Japanese Culture: Sakura Shinguji

真宮寺さくら

In Japanese, the family name is said first. Also, while romanized as Shinguji, a word processor would want “shinguuji.”

Sakura means cherry blossom (though it can also refer to the cherry tree). Shinguji here uses kanji at variance with the usual kanji used for this name; Shinguji is a real Japanese last name, but not in this form. These kanji mean true + shrine + temple. Since the Meiji Restoration, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples have been set more cleanly apart than in the past.

The meaning of the name is thus, at once, the beauty of a cherry blossom and a repository of true Japanese cultural values.

And so it is.

A Video Game & Anime Heroine

Sakura Shinguji is the heroine at the heart of the Sakura Wars (“Sakura Taisen,” or サクラ大戦) franchise from game publisher and one-time console manufacturer Sega. The game series is not so much named after her as taking the theme of young, beautiful women battling against the forces of darkness.

At first, the series takes place in Tokyo. The era is the 1920’s. Although modified along the lines of so-called steampunk, that is, imaginary steam-based machines (powered, per se, by the spiritual power, or reiryoku (霊力), of the pilots where the members of the Flower Team (hanagumi, 花組) are concerned.

Raised in Sendai, Sakura is the daughter of a master swordsman who fought demons to protect the Empire years ago and paid with his life. A former comrade of his, now a rather old lieutenant general named Yoneda, calls upon her to join the Imperial Flower Assault Force (my translation – J), usually translated simply as Imperial Assault Force. (Japanese: Teikoku Kageki Dan (帝国華撃団), of which the middle kanji can mean “flower” or “petal.”)

This force is based out of Ginza in the Grand Imperial Theater, with the troupe of all-female stars of the stage under a name that is pronounced the same way, but with kanji making it out to be an opera troupe only. Thus, it is a secret organization devoted to defense of the Empire, but with recruits from around the world.

Old Cultural Values In A New World

In the first game, and at the start of the related manga and anime plots, Sakura is an optimistic, 19 year old girl who is getting her first brush with the modern world. Compared to mid-1920’s rural Sendai, Tokyo is a shockingly huge and busy place; even trains, steam-based automobiles (since this is steampunk), and the crush of people, are all overwhelming. To Sakura, this is a world of wonder, something to be embraced rather than feared.

While Sakura has dreams of starring on the big stage herself, she is rather clumsy, both figuratively and literally. This is not because of a lack of physical aptitude, but rather, failures of concentration; it’s such a new world, she’s still lost in it.

Sakura is earnest and sincere, though she has a mischievous sense of humor. She is a strong believer in teamwork and helping people and is, therefore, quite idealistic. However, she has a strong will that manifests itself at times of crisis, standing up for her friends, her country, and her own love and admiration for recently anointed team leader Ensign Ichiro Ogami.

Budding Mistress of the Sword

Aside from her strong taste in kimono (clothing), which is in the wafuku (“Japanese clothing”) style, she inherits the Hokushin Itto Ryu sword style from her father, Kazuma Shinguji. (“Itto” would be for 一刀 or “single blade.” Miyamoto Musashi’s legendary two-sworded style was known as “nito ryu.” I am using normal romanizations here. – J)

Sakura also inherits a great amount of inner spiritual power, combining to make her a devastating opponent. Even having barely set foot in Tokyo, she briefly made the newspapers (without her identity being revealed) by taking down one of the sorcery-powered humanoid machines of the evil force Kuro no Sukai when one entered a park and menaced civilians there. She took this opponent down in the flesh, with only herself and her katana, the named, spirit sword Arataka (“Wild Falcon.”)

Thus, aside from being very easy on the eyes, she has practical combat power worthy of a main heroine in her own video game/ manga/ anime.

Sakura as Cinderella.

Dreams Of The Stage

Sakura is also an immense fan of not only opera and theater in general, but romantic plays such as Cinderella. Indeed, Sakura is often trying to practice the lines in Cinderella to truly perform well as the character.

Aside from teaching cultural values and to be more than a secret military outfit, this is training in discipline, concentration, footwork, and coolness under pressure. Of course, being new on the stage, Sakura sometimes has… let us say, incidents, that create some friction with other members of the troupe/ team at times.

They’re all part of her enduring charm.

A Cultural Icon

While the heyday of the Sakura Wars franchise has passed us by, Sakura Shinguji is an instantly recognizable cultural icon who seems to embody all of the best of old Japanese cultural values in a beautiful, approachable, kind, gentle, and very human vessel. She presents not only a femininity that is innately appealing to the male spirit, but is an outstanding swordswoman (post-Meiji, we cannot call her samurai but this is simply a technicality) whose faith, devotion, and fierce spirit make her a dependable ally and teammate.

You can learn a lot about Japanese cultural values just by looking at her a little. This is why I have helpfully provided several images… for cultural education, of course. Yes, for educational purposes. What else could they be for…

Trivia

  • Loves pretty much anything romantic.
  • Frightened by lightning (traumatic childhood experience).
  • Electricity is fine, though.
  • Panics at the mere sight of a mouse.
J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for Technorati.com and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: jeremiahbourque@gmail.com
This entry was posted in Anime, Culture, Japan, Manga, video games and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply