Japanese Culture: Lolita fashion

Lolita fashion - (ロリータ・ファッション Rorīta fasshon)

photo credit: mangakas-onfire.blogspot.it

Probably, those who have a romantic vein suspended in an undefined past, would like to be like a beautiful porcelain doll. Maybe they would like to have lovely dresses that would rival those of Marie Antoinette ad go to a dreamy Tea Party.

All this things are possible thanks to the Lolita phenomenon, one of the most famous and sophisticated Japanese trends. As a mix between Baroque and Victorian style, it is really appreciated in its home-country but is also known all around the world.

The name refers to, although it doesn’t celebrate, Vladimir Vladimirovič Nabokov’s novel, but this trend is not a tribute to a young and provocative sensuality. In fact, it represents beauty that hides innocence, the elegance in hiding more than showing. Moreover, the name ‘Lolita’ is a Wasei-eigo, a word that includes all those anglophone words that in their original language have a completely different meaning or don’t even exist, but that are part of the Japanese vocabulary.

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It’s not certain when this type of clothing was created. Some think in late 70’s, although it is true that it become popular by the end of the 90’s. This trend was greatly influenced by the musical genre of Visual Kei. It is no coincidence that this type of music is really theatrical not only in its sound but also in band members’ dresses too.

Exemplary are MALICE MIZERE partly thanks to their co-founder and leader of the band Mana (also called Mana-sama by his fans). In particular Mana influenced the “Gothic Lolita” also signing his own brand Moi-même-Moitié.

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Gothic Lolita and Sweet Lolita

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The Lolita Style is divided into two distinctive trends (also divided into many sub-styles) : The Gothic Lolita, maybe the most famous one, and the Sweet Lolita.

The GothLoli (ゴスロリ gosu rori): The Gothic Lolita as we said is probably the most famous type but its name is erroneously attributed to the whole genre. Black is the dominant color celebrated in all its possible shades. But it doesn’t disdain other dark colors like burgundy, dark blue, violet, and emerald green. These colors are often used in both cloth and make-up with heavy and dramatic smokey eyes and lipstick that stand out on the white powder. In fact, this is the only exception to the Lolita style in which this type of powder is used because in all the other styles a more natural look is preferred. The dense embroideries of the clothes are inspired by grim stories with their skulls; or religious themes with crosses (gothic crosses) used in jewelry too. Coffins are used as small purses and small black lacy umbrellas refine the outfit.

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The Aristocrat Style is one of the many sub-genres of the Gothloli but is more mature and somber, as its name suggests, purposely more “aristocrat” and very elegant.

Since the Gothic Lolita style is based on the Victorian Style, that as we remember is emblematic of the Gothic and the refined, we have to take notice of the similarity with the western steam-punk.

Ama-loli (甘ロリ ama rori) : the Sweet Lolita on the other hand prefers pastel colors and especially pink. The same goes with make-up here less dramatic, almost more natural. Nevertheless, it still remains an elaborate style, especially emphatic on the eyes with light shades of pink and fake eyelashes for doll-like eyes, as well as light nuances for the lips. This style too is inspired by the Victorian Age but even more it is influenced by French Rococo. This is a more ‘child-like’ lolita style, were ribbons and bows are dominant. The embroidery are inspired by the world of fairy tales, unicorns and small miniature french sweets like Macaron. They are jewels to show off together with small rucksacks with the shape of small bears or rabbits and the inspiring heroine is “Alice in wonderland”.

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Sub-genres and the Prince

The world of lolitas is various and elaborated, there are genres to suit every taste. The Wa Lolita is a mix between lolita clothes and traditional kimonos, with a Obi around the waist and the classic Geta as shoes; The Qi Lolita, that comes back to the Chinese style where instead of kimonos it modifies Chinese qípáo; The Sailor Lolita is based on the classic sailor uniform with its more elaborated variation; or the Pirate Lolita.

And if you think that the Lolita style is all “Sugar and cinnamon” we also have the Guro Lolita. Here lolitas are inspired by the horror genre with fake blood standing out on pure-white dresses to give the idea of broken porcelain dolls.

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But there are really a great number of examples we could speak about.
A particular note must be given to the Ōji (王子 prince) Style for all those that think that the lolita style is only a girl’s trend. The Prince style is based on models of clothes used by young Victorian Dandies, so here we have short trousers and knee socks. But this doesn’t mean it is a men-only style. If a girl would like to get close to the lolita world and wanted to have a more androgynous style this is the right choice for her.

Must-have, various Brands, animes and influence outside Japan.

There are some cult objects that every Lolita with this name must have in her wardrobe: the Cutsew, blouse with big blows and puff sleeves or the Petticoat, the undergarment used to give a larger shape to skirts and dresses.
For those who would like to know how can lolitas have such beautiful and thick hair… well you must know that it is a wig.
Lolitas embellish them with big ribbons and Bonnets too, the typical small hats used in the past, and this goes together with iconic shoes in a Mary Jane like style. Even if these shoes for kids come from the past century they are the shoes that every Lolita wears.

photo credit: pinterest

Aside from that of Mana-sama, other popular brands are Angelic Pretty, e Baby, The Stars Shine Bright, this last one with boutiques not only in Tokyo but in Paris and San Francisco too.
We must say that the lolita fashion is very expensive, but there are Indie brands
as beautiful as the most famous one that are certainly less expensive. And in Japan there’s the possibility to buy lolita clothes in department stores too, or there are dedicated web sites that sell second or third hand clothes. In other words it is a style open to everyone.

The Lolita phenomenon found its way to many successful animes too.
Some examples are Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa better known as the ‘mother’ of Nana; Princess Princess, where the lolita fashion is seen through the eyes of three boys; Le Portrait de Petit Cossette, female and Noir version of the Portrait of Dorian Gray; and Rozen Maiden too, where the protagonists are precisely beautiful dolls.

As we said, Lolitas are famous not only in Japan but we can meet a great number of small communities from America to Europe.
Lolitas gather together in refined Tea Houses to celebrate the 5 o’clock tea with the class and the style that distinguishes them from any other trend.

Japanese Tradition: Oiran


Courtesans that led fashion

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In ancient Japan ‘women of pleasure’ were called Yūjo (遊女). This word identified their job and also marked the difference between common prostitutes and courtesans, also called Oiran (花魁). The figure of the Oiran is the one we will analyze in this article.

