Yana (chocolateyana) wrote in fushigiyuugi,

Universe of the Four Gods: Research for Writers

So it's been a long while since I last visited this series. I finished Fushigi Yuugi back when I was in 6th grade, and it was one of my first ever manga series. Now, looking back at it, I've been trying to do some extensive research so that I could write a relatively accurate fanfic, but I came across a lot of universe details, so I thought I'd write up on what I've found and some conclusions I've drawn! I thought it'd be easier since I'm Chinese by descent, but Yuu Watase's world is much more complicated than imagined.

Quick note ahead of time that I've only watched a little of the anime series, and none of the OVAs, so my conclusions are based on the universe presented to us in Fushigi Yuugi and its prequel, Genbu Kaiden. I also haven't actually read any of the novels, though I tried reading available summaries. If anyone who has explored the mediums that I haven't or has actual interview logs or words from Yuu Watase-sensei herself, please let me know!

Names and Constellations
Naming was the first issue I ran into during my research, so I'll address it now as it leads nicely into some other topics I want to cover. First off, each warrior has two names that s/he is referred to throughout the series. They have a birth name that is given when we first meet them, and the name of their constellation, which is generally used after their priestess finds out who they are. This is made very clear in Genbu Kaiden where the large part of the cast use their birth names, and an important emphasis is placed on the moment when they switch to using their constellation name, but is a little more vague in the English translation of the original series.

What should be known is that the character's birth name and constellation name generally have nothing to do with each other. Each constellation name is made up of two characters, one representing the constellation itself (found on the warrior's body), and the character "宿" which in this context means "constellation" and is added like a suffix.

There are some cases when the characters are named after their constellation, but this is usually a coincidence, or due to the fact that their parents saw the character on their body or something of that sort. The major cases of this are TamahomeHotohori, and Nuriko from the original seires.

Tamahome's real name is "琮 鬼宿", pronounced "Cong Giu Xiu" or, in Japanese, "Sou Kishuku." His family name is "Cong/Sou." His given name does not actually change in pronunciation in Chinese, but in Japanese, the constellation is referred to by a different pronunciation for the same characters after he meets Miaka: "Tamahomeboshi" is then shortened to "Tamahome" since the "boshi" simply means "star".

Hotohori's name is a similar case as his birth name is "
星宿", pronounced "Xing Xiu" in Chinese, and "Seishuku" or "Hotohoriboshi" in Japanese, which is why it is shortened to "Hotohori" and he is referred to as such. Note that Hotohori is also known as "彩賁帝" or the Emperor Cai Bi (Japanese Saihitei).

Nuriko is a bit different from Hotohori and Tamahome in that his name isn't literally the constellation name. Instead, his given name, "迢 柳娟" (pronounced Tiao Liu Juan in Chinese and Ryuuen Chou in Japanese) includes the character "柳", which is the the name of his constellation.

As far as I know, these three characters are the only characters that have their given names and their constellation names match up.

Manga vs Anime
For those who have read Viz's edition and watched the anime, you've probably been confused at some point in time over the names used for each character. This is primarily due to the fact that while the characters' names are in Chinese, the same Chinese characters are pronounced in Japanese for the anime series. Which is understandable since Miaka and Yui were sucked into the Japanese translation of the book. This also explains why we hear all the characters speaking in Japanese instead of Chinese.

However, for the English adaptation of the manga series, Yuu Watase wanted Viz to use the original Chinese pronunciations for romanization, probably to preserve the original Chinese mythology or whatnot. Viz is pretty careful to show you what the names are at the beginning of each volume, but if anyone was like me and tended to skip that page due to general confusion, then that probably leads to a lot of questions.

I honestly don't like what they did simply because it makes no sense in the context of the larger story. To the English-speaking fans, it makes no sense how "Cong Giu Xiu" is nicknamed "Tamahome." But I understand why they did it, so I'm just clearing that up here.

In order to keep things consistent for the rest of this essay, I'm going to refer to everything by their Japanese​ names.

Naming Traditions
So now with those basics cleared up, I tried to start creating original characters for my fic. Only to run into a few more problems due to Yuu Watase's strange system of naming the characters. The characters we are first introduced to have relatively consistent names. A few are pretty far-fetched in terms of pronunciation due to the fact that these are Chinese names being converted to a semi-feasible Japanese pronunciation, but all of the names can be boiled down to kanji characters. The only exception is Nakago, who's given name is "アユル", pronounced "Ayuru" and  spelled in katakana (making me believe it may more accurately be romanized as "Ayul"), but his tribe was special and he's called out for looking like a "foreigner" so that makes sense.

