Throughout the Wano Kuni Arc, Japanese folklore and mythology has been a characteristic driving force behind the stories being told. The country of Wano itself is deeply inspired by Japan and its environments. Many Japanese folklore and mythological creatures and yokai are represented through the Wano Kuni Arc in some form.
The main story represented through the Arc is Momotarō.
Within that story, Momotarō is born from a peach which an old couple find floating down a river. The couple named the child Momotarō (Momo being Peach). When the child matured, he left his parents to fight a band of Oni who marauded over the land. The Oni resided in the distant Island, Onigashima. Along the way, Momotarō met and befriended a talking dog, monkey and pheasant, who agreed to help him with his quest in exchange for a portion of his rations – kibi dango. When the group reached Onigashima, they penetrated the demons’ fort and defeated the band of demons. Momotarō and his friends returned home with the demons’ stolen treasure and the demon chief as captive.
While the Wano Kuni story is not stroke for stroke with the Momotarō folklore, Oda-sensei takes deep inspiration from major elements within the story:
- Momotarō – represent by Momonosuke;
- Oni – Kaido and the Beast Pirates;
- Onigashima – Onigashima Island;
- Dog – Inuarashi, Nekomamushi and the rest of the Mink Tribe that has agreed to follow and assist Momonosuke;
- Monkey – Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates that have promised Momonosuke that they will assist Momonosuke and defeat Kaido;
- Pheasant – I believe this role will be embodied by Yamato – my theory on Yamato and the Pheasant;
- Kibi dango – represented by Tama who has the ability to create dumplings from her cheeks which are able to pacify animals/beasts once consumed. Tama in a sense also represents the story of Momotarō as she befriended a dog (Komainu), a monkey (Hihimaru/Monkey D. Luffy) and a pheasant (Tenguyama Hitetsu). Tama helps Momonosuke during the Udon prison break by pacifying the Beast Pirate guards and utilising them to fool Queen into believing everything was under control in Udon;
- The peach – a variation of the Momotarō story involves Momotarō not being born from a peach but having his mother consume the peach and growing younger in age. It is entirely possible that Toki could have eaten a peach to grant her the Toki Toki no Mi powers which rather than make her younger, enabled her to travel into the future
Given that Momotarō was the central character in his story, it will be curious to see how Momonosuke is included in the battle again Kaido, the “demon leader” of the Beast Pirates.
Tsuru no Ongaeshi:
A story from Japanese folklore about a crane who returns a favor to a man that saved her after being shot down by hunters. The crane transforms into a beautiful girl and appears before the man to return the favour. The crane in the Wano Kuni story is represented by Tsuru who assists Zoro after he saves her from the Beast Pirates.
The story of Benkei:
Benkei was a warrior monk who was said to have wandered around Kyoto every night on a personal quest to take 1000 swords from samurai warriors he believed were arrogant and unworthy of their blades. For his 1000th sword, Benkei dueled a smaller warrior (Minamoto no Yoshitsune) at Gojo Bridge and lost.
A similar story plays out during the Wano Kuni Arc but rather than the warrior monk hunting for his 1000th sword, he is fighting the smaller warrior for the famed Wano Kuni blade, Shusui, that the legendary Ryuma once wielded.
- Benkei – represented by Onimaru in his transformed Gyukimaru form (the form of a gigantic man);
- Minamoto no Yoshitsune – the swordsman that ultimately defeated Onimaru in the Wano Kuni Arc is Roronoa Zoro;
- Quest to take a 1000 swords – Onimaru had been hunting for weapons during the past 13 years by attacking anyone wielding weapons who crossed Oihagi Bridge. Once he procured those weapons, Onimaru stored all of the weapons in an underground chamber;
- 1000th sword – the sword that led to Onimaru’s defeat was Shusui when he stole it from Zoro;
- Gojo Bridge – represented by the Oihagi Bridge in the Wano Kuni Arc;
- Death of Benkei; enemies of Benkei that feared being killed by him if they were to engage in close combat decided to shoot and kill Benkei with arrows instead. While Onimaru in One Piece did not die, he was badly wounded when the Beast Pirates opted to use weapons designed for wild beasts to attack “Gyukimaru”
Additionally, in a sense the bond Onimaru shares with the Shimotsuki Ushimaru is similar to the bond Benkei shared with Minamoto no Yoshitsune.
