Warning: There may be some spoilers ahead for those who only watch the Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba anime and have not read the manga.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is one of the strongest-performing manga and anime of the last decade. It was one of the bestselling manga in both 2019 and 2020 and the anime has been considered one of the best of the 2010s, winning Funimation’s Animation of the Decade award.
The story follows protagonist Tanjiro Kamado as he sets out to become a Demon Slayer after a demon attack kills his entire family except for his sister, who is turned into a demon herself. He aims to protect his sister, who shows remarkable restraint from feeding on humans, instead gaining energy by sleeping for long periods at a time.
Tanjiro is a kind and hardworking young man who cares for his sister and protects others whilst also undertaking brutal, near-fatal training in order to achieve his goals. As with most anime protagonists, Tanjiro has a specific look that makes him instantly recognizable. He is marked by his green-and-black-checked haori, red hair and head scar, and Hanafuda earrings.
The earrings are perhaps the most noticeable of Tanjiro’s accessories, but what do they mean? Are they important for the character, and do they explain more about his past?
The Hanafuda’s history
Tanjiro’s earrings are a family heirloom, passed down to him by his father, Tanjuro. In a flashback during episode 19, we see Tanjuro wearing the Hanafuda earrings and dancing with fire, known as the Hinokami Kagura dance. Tanjiro’s father, however, was a frail and weak man, so Tanjiro wonders how he can dance for so long in the freezing cold. Tanjuro tells him, “There’s a way to breathe. A way to breathe so you won’t exhaust yourself no matter how much you move. If you master how to breathe properly, you’ll be able to dance forever, too. Even the cold won’t bother you. Tanjiro, if nothing else, make sure this kagura and these earrings get passed down to you uninterrupted. That’s what I promised.”
These earrings have been passed down through the men of the Kamado family along with the Hinokami Kagura breathing style. Breathing styles are what the Demon Slayer Corps are taught as part of their swordsmanship training and what they use in their battles against demons.
The first-ever breathing technique, and the one from which all the others derive, is known as Sun Breathing, which is what the Hinokami Kagura style is later revealed to be. The breathing style was created by Yoriichi Tsugikuni, a legendary Demon Slayer who lived over 500 years ago, and since Tsugikuni had no heir, he passed it, along with the Hanafuda earrings, on to his friend Sumiyoshi, an ancestor of the Kamado family.
Symbol of power
Throughout the show, certain characters recognize the earrings and what they symbolize. The demon Muzan Kibutsuji recognizes them in episode eight after he is found by Tanjiro and turns a human into a demon to cause a distraction to get away. Troubled by the sight of them, he turns to his subordinates and says, “Bring me the head of the Demon Slayer who wears Hanafuda earrings.” He then has a flashback to a powerful-looking Demon Slayer who also wears the Hanafuda earrings and has red hair, which unsettles him.
The earrings are also recognized by Shinjuro Rengoku, the former Flame Hashira of the Demon Slayer Corps. Upon meeting Tanjiro, Shinjuro recognizes the Hanafuda earrings and exclaims, “You’re a wielder of the Sun Breathing Technique! Am I right?” He goes on the explain the meaning of the earrings to Tanjiro.
The Hanafuda’s inspiration and controversy
Hanafuda are actually Japanese playing cards, with the word denoting flower cards (hana = flower and fuda = card). They are much like other playing cards but are smaller and usually thicker and stiffer. Playing cards were brought over to Japan by the Portuguese back in the 16th century, and the cards have changed designs over the centuries due to prohibitions on gambling and banning of the cards.
In fact, one of the best-known gaming brands, Nintendo, was actually created to sell and circulate these Hanafuda gaming cards back in 1889. Despite the company’s current focus on video games, it still produces the cards.The designs on the cards are often those of flowers, but some also include animals such as birds and deer, or other Japanese icons, such as the sake cup.
The design of Tanjiro’s earrings caused some controversy due to the depiction of what appears to be the Japanese flag, The Rising Sun, used by Japan as it colonized parts of Asia, including its role in WWII. The flag is seen as a symbol for the atrocities Japan committed in these countries at the time. Because of this, the designs were changed for streaming platforms in mainland China and South Korea, and instead of the red circle with lines coming off of it, there is a red circle with four horizontal lines beneath.
The earrings are a strong plot point within the Demon Slayer series and, as the show continues, we’re sure to find out more about their past and what they mean for our young hero’s future.