However, these traditional names are tossed out the door once we're introduced to characters from Sairou and Hokkan. These character names are only given in katakana, making romanizations difficult and debatable, and they sound strangely foreign to the tongue.

From Sairou, we have Tatara whose given name is "ツオニエ カサル" (Tsuonie Kasara, possibly "Kasal Tsunoi"), Tokaki whose given name is "ハム ランヴァ" (Hamu Ranba, possibly "Ranva Ham"), and Subaru whose given name is "ハム ドウリン" (Hamu Dorin, possibly "Dorin Ham").

From Hokkan we have the entire cast of Genbu Kaiden, complete with strange names like "Limdo", "Chamka", "Hagas", "Tarma", "Emthatt", "Zara", and many more. A lot of these names look extremely random, to the point where I'm not quite sure how I should romanize them.

These names definitely do not seem traditionally Chinese. While Hokkan can be explained by the fact that there are many tribes, why is there such variation in Sairou? Are these names simply random? Do they stand out for a reason? I think the answer likely lies in the cultural influences beyond Chinese mythology, explained more in the next section.

Geography and Culture
We're presented with a map, I believe, showing us exactly how the four nations are laid out so that we have a better idea of the borders. If this map isn't from official sources, please let me know!
The geography is obviously based on the location of the constellations, but when we take into account the characteristics of each region, it seems vaguely reminiscent of China. To the north is the bitter cold region, much like parts of modern day Mongolia and Inner Mongolia that were once a part of China. To the west, Sairou is described as a desert-like land, perhaps reflecting the geography of northwestern China.

What interested me was whether the cultures of each region may also reflect this geography. When I first picked up Fushigi Yuugi, I believed it went off of mostly mythology, perhaps with a touch of fantastical action and martial arts like the Wuxia genre of Chinese fiction. However, upon researching some more, the series seemed to reflect more history than fantasy. Add the mystery of the names that I described above, I was curious as to what the basis of Sairou and Hokkan were in particular (since Kounan and Kutou seemed fairly similar and standard in terms of culture).

Hokkan is a fairly easy one to work out due to the fact that we have an entire series set in the nation. It seems to resemble Mongolian culture the most, which makes sense due to Mongolian influences throughout Chinese history. The climate as well as nomadic tribes, use of horses, and general warfare all seem to be heavily based on Mongolian culture. The costumes are arguable, since the characters do wear costumes that could vaguely be similar to the traditional Mongolian clothes...but they also kind of look like any other Chinese-esque outfit, so I honestly don't know about that one.

Sairou is a lot harder due to the fact that our only real glimpse at the nation is from a few volumes in the original series. I have a feeling it might not really be based on any one region, but is a combination of many different ethnic minority cultures of China.

Climate and skin tones lead me to believe this region may be based off of the Xinjiang region of China, where the Uyghur ethnic group is dominant. There aren't a whole lot of deserts in China, so we're narrowed to the Gobi and Taklamakan in the northwest and the Ordos nearby in Inner Mongolia. Since the Ordos is rather small in scale and the Gobi is primarily located in Mongolia towards the north, I'm going to venture a guess that the Taklamakan is the desert of reference. This supports the theory that Sairou is based on Xinjiang, since that's where the Taklamakan is located. The Uyghur/Xinjiang people generally have slightly darker skin tones, which makes sense when we see Tatara and Subaru. However, these are the only two we meet with darker skin tones, so it's pretty shaky support.

Following this, we'll take a look at some clothes and see where this examination leads us. From volume 10 of the original series, we see the following image.

The clothing seems to roughly resemble some of the traditional Xinjiang/Uyghur garb, as seen below. Not exactly, but some aspects are similar that are relatively uncommon in other ethnic garb, which supports the theory based on geography. However...
...The headwear of the villagers here has thrown me off. These hats might kind of resemble the Xinjiang hats, but the Uyghur hats are generally a lot smaller than the ones the villagers are wearing, which leads to a close resemblance to the traditional hats of the Miao ethnic group, who are located in southern areas of China. The wrapping on the older woman's head seems to be from the Hui ethnic group of China, which are spread around everywhere. The Hui and the Uyghurs practice Islam, but then we're shown a Buddhist temple, so...Basically this all doesn't add up, and makes me think that Yuu Watase's kind of just blending all sorts of ethnic Chinese clothes together.

The Miao ethnic group. Note the hat.
The Hui ethnic clothing; note the headwear.
In Summary
"The Universe of the Four Gods" appears to be a massive mix of different aspects of Chinese culture and history, with dashes of mythology added in. This gives fanfic writers a lot of flexibility for setting fics within the world, but be careful on creating original characters since there seem to be certain naming rules that apply to each nation. Good luck to writers figuring out this extraordinary universe Yuu Watase has created for us!

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