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A Japanese Twist on Star Wars

By Memrise Blog

In honour of Star Wars Day we asked around the Memrise team to find out who our biggest Star Wars fans were in the office.

It turns out, Mariko, our Japanese Language Specialist not only is obsessed with the series, but has also found correlations with Japanese culture. Read on to find out what she has to say on the subject!

It’s well known that the Star Wars saga was influenced by the Japanese culture such as the Jedi outfit inspired by Judo practice wear and Darth Vader’s iconic helmet which is designed after Kabuto armour. It is however less known that some of the names and ideas of Star Wars derive from Japanese words. For example, the name Obi-Wan Kenobi, consists of a collection of Japanese words. ‘Obi’ means belt (specifically one for kimono and traditional attires), ‘Wan’ is said to be the Japanese romanised version of the English word ‘one’, Kenobi from the word ‘Kuro-obi’ which means black belt in martial arts. The word Jedi is said to be based on the word ‘Jidai’ which means era. There are many other less credible fan speculations which include Han Solo being named after a famous Japanese ninja Hattori Hanzo, Yoda being named after professor Yoshitaka Yoda whom George Lucas had met many years ago, and Qui-Gon Jinn being named after the word ‘Kaigenjin’ which means the one who sees, or an enlightened person.

It is no secret that George Lucas was quite taken with Japanese films – namely Akira Kurosawa films. Episode 4 is known to remarkably resemble the Kurosawa film called The Hidden Fortress, from damsel in distress plotline to goofy yet charming sidekicks also known as R2-D2 and C3PO, who were Taihei and Matashichi in the said film. Taking his love for Kurosawa even further, George Lucas even asked Toshiro Mifune, an iconic Japanese actor who was loved for his portrayal of Samurai-spirit in Kurosawa films, to play the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. When Toshiro turned down the offer due to his disbelief in sci-fi films and film technology back in the days, George Lucas even offered the role of Darth Vader! Toshiro still refused to take part, but if he did, the Star Wars as we know today would be something completely different.

May the 4th be with you!


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Mariko fell in love with Star Wars when her father took her to see Episode 3 Revenge of the Sith. I believe that’s 12 years ago.

One of the many reasons she loves Star Wars is, because you can interpret the story in many different ways. Some of the characters she didn’t like much in her teenage years, but have become her favourite recently. She thinks different life experiences and background make you understand the characters differently.

When asked what superpower she wishes she had, she explained how being able to take one cultural concept and finding an equivalent in another would be amazing. For example: Marmite is like natto for Japanese people.