō fits here pretty well.
This syncretism that dominated Japanese religious scene up to 1868, was called 神仏習合 [shinbutsu shu:go:] — syncretism of kami and buddhas. Sengoku period, technically, was kind of in the middle of it: the syncretism was fully established and 神仏分離 [shinbutsu bunri] — the separation, wouldn't come for another three hundred years or so. In the Bodhisattva Valley you can notice sacred trees with shimenawa ropes going around them — a purely shinto thing — right next to the statues of Bodhisattvas. Even Gun Fort that houses a shrine where the White Serpent is worshipped, is built on the cliff around a Bodhisattva statue.
This was a brief note on why we see a boshisattva in a shinto shrine dedicated to a native kami, if you were wondering. I'll leave links in the description box below so you can read more on this topic.
And now it's time to move on to Giraffe.
In the last post we talked about the clan of Centipede miners that mine gold and iron and also search for their "star". After they have found the "star", they change their name accordingly, and my guess was that the name change is partial.
Giraffe always struck me as a character with the weirdest name. Knowing what we know now about the Centipedes, take a look at his original name: 長手の百足 ジラフ [nagate no mukade jirafu]. His name is Jirafu. While the Japanese word for giraffe the animal is written identically — ジラフ [jirafu], doesn't this name strike you as one very-very similar to シラフジ [shirafuji]? I think it may be the reason why Shirafuji's name is written in katakana in the first place, so that you'd be more likely to make the connection.
Jirafu is a centipede leader, just like Sen'Un, and he also has a bunch of smaller centipedes serving him, they are scattered all over the caves of the Gun Fort. He might have been also hired by the Senpou Temple but later changed sides, or he might have never been to the Sempou Temple and just found his star in Shirafuji. He is there to help her mine iron for the Gun Fort, and he also guards the path that leads deeper into the Valley, to the White Serpent. I once had a theory that Jirafu was entrusted with Divine Abduction, instructed to hide it in the Valley, and then he fell for Shirafuji and got stuck in the Gun Fort but I am not so sure. Divine Abduction's whereabouts don't really make much sense to me as of yet.
Initially, the decision to localize him as Giraffe seemed utterly bizarre to me, but I guess the team lacked context, and the idea that the character might actually be named Giraffe seemed more likely to them, especially because all shinobi are nicknamed after animals, so why not a Centipede. Well, I have to agree, a ton of context is needed to determine how this name should be treated because not only do you need to learn about the name-changing process and the Sen'Un's case but also keep Shirafuji in mind. Given that the English localization of the Sixth Prayer Necklace didn't really explain the "star" thing all that well and that they even might have localized Giraffe way before they came across Shirafuji, this oversight is indeed unfortunate — but also understandable.
You know what the cutest thing is? Jirafu is cleaning his talons when not alerted, exactly in the way that Sunken Valley gunmen clean their guns. Sen'Un doesn't do that, this animation was added for Jirafu only to show how he is a part of the Gun Fort folk now and he has taken up some of their habits. So proud of him!
A question now. Have you ever noticed how the floor of this shrine is littered with feathers? Nightjar feathers?.. I wonder what little story happened here; we do find a couple of Nightjar deeper in the Sunken Valley. Were they trying to infiltrate Gun Fort from the other side, were they after the Divine Abduction for some reason?.. They do Isshin's bidding and I can't think of a reason for Isshin to want something from the Gun Fort, unless he hoped to spirit away the Ministry. Interesting detail that I've never noticed before.
I completely forgot that the doors do not open by themselves so let's go get the Gun Fort Shrine Key.
Gun Fort Shrine key for whatever reason is in Takeru's library that Kuro opens up. I am not sure I can propose a reason why it is there but if you can, please do. However, if I still pursue my theory about Owl putting that giant sword into the Guardian Ape so that Tomoe could not get the flower and they wouldn't leave, it would also make sense for him to lock the only way that leads to the Ape and just toss the key behind some dusty bookshelf. I don't really know and I don't feel like there is even an answer to that.
Anyway, its original name is pretty straightforward: 鉄砲砦の社の鍵 [teppo:toride no yashiro no kagi] — gun fort shrine key. "The gate behind the shrine's idol is made to be opened" sounds very mysterious, like there's something special about the gates, but the original line is very simple:
「社の仏像の裏にある扉を、開くためのもの」 — "This is an item for unlocking the door behind the Buddha statue in the shrine".
There is a slight disparity between the artbook and this description: the artbook calls the statue "snake bodhisattva" while the description calls it a buddha statue.
「鉄砲砦の落ち谷衆は、異敵と見れば、撃ち殺す」 ― "Sunken Valley people of the Gun Fort shoot dead all strangers that approach".
「中でも、蛇の目の石火矢は、恐ろしい」 — "Among them — the terrifying flint guns of Snake Eyes".
The next line is the most important one:
「かの女衆は、いにしえの淤加美の一族の末裔」 — "Those women are descendants of the ancient Okami people".
So, it is not at all the Sunken Valley people who are tied to the Okami clan, it's Snake Eyes in particular. The rest of the gunmen are just whoever, they might have no relation to the Okami at all, which would explain why not one of them cares for Sabimaru and its poison. But Shirafuji and Shirahagi are of Okami blood. As for their special eyesight that makes them so deadly, I think it reinforces a very important concept in Sekiro: those who worship a deity, in time, take on some traits of that deity. Snake Eyes and White Serpent Nushi, Okami up above and Sakura Dragon, Nobles and the Great Carp Nushi. By worshipping a god, they change and become more and more like that god in their appearance and might even gain some new abilities. Think about Owl and the Owl Nushi from Usui Forest (since Mist Raven in certainly a nushi, I think Spirit Owl is a nushi too): Owl has a concept art with the bird and their likeness is very noticeable. I think it makes sense. Okami are a little unique though because I'm pretty sure they used to worship the White Serpent while they lived in the Sunken Valley, and then they ascended to worship the Dragon, so they kind of got perks from either side, that is why Shizu snipes you with her lightning from 10 miles away. Just imagine if Okami ascended later in the timeline and took GUNS with them. The Fountainhead Gun Palace.
