Most ardent Naruto fans forget how much mythology and folklore influences the series. It is almost impossible to go into an in-depth analysis of every mythological element that went into Kishimoto’s worldbuilding, but here are some of the major references that fans may or may not have noticed.
Major references to mythology and folklore in the Naruto franchise
“Chakra” forms the backbone of this Shinobi franchise. But the concept of chakra originally came from ancient Indian texts, where chakra often refers to energy centers around the human body, unlocked by meditation and yoga.
The concept of chakra, at some point, is fused with “qi,” which formed the basis for traditional Chinese medicine. The theory of chakra was also carried into Japan via Buddhism.
In Naruto, chakra refers to a certain power that Hagoromo and Hamura Otsutsuki gained after Kaguya ate the chakra fruit. Hagoromo spread chakra among his followers and taught them to use it to connect their spiritual energy to their physical energies, his son Indra Otsutsuki first weaponized it into what later came to be known as ‘ninjutsu.’
2) Tailed beasts
Every tailed beast mentioned in the franchise has hidden mythological or folk references. While some are simply wordplay, some have more intrinsic connections to the characters they signify. Several tailed beasts are modeled after “yokai,” either Japanese or Chinese.
While not explicitly mythological, the Ino-Shika-Cho reference is taken from one of the various winning combinations of hanafuda, a type of traditional Japanese playing cards. The characters “ino,” “shika,” and “cho” also allude to the boar, the deer, and the butterfly, respectively.
Hanafuda is also referenced in Demon Slayer, where Tanjiro’s hanafuda earrings are especially significant to the story.
These allusions also suit the characters in the series, with Choji’s signature jutsu featuring chakra butterfly wings, Ino being called “Ino-pig” by Sakura in their fights Shikamaru’s clan caring for wild deer. Interestingly, the Nara clan directly references the Nara Deer Park of Japan.
4) Jiraiya, Tsunade, and Orochimaru
One of the most glaring references in the series is that surrounding the legendary sannin - Jiraiya, Tsunade and Orochimaru. The inspiration for the three characters go back to the Tale of Jiraiya the Gallant.
In the story, Jiraiya is a ninja who uses shape-shifting magic to turn into a giant toad. His love interest was the princess Tsunade, a user of slug magic, while his arch-nemesis was his once-disciple Orochimaru, a master of snake magic.
5) Mangekyo Sharingan techniques
The names of many of the Uchiha clan's Mangekyo Sharingan jutsus have been taken directly from Shinto mythology. Techniques like Tsukiyomi, Amaterasu and Susaano, and Izanami and Izanagai are the names of gods belonging to the Shinto pantheon. Kishimoto also incorporated the complementary symbolism of Izanagi and Izanami into the techniques’ effects.
6) Six Paths of Pain
Pain’s invasion of Konoha also unveiled the powers of the Rinnegan for the first time. Nagato used the Six Paths of Pain, becoming a formidable enemy against Konoha.
But not many know that the Six Paths are based on the Buddhist cycle of reincarnation. Each of the six bodies that Pain controls represents the six realms that a person is reborn into based on the karma of their past lives, these paths being: Deva, Asura, Human, Animal, Preta, and Naraka.
7) Indra and Ashura
In the case of the two sons of Hagoromo Otsutsuki, Kishimoto makes an exciting change from myth by reversing the roles of Indra and Asura. In both Buddhist and Hindu mythology, Indra is portrayed as the king of the Devas. He was always at war with the Asuras, with the Devas traditionally depicted as the heroes while the Asuras were shown as villains.
The subversion in the roles of the Otsutsuki brothers might have been inspired by Zoroastrianism, where people worshiped “Ahura” as the god while “Daeva” was considered evil. Even Ashura's Wood Style Thousand Hands jutsu is based on the Buddhist representation of Avalokitshvara.
8) Kaguya Otsutsuki
Kaguya Otsutsuki also has her roots in Japanese folklore, which is adapted from the tale of the bamboo-cutter. In the story, Kaguya is a princess from the moon born from a bamboo stalk and raised by a bamboo cutter and his wife.
The princess charms the Emperor with her beauty, but she goes back to her celestial homeland by the end of the story. Kaguya Otsutsuki’s back story also shows a striking similarity to the folktale. The legend is also explored in Studio Ghibli's 2013 movie, The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
The use of mythology and folklore extends into Boruto as well. The much-discussed “karma” is taken from the Buddhist concept of karma and rebirth, as is it is intense. After all, karma’s purpose is the reincarnation of an Otsutsuki in a new vessel.
Naruto became especially popular among Western audiences after the anime's release. Although obscure at times, Kishimoto's use of cultural references in the anime is very appropriate and makes the series appealing to domestic and international fans.
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