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The way to count the number of gods in Japanese

Do you know an insanely popular Japanese manga or anime television series named Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba?

Its main characters are Kamado Tanjiro, a young boy who becomes a demon slayer after his family was slaughtered, and his younger sister Nezuko who was turned into a demon.

It was serialized in a weekly manga magazine from February 2016 to May 2020, with its chapters collected in 23 volumes. A 26-episode anime television series adaptation aired from April to September 2019, and a sequel film, Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train, premiered in October 2020 and became the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of February 2021, the manga had over 150 million copies in circulation, including digital versions, making it one of the best-selling manga series of all time.

I’ve never read the manga because it’s really time-consuming and I don’t want to lose my interest in its anime television series. On the other hand, I’ve watched the 26-episode anime television series and the sequel film twice, respectively.

Certainly, the main characters are Tanjiro and Nezuko, but the film focused more on Rengoku Kyojuro, one of 9 hashira, meaning “pillars” in English, with maximum fighting strength in the Demon Slayer Corps. The mainstay is compared to the central pillar in Japanese.

By the way, quite a few people don’t know how to count the number of gods in Japanese because we have few opportunities to do so. While Christians, Muslims or Jews believe in Almighty God, in our indigenous religion Shinto, it’s believed that a god exists for everything.

The term “measure word” is sometimes used to refer to numeral classifiers, which are used with count nouns in some languages. For instance, in English, no extra word is needed when saying “three cats”, but in many East Asian languages, a numeral classifier is added, just as a measure word is added for uncountable nouns in English. For example, to say one cat and three cats in Japanese, you would need to say ippiki no neko (一匹の猫) and sambiki no neko (三匹の猫) respectively, which could be transliterated as one animal cat and three animal cat.

Then, a numeral classifier, hashira or “pillar”, is added to count the number of gods. To say three gods in Japanese, you would say mitsuhashira no kami (三柱の神), which could be transliterated as three pillar god.

In the movie, Rengoku Kyojuro abruptly called Kamado Tanjiro by the wrong family name Mizoguchi. The original author has not cleared up the reason, but there actually exists a Shinto shrine named Mizoguchi Kamado Shrine in western Japan. Many fans of Demon Slayer visit the shrine as a sacred place. Tanjiro dances the divine Shinto kagura passed down to generation to generation before a god Hinokami.

You might be able to enjoy reading manga and watching anime more if you have some knowledge of Shinto. And I hope you will visit a shrine during your stay in Japan after the pandemic.

Yuki Takano, a member of iTWS japan
e-mail: yuki.takano@i3ws.co.jp

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