The word Oiran derives from the sentence ‘oira no tokoro no nēsan’ (おいらの所の姉さん) that means ‘My older sister’. However, the literal translation would also be ‘The leader of all flowers’ since it is written with the kanji of 花 (Hana) “flower” and the kanji of 魁 (Sakikage) “leader”. At first, the word referred to high-class prostitutes of the Yoshiwara district (吉原) in Edo, today’s Tokyo. But later it was used in reference to courtesans.

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Oirans carried out their activities during the Edo period in pleasure districts called Yūkaku (that is not to be confused with the Hanamachi were only Geishas lived) . This districts were built outside the city center of Kyoto, Osaka and Edo, and were the only places were prostitution was legalized.
Unlike Yūjos, that sold their sexual favors, Oirans entertained their clients non only with their body but also with their abilities. These included the Sadō or the Tea ceremony, the Ikebana or the art of arranging flowers, being able to play different instruments, reading and having a good general knowledge. In fact, they had to be able to entertain the client also with their brilliant conversation skills.
The highest rank was that of the Tayū (太夫) that had the privilege to refuse a client if they wanted to. They were followed by Kōshi (格子). Their clients were part of the elite of the society like Daimyōs and rich feudal lords, and this was because the fee for a Oiran was very high. Just think that one night with an Oiran was equivalent to a whole year of a worker’s salary. To be able to meet one of them, clients had to be invited by the Oiran herself and had to enter a waiting list even weeks long.

The last official Oiran lived until 1761. The increasing popularity of Geishas made the request for Oirans decline. Nowadays this profession is not carried out anymore, if not with the meaning of preserving traditions and customs.
The most fascinating thing about Oirans is that due to the isolation they were forced into by the anti-prostitution law (prostitutes were to live in peripheral areas only) they were also idolized and mystified. They also led fashion and customs. They had the most peculiar hair-styles and the most rich and fancy kimonos with Getas (Japanese traditional shoes) fifteen cm high.

photo credit: tokyocheapo.com

Shinano, Sakura e Bunsui.

There are many events that celebrate these women during the year.

The first one, that takes place in April in the city of Tsubame, Hokuriku region, is the Bunsui Sakura Matsuri Oiran Dōchū. It is a parade famous throughout Japan were girls from different regions parade along the streets in order to obtain the role of one of the three leading Oirans : Shinano, Sakura and Bunsui. These names derive from the flowers of three different types of cherry trees. The girls parade ahead of a minimum of seventy different accompanying figures like Kamuros, their helpers, servants and concubines too. Each figure is selected every year with utmost care.

photo credit: wikipedia

In September in Shinagawa there is the Oiran Dōchū parade, and every early October in Nagoya, around the Ōsu Kannon temple, there’s the Ōsu Street Performers Festival were thousands of spectators can attend a two-days parade. Here Oirans walk down the shopping galleries of the Ōsu Kannon district with their whole entourage. Part of this entourage is the Yojimbo, similar to samurai but that actually has the role of a bodyguard, and there are apprentices too.

Charming, sensual and mysterious, like everything is in Japan, women of thousands faces and talents, beauty of an ancient time.

gion Matsuri

Japanese Tradition: Gion Matsuri

Gion Matsuri: an unique experience

photo credit: Daranice

The Gion Festival or Gion Matsuri (祗園祭), this is how it has been called since the Meiji era, takes its name from the famous Kyōto area, Gion, Higashiyama district. It’s a religious celebration dedicated to the Susanoo God, also known as Takehaya Susanoo-no-Mikoto, worshiped in the Yasaka shrine.
Susanoo, God of the sea and storms, it’s also the God of the dead, as well as Amaterasu’s brother, from whom the Japanese Emperor’s family line is believe do descend.

Together with the Aoi Matsuri (May 15th) and the Jidai Matsuri (October 22nd), the Gion Matsuri is one of the three biggest religious festivals in Kyōto, and Japan as well. It is held every summer for the whole month of July. It is meant to calm the spirits of the dead and ask for protection over the city to the God so that he can keep illnesses and natural disasters away.

As you can imagine it’s a matsuri full of events. The most important and attractive are the Yamaboko Junkō ( 山鉾巡行, float’s parade) and the Mikoshi Togyo (神輿渡御, parade of the devine palanquins). Both this events are held between July 17th and 24th, when the festival reaches its climax.
One of the main reasons for the spectacularity of this festival is surely the size of the floats, especially the ones called Hoko. They can even be 25 meters high with a weight of over 10 tons that can move thanks to wheels about 2 meters of diameter. Every float is rebuilt every year from scratch, and then destroyed at the end of every festival. All the pieces are held together without the use of screws, as tradition wants.
But let’s move ahead with order...

A little bit of history

gion Matsuri

photo credit: kyotodeasobo.com

Tradition says that Gion Matsuri was born in 869. Since a century or so, the Imperial court had moved from Nara to Heiya-kyō (today’s Kyōto) and it was dominated by the Fujiwara family.
It is said that during a plague, the Imperial court decided to hold the first goryōe (御霊会), a purification ritual in the small Shinsen'en shrine. You need to know that at the time the city was situated in a very swampy area, very hot and humid. High concentration of people together with the absence of a proper drainage system made it easy for waste waters to contaminate clean waters. It’s not difficult to imagine that illnesses like malaria, smallpox, flu and dysentery became widely present. However, in ancient Japan the cause of all this was said to be something else entirely.

gion Matsuri

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According to the prediction of a master priest, the real cause of the plagues were devious spirits, identified in the ghosts of prince Sawara Shinnō and his companions. They, accused of the murder of the noble Fujiwara no Tanetsugu, died professing their innocence till the last moments.
The first goryōe was held while trying to calm the spirit by invoking the Susanoo God. Furthermore, the noble Urabe Hiramaru raised 66 spears, one for each Japanese region, so to enclose the evil spirits inside and purify the capital.
It was here that the custom of bringing three mikoshis, or divine palanquins, into procession was born, and it was also decided that a goryōe had to be head every time that a plague or illness was spreading.
Everything was accompanied by other celebrations and joyful moments.
Until 970, when it was decided that the Gion Goryōe (祗園御霊会) had to be held every year.

Afterward, starting from the Muromachi period, the event was enriched with the typical floats, the yamaboko (山鉾), also parading along the streets of the city. These were built thanks to the collaboration of the merchant class that in this very period lives a moment of success after centuries of denigration. Floats were adorned with decorations that became richer and more sophisticated year after year.
In other words, the parade also became a way to show off the richness of the merchant class.

In spite of some small interruptions (during the Ōnin war (1467-1477) and during World War II (1941-1945) ), the festival still lives today and can be proud of more than a thousand years of history.


Celebrations that,as we said, go on for the whole month of July, involve all the different areas of the city.

It kicks off on July 1st, where a ceremony called Kippuiri (吉符入) is held at the Yasaka shrine, Here, representatives of all the districts of the city in charge of the organization of the festival pray so that the it can proceed smoothly and with no incidents.

On July 2nd, at the Town Hall of Kyōto, takes place a lottery headed by the mayor of the city, through which the order of the floats for the parade is decided. Still, opening the procession is always duty of the Naginataboko (長刀鉾).

photo credit: heterophyllum

On July 10th, starts the preparation of the mikoshi (神輿), three palanquins that will house three small shrines dedicated to Susanoo. At the same time, a few buckets are immersed from the Shijō bridge into the sacred waters of Kamo river to draw the water that will be used to wash the mikoshi. In the late afternoon there’s also a parade with the exhibition of paper lanterns of traditional manufacturing that will be used to receive the God.

Also on the 10th, starts the building of the floats and walking along central streets of Kyōto you’ll be able to see theme slowly taking shape by the hands of their wise builders.

The days between the 14th and the 16th are those immediately preceding the main celebration. July 14th is known as yoi-yoi-yoi-yama (宵々々山), the 15th as yoi-yoi-yama (宵々山) while the 16th is called yoi-yama (宵山). The same goes for July the 21st,22nd e 23rd. During this days, starting from 6:00 p.m, the streets closed to traffic overflow with visitors and tourists voices. Here you can walk around vending stands, under the light of the paper lanterns always kept alive, admiring the yamabokos.
And it is also in this days that ancient families of the town open up their window so that people passing by can admire ancient treasures guarded for generations.

On July 15th, the imitaketate (斎竹建) and the yoimiya-sai (宵宮祭) are held. The first one is a ritual during which bamboo truncks are put together in square shape to delimit the area of the procession and protect it from contamination. On the other hand the yoimiya-sai is held at Yasaka shrine, and durig this ritual the spirit of the god is transferred into the 3 portable mikoshi that have already been purified.

gion Matsuri

photo credit:  Tomomi Onishi

In July 16th the musicians from all the floats go to the temple to pry for good weather the following day, and all is accompanied with music and dancing events along the way.

July 17th is the long awaited day in which the festival reaches its climax. It is the moment of the Yamaboko Junkō, the great floats parade. Floats are divided into 2 groups, yama 山 (mountain) and hoko 鉾 (spear). The opening group it that of the 9 hoko floats, and they symbolize the 66 spears used by Urabe Hiramaru to drive away the evil spirits. The second group is that of the 23 yama floats, smaller than the hokos, that carry life-size representations of important and famous personalities.
Every hoko carries musicians that accompanying the procession with their music.
Kon-kon chiki-chin, kon-kon chiki-chin… This is the distinctive sound of the Gion Matsuri, a traditional rhythm dating back to the Edo period.
And along the parade a profusion of many different dancers and acrobats make it even more joyful and lively. Obviously each and every one of them is dressed in colorful and rigorously traditional clothes.

Has said before the parade is lead by the Naginata-boko, called after the naginata (typical Japanese spear) that springs up from its top, and that is said to have the power to drive away evil spirits and plagues. The original Heian naginata had been forged in metal, but the one we can admire today is made of bamboo.

It is on the Naginataboko that a chigo (稚児) is carried, a young child dressed up in rich, traditional clothes with a golden phoenix-shaped headgear. This child has the duty to represent the God during the festival.
The chosen one, usually selected from the most powerful and important merchant and commercial families of the town, has to undergo a long preparation period before he is allowed to take on this role. Weeks of purification rites and complete isolation, away from everything that could contaminate him, including women. He is not even allowed to walk on common ground but he is carried by men in charge of this duty.
He will have the duty to cut with a single blow a big sacred thatch rope. This is the Shimenawa-kiri (しめ縄切り), an act through which the divinity enters the human world severing the limit that devised the two worlds, and with this act the great celebration can officially starts.

gion Matsuri

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In the late afternoon, takes place the mikoshi togyo, where the three mikoshis leave the temple. It is the long awaited Shinkō-sai (神幸祭), or the emerging of the divinity from the temple with its palanquins carried on shoulders around the streets of the city.

On July 24th this double procession is repeated and in the evening the three mikoshis are brought back to their temple. This is the moment of the Kankō-sai (還幸祭), through which the spirit of the God finally returns to the world he belongs to.
At the end of the parade the floats are immediately dismantled and all pieces kept until the next festival.

gion Matsuri

photo credit:  Tomomi Onishi

On the same day takes also place the Hanagasa Junkō (花傘巡行), an event that, as suggested from the name, has flowers as its protagonist. In fact, it is written with the kanjis of hana (花) or flower, and kasa (傘) or umbrella. During the parade, the floats and all participants parading along the streets are all decorated with umbrellas and hats embellished with flowers.
The parade is opened by small mikoshis carried by young children, then follows a large parade of people in traditional clothes. There are representatives of social and cultural associations, musicians, dancers, acrobats and in particular some of the most famous geishas and maikos of the town. And they surely are the loveliest flowers displayed the event.

gion Matsuri

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On July the 28, takes place the ceremony of the mikoshi-arai (神輿洗式),or the ritual of washing the mikoshis at Yasaka shrine, to purify the three palanquins, till next year.
If you are around don’t miss this moments. In fact, it is said that being hit by little splash of the water dedicated to the god brings good luck..

To mark the end of the Gion Matsuri there is the nagoshisai (夏越祭) festival, that is held every July 31st at Ekijin shrine.
Tied to the tori, the entrance gate that marks the beginning of the sacred area of the temple, there is a big thatch rope in the shape of a circle with 2 meters in diameter. It is the Chinowa (茅の輪).
Please do pass through it to be purified, and then you’ll receive a protection charm on with there’s written “Somin-shorai shison nari(蘇民将来子孫也) that means “I’m Somin Shorai’s descendant”. According to the legend, Somin Shorai was a simple man that one day happened to give hospitality to a traveler that had already been refused by a rich man. The traveler then reveals himself as a God and to thank him for his hospitality teaches him how to make lucky charms. Since then it is believed that this charms can push away catastrophe and thieves.

gion Matsuri

photo credit: kyoto-tabiya.com

gion Matsuri

photo credit: kyotoiju.com

That of the Gion Matsuri in a long trip in which History and legend, religion and entertainment are entwined together. It is real a one-of-a-kind event.
And you? Have you ever been able to take part to it? We are waiting for your comments and experiences!

