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Japanese Culture and Folklore in Persona 5

From the tales lurking within the Persona compendium to real locations and culture, it looks at Japan which few other games can rival in depth and detail.

By 4 min read

From shogi to Sangenjaya to spirits, it’s a wonder just how much Japanese folklore and culture is filled into the nooks and crannies of Persona 5. Besides simply being set in Japan, multiple game elements in a Japanese high school explore popular aspects of Japanese culture.

If you know where to look, you can find Japanese myths and legends, games and even the odd sightseeing spot if you’re in the area, so let’s take a look at each.

The personas of legend

Who needs Pokemon?

They’re what the game is named after, and it’s easy to spot some of their more direct links to western myths and folklore. Personas like Archangel and the slightly more esoteric Cu Chulainn are tales you’ve likely heard in passing.

But Persona 5 draws inspiration for its personas from folklore worldwide, with some iconic Japanese stories taking center stage. Drawing inspiration from Japanese folk tales, Shintoism and Buddhism, dozens of personas are stories waiting to be explored. Here’s a quick list of some of the ones you can find throughout:

  •   Goemon: Based on the traditional legend of Ishikawa Goemon, a 16th-century Japanese folk hero known for stealing from the wealthy to give to the poor.
  •   Nekomata: A yokai, or supernatural entity, that appears as a cat. It is often playful and mischievous in stories.
  •   Ame-no-Uzume: The Shinto goddess of the dawn and joy, Ame-no-Uzume is best known in a popular story where she tricks the sun goddess into leaving a cave she had hidden in.
  •   Izanagi: One of the two gods believed to have created Japan in Shintoism. He and his wife, Izanami, achieved this feat in harmony.
  •   Tengus: With a few different varieties, the Tengu is a species from the Japanese folklore of yokai. They are well known for their combat prowess and feature prominently in Shinto and Buddhism.
  •   Take-Minakata: A minor deity from Japanese mythology who is a foot soldier in the larger heavenly army.

Even that’s just scratching the surface of the mythology waiting in the Persona universe. The in-game compendium summarizes the related folklore behind the personas, so if you’re interested in Japanese mythology, make sure you’re reading it as you play.

Persona 5 offers a richly detailed exploration of Japanese mythology through the personas, and you’ll likely have dozens of folk tales to explore by the time you’re done with the game.

P5’s School life and the real deal

The last year of high school can be stressful, as their grades will be under harsh scrutiny from peers and family.

When you’re out of the palaces in Persona 5, you’re living the day-to-day life of a teenager at Shujin Academy. The first major plotline in the game is centered around the P.E. teacher at the school, an ex-olympian who pushes his athletes past their breaking points. Though you’re unlikely to find a Kamoshida in a real Japanese school, most take pride in their athletic clubs and extracurricular activities. Students often practice multiple times a week, including on weekends, and there can be a lot of pressure to perform well.

Shujin’s portrayal of academic rigors in high schools is a little more understated. The school implements a ranking system for exam scores based on the real practice of competitive exams for universities in Japan. Scores are often publicly posted as a means of motivating students to excel.

The real  ‘Yongenjaya’

Yongenjaya is based in the Sangenjaya area just outside of Shibuya central.

Moving back into the physical world for a moment, Persona 5 also has a lot of locations that you’ll probably recognize if you’re familiar with Tokyo. All the major hubs in the city show up at various points. Ikebukuro, Shibuya, Shinjuku and even Meiji Jingu Shrine in Harajuku. But you might be scratching your head whenever you head back to Cafe Leblanc. Yongenjaya doesn’t seem to show up anywhere.

In fact, Yongenjaya is based in the Sangenjaya area just outside of Shibuya central. With yon (よん) being the Japanese word for four and the san in Sangenjaya using the kanji for three (さん), Persona 5 employs a little wordplay at home. Much like the Yongenjaya in-game, Sangenjaya has peaceful, if maze-like, backstreets that are the perfect spot for a quiet walk, minutes away from the bustle of Shibuya.

The Venus of Shogi

Also a popular romance.

If you’re playing Persona 5 and have gotten a decent way in, you’ll have run into Hifumi Togo by now. Known in-game as the Venus of shogi, her tactical prowess gives you a much-needed edge in battle. But, you might be asking, what exactly is shogi?

As shogi translates, the “general’s game” is yet another part of Japanese culture that Persona 5 engages with and shows to a broader audience. Created in the 15th century, a common analogy of shogi is “Japanese chess,” which is partially accurate.

Persona 5 brings more to the table in Japanese culture and folklore than is possible.

Between all of the pieces, is there one particular folk tale behind a persona that you found yourself enjoying? Let us know in the comments!

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