FUKUOKA -- Kamado, Agatsuma, Shinazugawa, Tsubuyashiki; unusually named characters with uncommon Chinese Kanji character renderings are just one of the many draws in popular manga and anime series "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba," which is currently setting records at the Japan box office with its big-screen adaptation.
But do those names really exist? I went to Higashi Ward in Fukuoka, southwestern Japan, to a specialist hanko seals shop that I previously visited three years ago while reporting another story. Han no Hideshima is often seen on television, touted as the hanko seal shop with the best selection in all Japan. After quickly exchanging pleasantries with manager Tetsu Hideshima, I asked whether the Demon Slayer names and their kanji readings are really used -- to which he quickly and simply told me, "Yes."
Han no Hideshima is a storied shop founded about 90 years ago. At the time it opened, it was in the town of Hakozaki, which had yet to be made part of the city of Fukuoka. Then, the shop was close to Hakozaki's town hall, and Hideshima's father thought the business could be useful for people coming to the building who had forgotten their hanko seals needed for official business.
Hideshima took the shop over in the 1970s, when the economy was growing rapidly. Insurance workers and auto dealers doing their rounds would rush in asking, "Do you have a seal with this surname on it?" He wanted to be able to say yes, whatever the name. Now, his 26.4-square-meter shop boasts a stock of some 100,000 seals, enough to be able to say that there are no names he doesn't have.
With that in mind, there's no way that Hideshima wouldn't have reacted to the hard-to-read and uncommon monikers of Demon Slayer's characters. He became interested in the manga after hearing the news about what a huge hit the film adaptation has been, and said with a smile, "I wondered, what kind of manga is it to make this much of a fuss. When I had a look, more than anything it made me want to check the Chinese kanji characters in their names."
Of course that would be his reaction. Hideshima checked in his stock for the particularly odd names of some characters, and one by one he found hanko for them.
Among the hanko seals he has with the same surnames as "Demon Slayer" characters are ones for protagonist Tanjiro Kamado, his fellow Demon Slayer Corps members Zenitsu Agatsuma, Kanao Tsuyuri, and powerful "Hashira" Demon Slayer Corps members Sanemi Shinazugawa and Mitsuri Kanroji, and their leader Kagaya Ubuyashiki. He also found hanko for the Tecchikawahara part of master swordsmith Tecchin Tecchikawahara's name, and the Kasugai part of Kasugaigarasu, the name for the crows the Demon Slayer Corps use to send messages. According to Hideshima, there are about 10 people in the west Japan prefecture of Hyogo with the surname Kamado, and Tecchikawahara is a surname heard in places like Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture.
Lining up the uncommon names used for the series' characters, Hideshima said he gained an appreciation for its creator's artistic sense. For example, the "tan" in main character Tanjiro Kamado's name means charcoal and his family is introduced as charcoal makers, but Hideshima speculated, "The tan in Tanjiro has from long ago meant to ward off evil. The author probably gave him the name based on that, and made 'Kamado,' a place where there is charcoal, his surname."
Hideshima sells his hanko for 550 yen each. He said that so far he hasn't really had many enquiries from Demon Slayer fans, but that in the past he has had fans of male pop idols ask for hanko seals engraved with the singers' surnames to serve as lucky charms or amulets.
Recently, the government's digital reforms have started pushing for "hankoless" official processes which will make seals unnecessary. Hideshima said sadly, "The practical application of hanko for filling in documents might disappear." But he turned his attention to rakkanin seals used by artists on calligraphic works and ink paintings along with their names, saying, "There might be a movement to create something interesting." Hanko culture, into which he has poured a life's-worth of effort, may yet turn out to be indestructible.
(Japanese original by Emi Aoki, Kyushu News Department)