Do you think there is any significance to the painting "Backward's Beauty?" I noticed recently that Fuu often does that pose throughout the show. Often looking contemplative or worried.
Hello! Thanks for your question! Actually, yes. I find it very significant. I recently found some more information on this topic that I am using for my Samurai Champloo story. I think the contemplative/worried look of Fuu is meaningful to the term itself. To begin with, let’s talk a little bit about the actual meaning.
The Japanese words for “Backwards Beauty” are “Mikaeri Bijin”. Another better translation is “Looking Back Beauty”. The term was popularized by the artist Moronobu Hishikawa when he made this Ukiyo-e (woodblock print) painting in the Tokugawa era, titled “Mikaeri Bijin”:
It was later printed on the first commemorative Japanese stamp in November of 1948. Having made drawing styles of his own creation, he is considered a forerunner for many future Ukiyo-e artists. He even inspired Vincent van Gogh. Samurai Champloo watchers will better know Moronobu Hishikawa’s work looking like this for the sake of mashed up history and an anime plot twist flair:
…Very little similarity besides the title. And anime viewers will see Moronobu Hishikawa looking very different than actual history. I highly doubt he was so flamboyant with long manicured purple nails, and purple lipstick. But hey, ya never know.
Since the making of this painting and many other prints by Hishikawa, the idea of Mikaeri Bijin has influenced Japanese culture for years to come (to the point where Samurai Champloo references it). There is a song by pop group Morning Musume using the title. Mikaeri Bijin refers to a woman who looks beautiful when looking behind her. It is considered coquettish, as she does not turn around to flaunt herself, but rather shyly glances over a shoulder. It also reveals a woman’s nape of the neck which is a sexual yet not raunchy display of the body in Japanese culture. The term itself has romantic undertones too, as it can refer to a woman looking at the man of her affections without expressing her feelings. Modern day Japanese people will use the term as a joke. As it can mean, “a woman who looks beautiful from the back…who turns around and is ugly”. Of course, this was not the case in old Japan.
Mikaeri though, as a word, is simply “looking back”. Looking back can represent looking back at the past, but pressing forward. I think this heavily describes Fuu as a character. She is searching for her past, and yet is forced to look onward as she travels across Japan. And yes, you are correct in saying Fuu is shown many times looking back. Even the opening credits has her doing so.
We can safely say, just as Hishikawa said in the anime, she is truly a beauty looking backwards. Now from here, I’m going to diverge a bit. But I promise this will connect to the concept of “Mikaeri” or “looking back”.
Many people wonder where Mugen, Fuu and Jin grew up. And while the anime never states it, it is very apparent for Mugen and Jin due to actual history. Miyako-shima was the penal colony in the Ryukyuan Islands during the Tokugawa time period, where criminals of all kinds were put. The paantu black figures that watch Mugen as he almost dies three times in his life are a Miyako-shima deity that chase off evil spirits during an annual festival. This is obviously Mugen’s birthplace. The Takeda clan, or more specifically, the real Mariya Enshirou owned the Kururi Castle outside of Edo. Since this was Jin’s caretaker, and teacher, and Jin was supposed to be heir to the dojo, we can assume Jin grew up there.
What about Fuu?
There is very little information to deduce where she grew up. We know nothing of the town. There is no recorded information I can find about an actual person names Kasumi Seizou. And we see she didn’t live in Nagasaki because that is where her father fled. But…her hometown could quite possibly be handed to us in the very first episode.
Or should I say…the very first ending song.
“Shiki no Uta” or “Song of Four Seasons” is the ending song for the majority of the anime. A collaboration of the singer Minmi and the composer/arranger Nujabes, it was made specifically for the anime itself, and not by the artists separately. This is considering the anime’s first episode aired on May 19th 2004. But the song was only released in the album Samurai Champloo Music Record: Masta on June 23rd 2004, a whole month later.
The lyrics describe the seasons passing by from a girl’s perspective. And there is the repeated mention of someone they wish to follow, or the way they felt when they were “being held”. It can sound like a romance song, pertaining to Fuu’s relationship with one of her bodyguards. However, I think the song is more about finding her father, as that is the theme of the entire show. The montage of pictures for ending credits display memories of Fuu’s childhood, and her mother and father.The reason I bring this up is for a very specific lyric. Again…the song was made for the anime itself.
Lyric: “Summer comes to Uji, and in the fields are patterns of grass set out to dry.”
Uji is a town southeast of Kyoto that dates back to over a thousand years ago. Uji held no significance in the anime. Never did the trio go there. Never was it mentioned, nor is Uji a a super famous place to the rest of the world. But, Uji, despite being a small city, is pretty notable in history. For one, the last chapters of the Tale of Genji take place there. The Tale of Genji was the first novel. By first novel, I mean FIRST novel. Ever. So Uji has many landmarks and statues referencing the book for tourists.
Uji is also well known for being a key producer of tea in Japan, as there are many tea leaf fields in the past and even now. The Tsuen Tea Shop still stands, and is the oldest tea shop in all of Japan. This perhaps explains the lyrics “Summer comes to Uji and the patterns of grass (plants/shoots) are set out to dry.”
Grass, being tea grass.
These are women during the Tea Harvesting Festival in Uji:
I’m no expert on botany, and I would like if someone could give more info…but it seems to me that these plants by Kasumi Seizou could quite possibly be tea plants. They look very similar.
So now, we can theorize based on the anime credit’s lyrics and pictures that Fuu was possibly born/raised in the town of Uji.
Here’s a little bit about Uji that will help clarify why this pertains to “Mikaeri Bijin”.
Long ago, the kanji for Uji was written to mean “The Way of Rabbits” or “Rabbit Road”. Rabbits… Seems pretty random right? Well, like anything Japanese, there is of course a legend surrounding this:
Prince Wakairatsuko once got lost in the woods trying to find the way back to Uji. Upon walking, he saw a “Mikaeri Usagi” or “Looking back rabbit”. The rabbit would look at him, then hop along. It would stop again and again every little while, as if to tell the prince to follow him. Eventually, after following the rabbit for a time, he found himself in Uji again.
This would be an example of a “Mikaeri Usagi” or “Looking back rabbit”:
Since then, the “Mikaeri Usagi” has been the motif of Uji, as well as the guardian of the Shinto Shrine Ujigami-jinja. The Prince the rabbit helped is also one of the three deities of said shrine. The Ujigami shrine, thought to be the oldest shrine in all of Japan, sells an array of rabbit trinkets.These rabbit charms hold fortunes for the future.
The meaning of the“mikaeri usagi” is that it will help you find your path in life, if you ever feel lost. Just like the legend. Rabbits are also symbolized with this, because despite looking back. they do not ever leap back. Only move forward while contemplating the past. Across from Ujigami shrine, is another shrine called Uji shrine. Before the 1800s, The two shrines were connected labeled “upper and lower” Uji shrines… But…they were separated during the Meiji Restoration. Here is Uji Shrine nowadays, still preserved:
…Could it be?
There’s always the possibility Fuu once prayed to the guardian spirits of Uji shrine for her future.
If Uji could very likely be Fuu’s hometown, and the “looking back rabbit” is a town icon…and she is called the “looking back beauty”, I can safely say that it described her perfectly. She looks back on her past, and from there forges her future. Mikaeri as a term both describes her and could reveal the location of her possible hometown.
Thank you for your question and I hope it interests everyone who takes the time to read or research this topic! ^^