Yamata no Orochi:
A legend about an eight-headed and eight-tailed Japanese dragon/serpent – Orochi. The story involves Orochi devouring a young girl each year from a family who originally had eight young girls as daughters. With seven of their daughters sacrificed, the Orochi is set to arrive to consume the final daughter. Susanoo, a kami, after being expelled from Heaven ends up meeting the family when he became curious as to why they were weeping and agrees to defeat the Orochi in exchange for their eight daughter’s (Kushi-inada-hime) hand in marriage. Susanoo defeated Orochi by getting each of its eight heads drunk with sake causing it to fall asleep. While asleep, Susanoo drew his blade (Ama-no-Habakiri) and chopped the serpent into small pieces. While cutting the tail, Susanoo discovered a sword inside it (originally called Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi and later renamed to Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi).
Within the One Piece story:
- the Yamata no Orochi legend is reflected in Kurozumi Orochi and his Mythicial Zoan Devil Fruit power – the Hebi Hebi no Mi, Model: Yamata no Orochi. When Orochi activates his Devil Fruit ability, he is able to generate eight serpent heads;
- the young girl Orochi was looking kill/devour was Toko;
- Orochi also sought to devour Komurasaki aka Hiyori when she refused to beg for forgiveness after slapping him;
- Orochi was seemingly decapitated by Kaido but given the Yamata no Orochi mythology, it may not mean Orochi was killed. Orochi may only be defeated when all eight heads of his are cut/attacked;
- The role of Susanoo is currently unknown but it could be Zoro or Yamato or a collection of individuals that work together to take out all of Orochi’s eight serpent heads when he transforms;
- The Ame-no-Habakiri will likely be used to defeated Orochi – potentially gifted to Yamato by Momonosuke;
- Orochi could also wield a Meito (the sword he used to try and kill Toko with) and upon his defeat, that sword could also be claimed by another character – likely Yamato if Oda-sensei is looking to add her as an ally to the Straw Hat Pirates and develop her as a Nitoryu user similar to Oden.
The blade Orochi wields could have been crafted by Tenguyama Hitetsu before he went into hiding – potentially the Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi. The Meito Hitetsu currently wields could be called Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (assuming that Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi and Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi are separate blades in the One Piece world). Yamato’s mother could be connected to the race Hitetsu belongs to and that could be a reason for Hitetsu eventually being okay for Yamato to wield one/two of his blades.
Present in the Wano Kuni are also a large number of Japanese Mythology references. These are the ones that I was able to spot:
Oni – usually portrayed as a red, blue or white-coloured hulking figures with one of more horns growing out of their heads carrying iron kanabō clubs.
Kaido and the Beast Pirates represent the Oni as depicted by the horn and beast theme the Beast Pirates have
Tengu – a type of creature found in Japanese folklore that is depicted with both human and avian characteristics. Tengu’s have been portrayed as having wings and unnaturally long noses.
Tenguyama Hitetsu’s design and name is inspired by the Tengu.
Obake and Bakemono – Yōkai that are able to shapeshift.
Onimaru is a kitsune that is able to transform into a human (Gyukimaru). Kurozumi Higurashi also had the ability of shapeshifting thanks to the Mane Mane no Mi power.
Kappa (also known as Kawatarō) – an amphibious yōkai that is typically depicted as green, human-like beings with webbed hands and feet and a turtle0like carapace on their backs. The kappa are known to love engaging in sump wrestling.
Kawamatsu the Kappa – a Japanese puffer fish-man that gets mistaken for a kappa. Kawamatsu is also the strongest sumo wrestler in Wano.
Tsukumogami – tools that have acquired a kami or spirits allowing them to move.
Thanks to Big Mom’s Soru Soru no Mi, she was able to imbue inanimate objects around Onigashima Castle with souls giving them life.
Types of Tsukumogami present on Onigashima Island: Bakezōri, Biwa-bokuboku, Boroboroton, Chōchinobake, Kasa-obake, Shamichoro, and several others.
Gashadokuro aka Odokuro – spirits that take the form of giant skeletons formed from the amassed bones of people who died of starvation or in battle, without being buried. The Gashadokuro are said to possess the powers of invisibility and indestructibility.
Brook is able to separate his soul from his body allowing him to use his skeleton form spirit to scout and roam around.
Tanuki – the subspecies of the Asian raccoon dog that has been significant in Japanese folklore. The legendary tanuki is reputed to be mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise and shapeshifting.