Japanese Culture: Geisha & Maiko

Maiko and Geisha: Dancing Artists

photo credit: metmuseum.org

The most representative and mysterious artistic figure of the 'Country of the rising sun' is the Geisha (芸者 "Person who embodies art").

She is often confused with the Maiko (舞妓 "Dancing girl") that is the apprentice and aspiring geisha. To become a geisha is required a long period of apprenticeship in dedicated schools. Here girls learn how to dance, sing and the use of the Shamisen (三味線 "Three strings" typical musical instrument). Regarding the skills of entertaining costumers, the maiko learns everything following a geisha around the many tea houses. The relationship between maiko and geisha is like a real ‘Sisterhood’. The two of them respectively call each other imoto-san or “younger sister”, and onee-san “big sister". The bound between them is so strong that the stage name of the future geisha is chosen by her big sister, and the maiko will carry that name for all her artistic career.

photo credit: freshdesignpedia.com

The bright colors of their kimonos will become darker as the geisha becomes older. The Nihongami, the typical hair-style of the Edo period, is very intricate and difficult both to realize and to maintain. It is usually embellished with the Kanzashi, decorative hair ornaments that would vary depending on the season (for example flowers in spring, doves for the New Year). The kanzashi too will become simpler over time, and the excessive make-up, with its typical small carmine lips standing out on a snow-white face, will be substituted with a different one for a more natural effect.

The little habit of exposing the neck (in the Japanese culture the neck is the most sensual part of a woman) will add another painted white line to the two lines previously used.

In the past the daughters of geishas would start on this path at a young age. Nowadays it is more common to start the apprenticeship after completing university studies. Nevertheless, this is a career started out of their free will and not in order to continue a family tradition. It must be said that this community made of women, with their strict traditions and strong moral ethics, is determined to keep its centuries-old secret.

The art of being a woman”

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Usually, in the common imagery, geishas are women full of charm but submissive, devoted to their man and their every little whim. However this is a mistake since in the past they were the first women in the Japanese society with full autonomy.
Everything started from the Taikomochis (太鼓持), jesters that entertained the Shōgun (将軍 "commander of the army") and his Daimyō (大名) the nobility, with acrobatic exercises and jokes.

In spite of the Taikomochis being really appreciated for their carefree spirit, this figure came to slowly disappear with the appearance of the first geishas. Obviously the created a sensation and they were soon preferred to taikomochis for their sensual movements and feminine gracefulness.

But these women were not courtesans nor prostitutes. Prostitutes were identified as Oirans (花魁). Geishas were artists highly requested. Theirs skills included dancing, singing and music in general. They also had to be good conversationalist and entertainer. They would perform their profession in the Okiya (置屋) or “Geisha houses” in Kyoto, the capital of the Empire at that time. During the second half of ‘800 the isolation of Japan, that had lasted for about two-hundred years, came to an end. This was the exact moment when Europe came in contact with a new exotic harbor.

With this, the whole world came to know the figure of the geisha and her charm. And they would influence the occidental style and costumes too. Puccini composed the moving Madame Butterfly, and in the field of the pictorial arts they became muses for well-know painter of the time. Manet, Monet, Klimt, Renoir and Van Gogh are just some of the artists that tried to take their inspiration from this so-called Nipponism. This artistic movement was a tribute to the art of the Ukiyo-e (浮世絵 "picture of the floating world). And not only this, we find geishas in the prints of Katsushika Hokusa (The Great Wave off Kanagawa) and Kitagawa Utamaro. Utamaro in particular became famous for his prints dedicated to women. The more this artistic movement grew in Japan, the more the ukiyo-e prints became famous all over the world too, and the demand for it equally increased.

photo credit: makeuppix.com

Wives of nightfall”

During the Second World War with the arrival of American soldiers the figure of the geisha was distorted. They were given the role of prostitutes because the young girls comforting the soldiers were called “geisha girls”. This produced an anti-feminist and erroneous idea of this women.

It was really difficult for the geishas to focus on love because of the strict rules required in this profession. They could have as sole companion their Danna (旦那). In Japanese “danna” means master and he was the closest thing to a husband for them. He would take care of his protege financially supporting her performances, and sometimes extinguishing the debt that she had with the okiya for her instruction. Usually it was the danna that would chose his geisha, not the contrary. Nevertheless it was not rare for them to fall in love.

Luckily times have changed. Today geishas can freely fall in love with the person they want, but obviously they will put an end to their activities after marriage. It is common for ex geishas to become dance teachers.

still from the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha"

The number of geishas is strongly decreasing and it is a profession kept alive mostly for touristic purpose. In fact, their audience is not made by men only, but women appreciate them too.

I would like here to report the marvelous words of Arthur Golden that with his best seller “Memories of a Geisha” created a beautiful picture of this figure. He allowed us to rediscover this parallel universe half-way between the past and the modernity.

Geisha is an artist of the floating world. She dances. She sings. She entertains you. Whatever you want. The rest is shadows. The rest is secret.”



Japanese Folklore: Kappa

Kappa or “Son of the river”

A Kappa is a funny chimera, its true appearance is still unknown, a bit human a bit monkey-like. But most of the times it is depicted with the face of a tortoise with a yellow beak. From tortoises it borrowed the shell and the scaly skin with its watery colors, usually of a nice seaweed-green. On the head it carries a lotus leaf containing water, and it is from this water that it draws its powers. This is the Kappa (河童) or, if you like, you could call it Kawatarō ( "boy of the river") or Kawako ("son of the river"), you will make him happy.


Born as a warning to scare kids away from the dangers lurking into deep waters, they are Shintoist Suijin (水神 "water god"). However, generally speaking these mythological figures are one of the many Yōkai (demons or phantoms) of the Nipponic folklore.

As much as its appearance may arouse your mockery, the Kappa is not the type to make fun of because it is a mischievous and naughty creature. In the past it was said that he abducted children because it is a glutton for them, but didn’t say no to adults bowels. They are always ready to do mischievous pranks from pulling the kimono of young girls to stealing the harvest of farmers.


