“Know your place, fool.” The phrase itself is enough to figure out whom I am talking about. Despite being an antagonist, Jujutsu Kaisen’s Ryomen Sukuna has become one of the most popular characters of recent times. However, you will be surprised to know that the name holds much more significance in the pages of Japanese mythology.
From Naruto’s legendary sannins to Demon Slayer’s Muzan Kibutsuji, taking inspiration from mythological figures is nothing new in the anime (or manga) industry. Ryomen Sukuna is just another example where Akutami sensei forged a mythological entity into the panels of his manga. The stories passed on about Ryomen Sukuna for centuries are nothing less interesting than what you see in Jujutsu Kaisen. Sadly, not much detail was available about Sukuna on the internet, at least not in English. After much research and translation, I bring together all the mythological references I learned about Sukuna.
Meaning of ‘Ryomen Sukuna’
The word Ryomen Sukyna means “two-sided spirits.” If you try sticking the word in an online translator, it gives you “two-sided inns.” So, it isn’t hard to figure out that ‘Ryomen’ means two-sided, and Sukuna means inn or some sort of lodging. However, according to some old kanji dictionaries, ‘Sukuna’ can also mean ‘driving out evil spirits’ or simply ‘exorcism.’
As you can see, the second meaning of Sukuna suits the name more. Now, if you bring Ryomen and Sukuna together, it should be referring towards a two-faced (or two-sided) spirit that kills other evil spirits. This explains why Sukuna in the anime is hostile towards other cursed spirits rather than humans.
Ryomen Sukuna’s Appearance in Japanese Mythology
Sukuna’s appearance in the pages of Japanese mythology isn’t much different from what Gojo sensei described him to be. He had two faces, four arms, four legs and was armed with two swords, a bow, and an arrow. His height varies from 10 feet to 173 feet, depending on descriptions, but at least he was far taller than any normal human. His godly physique and superhuman strength explain why do people fear him even in the 21st century.
According to Nihonnshoki (Chronicles of Japan), Sukuna was an evil specter who slaughtered tens and thousands of humans during his reign. Later, he was killed by a shogun named Takefurukuma no Mikoto, who happened to be an ancestor of the Wani uji clan from the Kofun period.
While most scripts describe Ryomen Sukuna as a merciless villain, people in the Hida and Mino provinces worshipped him like a hero. They believe that Sukuna is the man who introduced Buddhism in the Hida province. He is regarded as a Kaiki (patron) of Senko-ji Temple and Zenkyu-ji Temple in Nyukawa-cho. Moreover, The ichinomiya (highest ranked shrine) of Hida Province, Minashi-jinja Shrine has been worshiping a mysterious character as its enshrined deity. There’s a theory that Sukuna can be the secret deity of the shrine. So, its safe to say that Sukuna is more of a protector than a villain in Hida’s culture.
Ryomen Sukuna is a name that popped up in Japanese history time and time again and in different forms. Here are some of the other popular theories about him.
This theory states that Ryomen Sukuna symbolizes twins and brothers. Thus people connected him with Yamato Takeru no Mikoto and his brother from Japanese history. It can also refer to Emperor Chuai’s sons, Kagosaka no Miko and Oshikuma no Mikoto. Both the pairs are entangled with the history of Mino and Hida Provinces.
According to some locals of Hida Province, Ryomen Sukuna was their ruler before the invasion of the Yamato Imperial house. Now, history is written by the victors and not the vanquished, so Yamato fabricated the story to justify their conquest. Thus, news spread that the Yamato house saved the poor villagers from the evil reign of Sukuna.
Some ancient scripts state that Ryomen Sukuna was a hero who defeated an evil dragon. He was even considered as a reincarnation of Kannon with the power to grant salvation. However, there isn’t much evidence supporting this absurd theory.