Bunbuku was originally a teapot owned by Tenguyama Hitetsu but after consuming the Inu Inu no Mi, Model: Tanuki, it was given life.
Based on the Japanese folklore “Bunbuku Chagama” but rather than a Tanuki turning into a teapot, a teapot turned into a Tanuki.
Kobutori Jiisan (“Lump-removing Old Man”) – a Japanese folktale where an old man had his lump from his cheek by Oni after joining in their party and celebrating with them by dancing during the night.
While the story isn’t incorporated during the Wano Kuni Arc, the imagery of having a lump removed from a cheek is used to depict how Tama utilises her Devil Fruit ability to produce kibi-dango.
Enma and Ame no Habakiri – Enma is the Buddhist King of Hell and Ame-no-Habakiri is the blade that slayed the Yamata no Orochi.
Zoro currently wields Enma, a blade said to cut through to the bottom of hell. Ame no Habakiri is Momonosuke’s blade but at this point in time, he has refused to accept it due to his inability to wield it. Ame no Habakiri is said to be able to “slice heaven”
Kintarō – a folk hero from Japanese folklore. A child of superhuman strength that is friendly with animals of the mountain and the individual that stopped Shuten-dōji from terrorizing the region around Mount Ōe.
Kozuki Oden was depicted as a child of superhuman strength, friendly with outcasts and animals (being able to understand Sea Kings and Ancient Animals), and the man responsible for defeating Ashura Doji and bringing the lawless region of Kuri under control.
Shuten-dōji – a mythical oni of Japan with his lair at Mt. Ōe.
Ashura Doji was the most dangerous criminal in the lawless region of Kuri. After his defeat to Oden, Ashura joined Oden to become one of his retainers. After Oden’s death, Ashura Doji returned to being a criminal under the name Shutenmaru and became the leader of the Mt. Atama Thieves.
The Seven Lucky Gods – believed to grant good luck. The seven deities: Ebisu, Daikokuten, Bishamonten, Banzaiten, Jurōjin, Hotei, and Fukurokuju/Kichijōten.
Several of the Orochi Oniwabanshu characters are titled after the Seven Lucky Gods: Fukurokuju, Daikoku, Bishamon, and Jigoku Benten. Ebisu is used as the name of a Wano Kuni village. Hotei is the captain of the Mimawarigumi. There are still some unnamed characters in the Mimawarigumi, so likely one of the characters would be named Jurōjin and another possibly Kichijōten.
Fūjin and Raijin – Fūjin is the Japanese god of wind and one of the eldest Shinto gods. Raijin is the god of lightning, thunder and storms. In Japanese art, Fūjin and Raijin are often depicted together.
Both Fujin and Raijin are part of the Orochi Oniwabanshu. Just like the god Fūjin, the character Fujin here carries around a bag of wind. In Raijin’s case, the fireballs active on the ring he wears resembles the ring of taiko drums the god Raijin has.
Sarutobi Sasuke – a popular and influential character in ninja fiction.
Sarutobi is one of the members in the Orochi Oniwabanshu.
Hattori Hanzo – a famous samurai who helped found the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan.
Hanzo is one of the members in the Orochi Oniwabanshu.
Nure-Onna and Rokurokubi – both of these yōkai in Japanese folklore take on features of a reptilious creature. The Nure-onna has the head of a woman and the body of a snake. And the Rokurokubi, a close relative to the nure-onna, is able to stretch its neck.
Sarahebi, one of the Beast Pirates who consumed a SMILE and successfully gained its abilities, has snake-like features and is able to extend her neck like the rokurokubi. Sara-hebi is also another name for nure-onna.
Kitsune (Komagitsune) – Kitsune are foxes and in Japanese folklore they can be depicted with abilities such as shapeshifting – taking on human form.
Onimaru is a Komagitsune with the ability to transform into a human form. In a way, you could stretch the interpretation of Kitsune and include Kin’emon who has the epithet Foxfire Kin’emon and when utilising his Devil Fruit abilities is able to transform the garments of others and himself
Komainu – also known as lion-dogs are statue pairs of lion-like creatures guarding the entrances of shrines. The statues are meant to ward off evil spirits.
Komachiyo introduced at the start of the Wano Kuni arc as the protector/guardian of Tama is a Komainu. So far only one Komainu has been introduced and it is unclear if a second will be introduced to make the Komainu pair.