Even if it is naughty and somewhat dangerous, formalities are a good way to be safe with it. That’s right, it is a very polite creature even if it seems hard to believe. The Kappa loves good manners and if you make him do a good, deep bow, it will spill its magical water and lose all its powers. The Kappa is also a creature always ready to stick to its word and to give rewards. If you find a Kappa in difficulty help it by pouring water on the leaf on its head, it will be indebted to you for life! Maybe you would like to have one of them as a friend? Well, I said nothing but Kappa love cucumbers! Yes! Offer this fresh vegetables to a Kappa and it will reward you with its friendship. And well, who wouldn’t like to have one as a friend nowadays?

Usually, they live in lakes and deep ponds and this is why they are skilled swimmers. But here we must say “kappa no kawa nagare”, "a kappa drowing in a river" , because even the most skilled make mistakes, so never give up!


Nowadays they are not as feared as in the past, they have become somewhat more “Kawaii” and a great number of animes take a cue from them. In Marmalade Boy the two main characters Miki and Yu have a Kappa plush as their mascot; different Pokemons were inspired to this creature and Kappa no Coo to Natsuyasumi (Summer days with Coo) is the story of the friendship between a kid of our days and a Kappa looking for its fellows.

Even J.K. Rowlong wrote about this mythological creature in her book Fantastic beasts: where to find them. And if you are interested in seeing a real one, or at least what is left of it, you would like to go to Asakusa, Tokyo district. In the Buddhist temple Sogen-ji you can worship its remains.

photo credit: manganews, wikipediafacebook.com/TeaFoxIllustrations

Japanese Culture: Vampire Knight

Vampire Knight: Japan's Vampires

Which are the most fascinating and feared creature of the darkness of all times? The answer is simple and obvious: the Vampires.

In the common imaginary vampires have their origins in the inland Europe, but probably not many know that there is a race of vampires that actually comes from Japan! We are talking about Vampire Knight.
ヴァンパイア騎士 (Vanpaia Naito) is written by Matsuri Hino. She is a really an expert in the shōjo-gothic genre and debuted on the January number of the magazine LaLa in 2015. The artist gives us an extremely romantic image of vampires. Beautiful in the eyes of humans, they are different from the common "bloodsuckers".

They have blood running in their veins too, and drinking the blood of the beloved person is a sign of devotion like no other that will quench the thirst of the vampire who does it.

The Cross Academy

In an obscure world out of space and time the protagonists of Vampire Knight live in a prestigious private school with an unusual class structure. Students are divided in two different classes. The Day Class, attended by normal people that take their lessons during the day, and the Night Class, whose students are hiding a secret. To other students they are like an elite of geniuses, but in reality they are beautiful vampires. Only three people of the Day Class know the truth about the Night Class: the school director and the two “Guardians”: Yuki Cross, the protagonist and Zero Kiryu.

Around them, we find among others the characters of Shiki Senri, Hanabusa Aidou e Takuma Ichijo, mysterious and charming noble vampires bounded to the Pureblood and head of the Night Class Kaname Kuran by a strong friendship and the obedience imposed by hierarchy.

From this starting point takes place a thrilling story full of twist and turns. The panels, that were skillfully drawn by the artist, have a dark touch through which the protagonists communicate the anxieties of their souls and the pathos they live day after day.

The vampires depicted here are creatures surrounded by a natural sensuality. Like in the best literary tradition, even the most gory scene is magically enveloped by an aura of charm and refinement. All this contributes to make every kind of fight less bloody.

Eternal love and damnation

The characterizing theme of Vampire Knight is Eternal Love. The internal struggle of the characters to conquer what their heart truly desires, the will to withstand even the most painful choices.
Considering this aspect, Kaname’s personality is the most complex of all. Authoritative especially with his classmates of the Night Class and merciless toward his enemies. He is rarely seen smiling or letting himself go, but his personality changes in front of Yuuki. He shows all his tenderness and the great sense of protection he is capable of only with her. The metaphor of tormented love, that emotion that entails despair, pain and inner struggle. All of this embodies in the character of Kaname the determination, the strength and the ability to overcome every boundary in order to reach his objective.

Anime, CD Drama and Novels

A story like this certainly couldn’t be left only written on the paper. The first episode of the anime series of Vampire Knight was produced by Studio Deen. It was aired on TV Tokyo on April 8, 2008. Its success convinced the director Kiyoko Sayama to work on a second series, Vampire Knight Guilty. It was aired on October 7, 2008 and a third one aired during 2014. Unforgettable are the opening themes of both seasons. These are "Futatsu no Kodō to Akai Tsumi” e "Rinne: Rondo”. Together with the ending themes “Still Doll” and “Suna no Oshiro”, they were included in the soundtrack album consisting in 30 tracks composed by Haketa Takafumi.

More than that, 2 CD drama were released. One is “LaLa Kirameki” released in September 2005. The second volume “Vampire Knight Midnight CD-Pack”, available only through online order.

Moreover, Matsuri Hino in collaboration with Ayuna Fujisaki published two Light Novels in 2008. Both novels are not specifically based on chapters of the manga but are side-stories about some characters of the story.
In November 2008 an official Fanbook was published too: “Vampire Knight Fanbook: Cross”. This last work gives further information on the characters and also includes detailed images of the author’s storyboard.

And the story doesn't end here...

Photo credit: Google images Vampire Knight wiki;

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Japanese Culture: Shingeki no Kyojin

SHINGEKI NO KYOJIN – The revelation of the past few years

This time we will talk about Shingeki no Kyoujin (進撃の巨人), translated in English as Attack on Titans, the revelation of this past few years.
It's an action horror shōnen manga series already recognised as a cult among anime and manga fans. For those who don't know it, it is enough to know that in just a short period of time it was able to climb up all charts, Japanese ones and worldwide too. It became one of the most viewed anime around the world, and its original manga ranks second in numbers of sold copies, second only to One Piece.

To give you some numbers, we talk about around 2 million copies per volume (Japanese sales), while One Piece sales are around 3 million copies.
This results are even more incredible if we consider that One Piece has many years of releases already (the first volume was released back in August 1997). On the contrary, the first volume of Shingeki no Kyojin was release only in September 2009. This numbers are enough to make your head spin, and contributed to let this manga gain the prestigious Kodansha Manga Award in the shōnen category in 2011, to say the least.