Let's check the fifth prayer necklace for more information on the Gun Fort.
五の念珠 [go no nenju] — fifth prayer necklace. The original has some very curious details that in my opinion are not emphasized enough in the English localization.
「落ち谷の鉄砲砦、取り仕切るのは男ではない」 — "It's not men who control the Gun Fort of the Sunken Valley".
「蛇の目と呼ばれる、石火矢遣いの女たちだ」 — "But the women wielding flint cannons who are called Snake Eyes".
「遥か遠方を射抜く、特別な目を持つという」 — "It is said that they have special eyes that allow them to pierce targets over a great distance".
So, Gun Fort is run by women, and these women are Snake Eyes, Shirafuji and Shirahagi. Who are the rest of the Sunken Valley people? I hanged out with them for a while as they were cleaning their guns, and judging by their appearance and by their little voiced grunts, I am pretty sure they are all men, both regular gunmen and heavy gunmen. As I've already mentioned, they do not care about Sabimaru one bit: it breaks their posture but does not poison them. Shirafuji is very susceptible to Sabimaru, and you know who else? An elderly lady with the shakujo: scepter and a candle inside the Gun Fort. Sabimaru absolutely destroys her, she is the only character that I know of who gets the poisoned status after one Sabimaru strike, and I was using plain Sabimaru with no upgrades. Only one strike, and she immediately gets poisoned and drops dead. She also carries Antidote Powder. Maybe when she was younger, she was a Snake Eye herself; maybe there are more Okami descendants living in the Sunken Valley but the poison vulnerability applies only to women, which is the point I've been making for a very long time.
As we open the Shrine gates, the bridge in front of us is called 吊橋 [tsuribashi] — suspension bridge. I wonder if we can cross it safely...
Down into the river we go. Riven Cave is not as exciting in Japanese: 落ち谷 奥廊下 [ochidani okuro:ka] — Sunken Valley: inner passage or back passage. Riven Cave is completely abscent from the artbook, unfortunately, so there is no more insight I can offer; it's just some monkey bones at the entrance, a broken ladder, mossed over bodhisattva carvings and a couple of grappling points.
菩薩谷 [bosatsudani] — literally Bodhisattva Valley. The artbook does not mention what specific Bodhisattvas are placed here, if these are specific at all, it just says that there are 菩薩坐像 [bosatsu zazo:] — seated Bodhisattva figures and 菩薩立像 [bosatsu ritsuzo:] — standing Bodhisattva figures.
Just next to the Idol there is the crazy Rice Lady again, she's here to point you to the Dried Serpent Viscera. Funnily enough, you can pray near her again using Mibu Balloons or Sugars and it would prompt the same dialogue as she had on the bridge to the Castle but if you had already prayed with her there, she'll give you no rewards this time.
Technically the White Seprent's den is also a part of the Sunken Valley but wouldn't you know, we have already discussed it in a corresponding post. The most interesting part of its den is the snake Boddhisattva and the Rock Divers — the guys who appear from the walls trying to skewer you. I think, this shrine is a twin shrine to the one where Divine Abduction is, built by the same people around the same time.
If you ever noticed, just above the Guardian Ape's arena there is an absolutely gigantic Bodhisattva statue, and this one is mentioned separately in the artbook: 慈母菩薩像 [jibo bosatsuzo:] — affectioned mother Bodhisattva statue. It's a female Bodhisattva cradling an infant. While the artbook doesn't say what specific Bodhisattva that is, I think it's safe to assume it is supposed to be a reference to 観音 [kan'non], a Buddhist deity of compassion and mercy, a patron of mothers. She has many manifestations in Japanese Buddhism, and one of them is called 慈母観音 [jibo kan'non], depicted in exactly the same way: a woman holding an infant. Jibo Kannon being here seems to be a very deliberate choice: I was not able to verify it in more that one source, unfortunately, but Kannon seems to be associated, at least in some capacity, with Musubi no Kami according to the manifestation theory — literally "a god of knots" or connection, god of matchmaking and marriage. Let's not forget that the Lion Ape's story revolves around him yearning for his deceased partner, and it's ultimately about family: this place is his garden where he tends to the White Lotus in hopes to give it to his bride one day. I think, it makes a lot of sense for Jibo Kannon, a patron of mothers, love and familial connection, to be here.
Guardian Ape's Watering Hole is called 獅子猿の水場 [shishizaru no suiba], the word 水場 [suiba] means "a watering place". This is also the place where "the fountainhead waters pool deeply" so we can see broken off pieces of the shrines and pavilions of the Fountainhead Palace that were washed downstream.
Fun fact: you can actually see the White Serpent from here.
The artbook also gives a depiction of 馨し水蓮 [kaguwashi suiren] — fragrant lotus that we already discussed in an earlier post.
Sunken Valley is the place where our ascension to the Fountainhead Palace starts, and it always felt otherwordly to me, much more so than even Senpou Temple. From this point on, we'll be having much more questions and much fewer answers; however, we'll try out best to gather as much context as possible to see if we can shed at least some light onto the last areas of the game and the events that took place there.
As usual, stay tuned here and on the Lair's YouTube channel not to miss out on anything.
Thank you for your time.