Popular anime viewers demon slayer noticed very quickly that Tanjiro Kamado wears unique earrings that help identify him. Especially since he is one of the few anime characters to wear earrings, only a few of the Hashira are depicted with such adornments. But only extremely observant viewers would have noticed the impact the sight of those earrings had on the other characters in the show. These Hanafuda earrings have cultural significance inside and outside the realm of demon slayer. This cultural significance is proof that the animators/character designers put their passion into every detail of this beloved show.
In the anime, Tanjiro and his younger sister Nezuko’s lives are shattered when their family is slaughtered by a demon and she becomes one herself. Tanjiro immediately reacts contrary to the nature of the world and defends his sister’s life against the first Demon Slayer they encounter. He is then forced by this man to pursue a career in the Demon Slayer Corps in order to save human life. Tanjiro’s quest then picks up steam when he decides to make it his mission to confront the Demon King Muzan Kibutsuji, after discovering that it might be the only way to save his sister and bring her back to the humanity.
In the real world
Hanafuda is a Japanese word that can be translated as “flower cards” and describes a style of playing card that is smaller than traditional Western playing cards. They are decorated in bright colors and often have some symmetry, although this is not a requirement. The design of Tanjiro’s Hanafuda earrings is similar to playing cards but not exactly identical.
It might be more accurate to say they were inspired by these real-world maps. It has also been speculated that the difference between the earrings and the cards might have been to make them look like the Japanese rising sun motif. This has two-pronged support, both with the cultural meaning of anime and the rising sun in Japan, and with the meaning of the sun in anime.
This similarity to the rising sun in Japan has caused controversy and resulted in the distribution of modified versions of the earrings in other Asian countries. This modified design depicts four horizontal lines below the red circle instead of out of it. This was designed to avoid links to the Japanese flag specifically associated with World War II war crimes.
These earrings that Tanjiro wears have a long history. They were originally worn by the legendary Demon Slayer Yoriichi Tsugikuni, the originator of the breathing styles that permeate the Corps so much. Tanjiro’s ancestor was a good friend of Yoriichi and was arguably one of his only true friends. Therefore, Yoriichi gave the earrings as a gift, and since then they were passed down from generation to generation until they reached Tanjiro. More importantly, Yoriichi is also the originator of the ultimate breathing technique, Solar Breathing, from which all other techniques are derived.
When the Demon King first interacts with Tanjiro, his first impression is one of fear, especially when he notices the Hanafuda earrings. This is due to the fact that the last real danger to him came from that original solar breather. Muzan had previously believed that he slaughtered everyone who knew this ultimate technique and considered the earrings a sign that there was still a Sun Breather. Unfortunately for him, that ended up being true, although much later. This fear that was instilled in Kibutsuji was so deep that in the very next episode, he ordered his subjects to bring him the head of the Slayer who wears the Hanafuda earrings.
This fear turns out to be true even though Tanjiro is unaware of it. Just as his father passed down the earrings to his son, he also passed down a traditional family dance that held the key to the breath of the sun. The earrings, though lost their meaning to mortals, actually represented the wearer’s understanding of those secret arts that Muzan had so aggressively tried to eradicate.
The Hanafuda earrings worn by Tanjiro in demon slayer have meanings both in their world and in the real world. The real world meanings are both beautiful and controversial in their implications and have resulted in changes to the original design. Meanings in the world of earrings, however, managed to maintain their authenticity even when viewers and characters had no idea. They represent power, strength and hidden skills. They inspire fear in powerful demons and viewers can recognize the beauty inspired by the actual playing cards. It’s rare for so much meaning to be wrapped up in such a small part of an anime, but when it’s pulled out as well as demon slayer managed to do so is truly a testament to the writer’s skill and attention to detail.
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