Kirin (Komashika) – Kirin is the Japanese form of “qilin” with it often being depicted as more deer-like in Japanese art.
Basil Hawkins was riding a Komashika when he appeared to confront Luffy and Zoro.
Basan (Komatori) – said to be a fowl-like bird with origins in Japanese mythology and folklore. The Basan is described as having a bright red cockscomb and ability to breathe ghost-fire from its mouth.
The mount Kin’emon and Inuarashi were riding when traveling through Wano Kuni was the Komatori.
Wani (Wanizame) – a sea monster in Japanese mythology. Wani is translated as “crocodile” or sometimes “shark”
Luffy spots a Wanizame after exiting Amigasa village and before meeting Zoro during the start of the Wano Kuni arc. Jack is also seen using a Wanizame as a mount. Chopper’s group when traveling with Linlin were also using the Wanizame to travel.
Seiryū (Azure Dragon) – in Japan, it is one of the four guardian spirits of cities – protecting Kyoto.
Kaido when activating his full Devil Fruit, transforms into a Seiryū.
Wara Ningyō – a popular kind of katashiro made of straw. They are combined with something from the recipient of the curse. This transforms the doll into a substitute for the intended target. Long nails are pushed through the wara ningyō, harming the subject as well as the doll.
Hawkins’s Devil Fruit is the Wara Wara no Mi. Hawkins uses Straw Dolls to connect his victims to himself. If he suffers damage, the victim embodying the straw doll is affected. Hawkins is able to cover his body in straw, transform his sword into straw and even summon a large straw monster from his Straw Man’s Card. Hawkins also uses nails as weapons for his attacks.
Nezumi Kozō – a Japanese thief and folk hero (similar to Robin Hood) who lived in Edo during the Edo period. Nezumi Kozō means “rat boy”.
Ushimitsu Kozo served a similar role in Wano Kuni where the rich and corrupt were targetted with their wealth being distributed to the poor aferward. Ushimitsu Kozo means “witching hour boy”.
Fudō Myōō (Acala) – a guardian deity primarily revered in Vajrayana Buddhism. The flaming nimbus or halo behind the statue is known as the “Garuda flame”
Hyogoro’s appearance twenty years before the current time resembles the Fudō Myōō and Kongōrikishi.
Shinigami – the Grim Reaper. Gods or supernatural spirits that invite humans toward death in certain aspects of Japanese religion and culture.
When Killer was operating as “Kamazo”, he was sent to murder anyone Orochi deemed an enemy or nuisance. “Kama” can mean “scythe” in Japanese.
Hannya – a mask used in Noh theater, representing a jealous female demon.
The Hannya mask were worn by Kikunojo and Yamato during her introduction.
Hihi – A baboon-like Chinese yokai. It was brought over to Japan by folklorists during the middle ages.
Hihimaru is the Baboon Luffy met when he first arrive in Wano Kuni. Hihimaru was pacified by Tama.
Fire Festival – a festival held as an invocation for a good harvest, health and good fortune in the coming year. A large bonfire is ignited during the event.
The Fire Festival is an annual event in Wano Kuni used by Orochi to have a banquet with his “allies” at the expense of the Wano residents.
Other Japanese Mythology references that could show up during the Wano Kuni Arc:
Tsukuyomi – the moon god in Shinto and Japanese mythology.
With the relevance the Moon currently has to the Mink and the Wano Kuni people (Kozuki, Shimotsuki, Uzuki, Amatsuki, and Fugetsu), there is likely a connection to a higher entity embodying the moon.
Hibagon – the Japanese equivalent of the North American Bigfoot or the Himalayan Yeti.
The Yeti Cool Brothers are the only yetis introduced in the series so far. Considering the connection Rock and Scotch have to the Giants and Punk Hazard, there is opportunity for them to reappear again during the Wano Kuni Arc.
Yuki-onna – a spirit in Japanese folklore that means snow woman. One of the more popular yōkai in Japanese mythology.
Monet embodies the Yuki-onna through and through. If Oda did wish to incorporate her in the Wano Kuni Arc alongside the other Japanese mythological characters, he could very well have Monet appear again in the snow storm across Onigashima Island.
The Wano Kuni Arc has yet to end, so there is plenty of time left for further Japanese yokai and mythological references to make they way into the arc. I look forward to the future surprises Oda-sensei has in store for us as the Wano Kuni Arc heads to its climax.