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The original manga is published by one of the largest publishing companies in Japan, the Kodansha Publishing. It counts 21 volumes up to today. It was created by Hajime Isayama and the story, and it takes place in an alternative Midldle Age era. The plot revolves around the character of Eren Jaegar. He lives in a world that many centuries before had been on the verge of destruction. The few humans that survived now live in a urban complex built inside three concentric walls, 50 meters each. The only protection between mankind and the outside world overrun by mysterious creatures are the titans.

This titans resemble human beings but they can be from 3 to 15 meters tall, apparently thoughtless and with the sole objective of devouring human flesh. However, an unexpected event will bring this period of peace to an end. A titan so tall that he could even surpass the walls, appears from nowhere opening a hole in the most external wall. This allowed other titans to break into the city and leading to the massacre of many human lives.
Eren, after regaining his senses because of the loss of his mother by the hands of a titan, swears to eliminate every single titan in the world, and he will not be alone in this fight against the unknown.

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Anime adaptation and international recognition

This series gained its worldwide success thanks to its anime adaptation, produced by Wit Studio in collaboration with the famous Production I.G, that was release in 2013.
The difference with the original panels of Isayama in terms of visual impact is astonishing: with an incredible attention to even the smallest detail, and animated by an extremely realistic animation, all the characters take their actions on a background equally elaborated and realistic. The producers of the animated series filled the holes in terms of style left by the mangaka. He also followed the whole production, giving advice on which was the best way to give shape to his ideas.

The original soundtrack skillfully created follows the whole narration. It never fall silent, it never leaves open spots. Instead, it contributes to underline every instant of the story and envelopes the viewer in an action anime full of twists and turns.
Action, horror elements, political intrigues, religious fanaticism and the fight for survival create the background. Here well delineated characters take their action, in a crescendo of action and suspense, showing us both the strength and fragility of human beings.

Nothing has been left to chance. Even characters that apparently look not so important will be proven to have a fundamental role to play.
The horror element is skillfully balanced, it doesn't exceed into pure violence, searching for the smallest gory detail. All this makes the animated version even more enjoyable and appropriate even for people who don't really like this genre.

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This series is open to many interpretations, someone even wanted to read into it a sort of political propaganda. However, the author himself gave us some keys to understanding the genesis of the story.

For examples, the 3 walls in which mankind survives, can be seen as both a protection and a suffocating prison. This is the exact same feeling that the Isayama experienced living in his hometown in Ōita prefecture surrounded by mountains. And it is clearly visible here a parallelism with Japanese society, generally known to be isolationist and enclosed.

Furthermore, the titans represent the fear of the unknown, an unknown that you can't even communicate with.
At times the story makes you experience a feeling of overwhelming anguish and fear. The same feeling that is so common in our modern society where nothing is what it seems, but all the characters never stop fighting in their quest for truth and freedom.

Fukai yami wo ore wo nukedashita. Hayate mitai ni nigedashita.
We broke out of the thick darkness. We escaped from what seemed like a hurricane.
Ikita shikabane mitai datta oretachi wa, kabe no soto e.
We, who look like living corpses, are going outside the walls.
Mata aou ze, chizu ni nai basho de.
Let's meet again, in the unmapped place.

The grate escape by Cinema staff – Second ending

What's next?

The plot hides a secret that is still unknown but you might want to know that the original manga has now entered the final arch so, important truths might be unveiled very soon.
In a moment that some would call of stagnation for the Japanese animation, Shingeki no Kyojin was able to impose its originality, and Isayama created a distinctive style of his own. And this originality was rewarded with the great success in terms of fans that it had and that are still increasing.

Moreover, another good news for all affectionate fans that were kept waiting since 2013: after many denial ad postponements, 3 ova, and a lot of patience of the fans, it was finally announced that the first episode of the second season of the anime will be aired on April 1st (April's fool? Doesn't seem to be the case). The wait is over.

Fonti: Atpressgoogle



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Japan History: Oda Nobunaga

Oda Nobunaga

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A copy of Oda Nobunaga's portrait by the Italia painter Giovanni Nicolao, probably commissioned by Nobunaga himself.

Oda Nobunaga is the son of Oda Nobuhide one of the daymio from the Owari province. When his father died in 1551, he started to go completely crazy taking the distance from the Oda clan allies, preferring his brother Nobuyuki.
Even if he was Nobuhide's heir, he wasn't sure to be able to succede him. The Oda clan was subject to Kanrei Shiba Yoshimune, head of this clan was Nobunaga's uncle, Nobutomo. Even Nobutomo had Yoshimune killed when he tried to help Nobunaga. Despite that, he managed to get help from another uncle, Nobumitsu up till he conquered the castle of Kiyosu. Here Nobutomo was killed and Nobunaga lived here for the next 10 years.

Oda Nobunaga also, thanks to the alliance with the Imagawa clan and the Kira clan, was able to move his army in the Mino province (1555). All this to help Saitō Dōsan. However, ths campaign proved to be a failure because Dōsan was defeated in 1556 and Yoshihatsu took his place.

A few months later, Nobuyuki, Shibata and Hayashi Katsuie Hidesada, challenged Nobunaga to control the Oda clan, but lost. However, they were forgiven thanks to Nobunaga's mother who interceded on their behalf. Nevertheless, Nobunaga continued to be suspicious of Nobuyuki, much to pretend to be sick to invite him to his castle in Kyiosu and assassinate him in 1557.

From 1559

In 1559 Nobunaga had defeated all kinds of internal opposition to the clan becoming Lord of Owari.
For a while he has continued to enter into alliances with other damiyō thanks to Kanrei Shiba Yoshikane. However when he found them to be in talks with Kira and Imagawa in an attempt to attack the Oda clan, he went to war.

In 1560 Nobunaga faced the great army of Imagawa Yoshimoto. This army was formed by a number of men who oscillated between 20,000 and 40,000 men. Although he was marching towards Kyoto, with his small army of 2000 men, he played it smart. In the famous battle of Okehazawa, he took advantage of a violent and sudden storm to attack the camp of Imagawa and kill Yoshimoto, surprising the whole country for the lightning victory. Since that time, the name of Oda Nobunaga was famous throughout Japan and the Matsudaira clan signed an alliance with him.

