A Source Material of Demon Slayer: The Unknown Life of a Charcoal Artisan

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What is the original story behind the worldwide hit manga & animation, Demon SlayerKimetsu no Yaiba? The author makes no mention of what sources inspired her. According to one of our team members, who is an anime otaku, a graphic designer, and also an university educator, one of the inspirations of Demon Slayer is derived from an episode from the book, Yama No Jinsei, A Life in the Mountains by Kunio Yanagida. The author is one of Japan’s leading folklorists, and the book was published in 1926.

The story is about a man of about fifty years old who was a Sumiyaki, which is a charcoal-burner/maker in the mountains of Nishi-mino, Gifu prefecture. Sumiyaki operates series of tasks such as cutting down trees to building kilns & producing charcoal. In this story, the father killed his own two children with an ax in the forest. His wife already passed before this heinous act occurred. The father had one child, a thirteen-year-old boy. Then, for some reason, he mysteriously brought home a girl about the same age as his son. The father raised both of them together in this charcoal-burning hut in the mountains as their home.


The Charcoal Burners – A Japanese Sidelight (1930)

There were many days without charcoal sales, the father couldn’t buy rice or any food for his kids. One day, he did not feel like going home empty-handed and did not want to show his sad faces to the children. That day, he quickly went into the back of the house and took a nap to hide. When he woke up, the two children were sharpening his ax. The children lying on their back in a daze, said, “we want you to kill us with this ax.” In desperation, the father cut off the children’s heads. He then attempted to commit suicide himself but was unable to do so. He was eventually caught by the police. The actual event is assumed to be around 1896.

This story is not exactly the same as Demon Slayer. But the similarities include the charcoal-burner and the tragic death of a brother and sister in their early teens deep in the mountains. There are many opinions of the source of Demon Slayer, but we advocate this one.

The setting of Demon Slayer is the Taisho era (1912 – 1926), when Japan took a significant step toward modernization and education. People flocked to the cities, and educationist ideology became mainstream. During this time, society appreciated ones’ academic background. On the other hand, the primary industrialists in the countryside became poorer, and poorer areas became even poorer.

Back in the Edo period (1600-1868), there was a charcoal merchant named Sumiyaki-santaro. The man became a millionaire by selling the locally made charcoal called angezumi, which was made in Ongata village. In 1955 the village incorporated into Hachioji city, Tokyo. In the era before modernization, many people succeeded in the primary traditional industries. As time went by, there were jobs that were created but other jobs that were unfortunately eliminated. However, it is very sad to know that there was actually a case where children volunteered to die for their father because of poverty.

History is useful for understanding the present and how we move forward in the future. Sometimes that knowledge can be painful but it also helps us think, learn, and grow, making our lives more enriched and meaningful.

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