Saitō Yoshitatsu of the Mino province, died in 1561 and was succeeded by his son Tatsuoki. However, he was too young and inexperienced to win the confidence of his vassals. Nobunaga obviously took advantage of the situation and moved his castle in Komaki to attack Mino. Then he convinced the vassals to leave their incompetent and inexperienced Lord. In 1567, Oda Nobunaga was able to take possession of the castle and to exile Inabayama Tatsuoki. Nobunaga moved into his new castle, renaming it Gifu. The word Gifu came from Mount Gi, from which the conquest of China set off  by the Zhou Dynasty and Tenka Fubu. With this he also forged a seal, which means "one military sign under the sky", this was a way of saying that he would like all of Japan under one sword and fill Japan with military glory.

From 1564

In 1564, Nobunaga gave his sister Oichi in marriage to Azai Nagasama, securing the support of the Azai clan. In 1568, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, brother of Yoshiteru, went to Gifu to ask for Nobunaga's military aid to oust the shogun Yoshihide. Nobunaga agreed to get one shogun to legitimize their military campaigns and at the same time being in control of the capital Kyoto. Nobunaga conquered all the castles of Rokkaku. Yoshiaki became shogun and offered Kanrei's place to Nobunaga, but he refused.
As soon as Yoshiaki realized he was manipulated by Nobunaga, he began to plot against him seeking allies willing to fight. Thanks to the alliance with the Asakura clan, Yoshiaki entered a conflict with the Oda clan and even managed to afflict them heavy losses. In the battle of Anegawa, Nobunaga defeated the armies of the Azai and Asakura clans.

From 1571

In 1571 he attacked the Buddhist monastery of the Tendai Enryaku-ji school. At this point he attacked the Nagashima fortress, killing thousands of people.
Despite being in a good relationship with the Oda clan, the Takeda Shingen Takeda clan joined the alliance against Nobunaga. In 1572 he marched to the capital, but died in 1573 before reaching it so Nobunaga defeated Yoshiaki and exiled him ending the Ashikaga shogunate.

In the same year the Azai and Asakura clans were finally defeated, and his brother-Azai Nagamasa, after giving back his sister Oichi, performed seppuku. The heir of Shingen Takeda Katsuyori, was defeated in 1575 in the Battle of Nagashino. Here the Oda-Tokugawa faction used for the first time the muskets purchased from the Portuguese. The army of Takeda was mowed before reaching the melee clash.

Azuchi Castle

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Continuing his expansion, Oda Nobunaga began to dislocate his generals in control of individual provinces. Shibata Katsuie and Maeda Toshiie were sent to the north and Akechi Mitsuhide to the Tamba province. Hashiba Hideyoshi was instead sent to the West in 1577 against the Mori clan. The latter was sustaining with supplies by sea the Ikko fortress of Ishiyama Honganji. Here Nobunaga's army ran the siege for some time from the ground.
In 1578, the new Nobunaga's castle was completed, known as the castle of Azuchi. Impressive for its extravagant decorations, the period between the fall of the Ashikaga shogunate and the death of Nobunaga was named from this castle. This is now known as Azuchi period.

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Oda Nobunaga & Uesugi Kenshin

In 1577, however, Uesugi Kenshin, the second best general of his time after Takeda Shingen, decided to take part in a second anti-Nobunaga alliance. The first encounter took place at the Battle of Tedorigawa, resulting in a decisive victory for Kenshin. Uesugi then began to prepare his march on Kyoto. According to one tradition, Nobunaga allegedly confessed to one of his officers that if Kenshin had come to Kyoto with his army, he would have no choice but to surrender and hope to be spared. Uesugi Kenshin, however, died, possibly of a heart attack, or perhaps stomach cancer, while he was in his wash house. According to sources of the time, his health seemed compromised since some time.

Without no good rivals, Nobunaga forced the last Ikko rebels to surrender in the fortress of Ishiyama Honganji in 1580. This completely destroyed the Takeda clan in 1582, during the Battle of Temmokuzan.
Nobunaga was now the undisputed authority in the country, and was preparing to move his armies against the provinces of Echigo, and Shikoku.

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Japan in 1582. The purple areas indicate the territories controlled by Oda Nobunaga in 1560, and the gray areas indicate the territories controlled by Oda Nobunaga until his death, in 1582.

From 1582

In 1582, Hashiba Hideyoshi, one of the generals closest to Nobunaga, invaded the province of Bitchu, besieging the castle Takamatsu. The latter was vital to the Mori clan, because it occupied a strategic position from which it was easy to penetrate into their domain. Mori Terumoto arrived with his army in support of Takamatsu Castle. The two sides found themselves in a stalemate. At this point, Hideyoshi asked reinforcements to Nobunaga.
It was noted that Hideyoshi didn't really need reinforcements. However, he still asked the help of his Lord. According to some, he did it not to directly take credit for the victory, because many generals do not take kindly to the success of a general of humble origin and not part of a samurai clan. According to others, Hideyoshi intended to put Nobunaga in a critical position so to be able to take a personal advantage.

In any case, Nobunaga left the preparations for the invasion of Shikoku to Niwa Nagahide and went with Akechi Mitsuhide to reach Hideyoshi. Along the way, Nobunaga and his men paused in Honnō-ji temple in Kyoto. Here Nobunaga, being at the center of his rule and considering himself safe, was guarded only from a few trusted servants and guards. Unexpectedly, Mitsuhide Akechi ordered his men around the temple in an attempted coup. In the skirmish that followed, Nobunaga lost and retreated inside the temple and Mitsuhide, applying the technique that Nobunaga had so often used, set fire to the temple.

Oda Nobunaga and the legend of his death

It is not known what happened to Nobunaga in his last hours of life. Probably he and his attendant Mori Ranmaru accomplished seppuku while the temple was burning. His remains were never found in the rubble of the temple, giving rise to a wide range of popular legends.
Immediately after the coup, Mitsuhide's men attacked the Nijo Castle, where they forced Nobunaga's heir, Nobutada, to perform seppuku in return.
For eleven days Mitsuhide met various members of the Oda clan and the imperial court to be appointed successor of Nobunaga invain. Upon receiving the news, Hideyoshi signed a truce with the Mori clan. Then he reached out and killed Mitsuhide at the Battle of Yamazaki after only 11 days from Nobunaga's death

Oda Nobunaga, the head of the clan

Nobunaga never accepted any of the titles that were offered. He remained only the head of the clan Oda and the daimyo of Owari. Nevertheless, his authority allowed him to introduce major changes in the country.
One of the most important news of the Azuchi-Momoyama period was the creation of samurai families. In the Muromachi period in fact the many wars had led the clans to accept in their armies anyone skilled in combat. During the Sengoku era basically every male Japanese adult belonged to at least one military organisation.

From 1576 Nobunaga began to confiscate weapons to peasants in the territories he controlled. In this way he reduced the risk of riots and the number of fighters from him not directly controllable. His successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi, despite being originally from a family of farmers, completed the work. He recognized by law the samurai caste. Access to this caste could thus take place only by inheritance by banning all non-samurai to carry firearms. Samurai families who had opposed Nobunaga first, and then Hideyoshi and Ieyasu, were declared illegitimate. Their components became rōnin or civilians.

Oda Nobunaga's military plan

On the military level, Nobunaga led his army to the technological level of the European ones. He took the first large-scale spears, firearms, armored ships, and fortifications worth of the period of mass wars. Some sources also attribute to him the creation of the multi-line formation of the troops equipped with muskets. In this way he was able to ensure continuous focus and therefore a greater impact on the enemy. This tactic, used for the first time in 1575 during the Battle of Nagashino, would in fact appeared in Europe only in 1590. Nobunaga made the first extensive use of European weapons for its military campaign. He brought a radical change to the antiquated military tactics employed by Japanese armies.

His wars, however, are remembered primarily for their violence and ruthlessness. To this we can add the practice of burning enemies alive, that Nobunaga used as a warning to his opponents.
Oda Nobunaga focused on the specialization and professionalization of his army. He gave assignments and promotions based strictly on merit, almost completely ignoring the rules of nobility and family relationships. The rise of Hideyoshi is a prime example of this.
The defeated daimyō expropriated lands then redistributed them among his vassals not based on size, but on the production of rice. With some modifications, Oda Nobunaga's organizational system was extended to the entire country with the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Oda Nobunaga's economic plan

Economically, Oda Nobunaga showed great competence, building castles as focal pin for the economy. In this way he favored the migration from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing type. He built roads between the castles, to facilitate commercial traffic and the movement of armies. He conformed the units. He enhanced the international traffic, with China and Korea also with Nanban ("southern barbarians", a term that covers the Philippines, Siam, and Indonesia, but also Europe). Moreover, he established the Rakuichi Rakuza, to encourage the opening of unions, associations and guilds, prohibiting monopolies that Nobunaga considered an impediment to trade and he also developed laws requiring cases of tax exemption and regulated the contraction of debts.

Oda Nobunaga and the art

Thanks to the wealth accumulated over time, Oda Nobunaga financed various forms of art, and built beautiful gardens and castles. His castle of Azuchi on the shores of Lake Biwa is described by contemporaries as one of the best in history. Covered with gold and statues on the outside and decorated inside with screens, sliding doors, paintings on the walls and ceilings, especially by Kano Eitoku. In this period, Oda Nobunaga's master of ceremonies, Sen no Rikyu codified the rules of cha no yu, the tea ceremony. Nobunaga made this ceremony very popular and used it to discuss politics and business. Under his rule the first examples of kabuki also appeared, developing more organically in the more peaceful Edo period.

Oda Nobunaga and European Culture

Nobunaga was very interested in European culture, so much so that he collected works of art, arms and armor from the west of the world. It is considered one of the first Japanese to be wearing European clothes. Although not religious, he supported the Jesuit missionaries in Japan as a political move against Buddhist monks. Under his rule, on August 15 1576, it was built the first Christian church in Japan.

According to the sources Oda Nobunaga and the entire Oda clan were descendants of both Fujiwara and Taira clans. His ancestry can be directly traced back to his great-great-grandfather Oda Hisanaga, followed by Oda Toshisada, Nobusada Oda, Oda Nobuhide, and Nobunaga himself.

Oda Nobunaga today

Nobunaga appears frequently in the narrative and continues to be described in many anime, manga, video games and movies. It is generally described as evil nature or even demonic, although some of the works depict him in a more positive light. This type of work includes the films of Akira Kurosawa Kagemusha - The Shadow Warrior. Here the character of Nobunaga is energetic, athletic and respectful of his enemies. In Goemon he is described as a master of Ishikawa Goemon. Nobunaga is also a protagonist of the historical story Taiko Ki Eiji Yoshikawa, here is a firm but benevolent lord. It is described in a heroic manner even in some video games as Kessen III, Ninja Gaiden 2 and the Warriors Orochi series. In one of the Hunter × Hunter Ghost Brigade members is a samurai named Nobunaga Hazama.

Oda Nobunaga nelle serie TV e videogiochi

In contrast in the series of novels and anime Yōtōden, he is described literally as a demon and a lord of  warhungry for conquest. In the novel The Samurai's Tale by Erik Christian Haugaard, he is an antagonist "known for his merciless cruelty." It is described as evil or megalomaniac in some manga and anime series including Samurai Deeper Kyo and Flame of Recca.

Nobunaga is described as evil, bloodthirsty, and / or demonic in many video games such as Ninja Master's, Sengoku, Inindo: Way of the Ninja and Atlantica Online, and the game series of Onimusha, Samurai Warriors, Sengoku Basara (and its adaptation as anime) and Soulcalibur. It is also mentioned in Detective Conan in an Osaka case (283-285 episode of the anime).

There are also numerous examples of his descriptions in a more neutral or historical context. These are found especially in the taiga drama (fictional series) on Japanese television. Oda Nobunaga also appears in the manga series Tail of the Moon, Kacchu no Senshi Gamu and in the historical novel by Tsuji Kunio The Lord Shogun of the Warring States. Historical representations in video games (mostly in Western strategic games) include Shogun: Total War, Total War: Shogun 2, Throne of Darkness, "dominations", Ninja Commando and the series Nobunaga's Ambition, like Civilization V and Age of Empires II: The Conquerors and Sengoku Basara.

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Oda Nobunaga was also played by the Japanese singer and actor GACKT in live action Sengoku Basara -Moonlight Party- taken from the video game Sengoku Basara, which aired in 2012.

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GACKT himself created the ending theme of the live action Sengoku Basara -Moonlight Party- with the song Hakuro, in which there are video images of him as Oda Nobunaga, here's a preview of the MV:


sources: googlewikipedia