Samurai Champloo is an anime series set in Edo Japan as Mugen, a wild ruffian, and Jin, a reserved ronin with a bitter past, help Fuu, a bright and young girl, find the samurai who smells of sunflowers. While the anime is known especially for its diverse soundtrack and hip-hop elements, the show actually depicts real events from the Edo period of Japan. Since the show is not a historical documentary but an anime aimed at entertainment, the show did not get everything historically correct, but the history is valid nonetheless.
What if one were to watch this show to get a glimpse of the Edo era in Japan? Would they learn something? Is Samurai Champloo too fictional to be used as an actual historical guide? Maybe so. Maybe not. Let’s find out.
Episode 19 of ‘Samurai Champloo’ Was Very Factual
In Samurai Champloo, there were many historic events present that were depicted in their actual form. For example, in Episode 19 (Unholy Union), the show showed the after effects of the Shimabara Rebellion. The Shimabara Rebellion was an uprising of Catholic Japanese peasants against the Shogunate. The rebellious was a lost cause, and Christians in Japan were heavily persecuted from 1630 to the 1850s.
In this episode, Jin and Mugen are ordered to step on a icon that depicts Jesus on the cross. This method was implemented to distinguish Christian peasants. These icons were called Fumi-e, literally translated into ‘pictures to step on.’ In the mid to late 1620s, people suspected of being Christian adherents were ordered to step on these images in order to prove they weren’t a Christian follower. Those who refused were assumed to be Christians and were taken as hard laborers or killed. This practice continued until the 1850s.
Also in the episode, Xavier the Third claimed to be the grandson of Francisco Xavier, a Portuguese missionary who introduced Christianity to Japan in 1549. The Xavier in this episode is a priest whose flock happens to be a group of secret Christians, Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christians). The hidden Christians practiced their religion in secret, and to no surprise, Fuu was awakened by one of their secret meetings. Fuu also converses with Yuri about the true nature of one of her charms. Yuri tells her that it is a Christian amulet passed down from Ikitsuki Island, the home of the Hidden Christians. Ikitsuki in Nagasaki was actually a haven for hidden Christians in the Edo period.
Interestingly enough, when a Japanese person was converted to Christianity, they were warned of false prophets and teachers of the religion. In this episode, that happened to be Xavier the Third, who used his followers to create guns and make money. Therefore, this actual historical event was perfectly depicted in Samurai Champloo.
— Edward Bui (@oldskoolking87) June 1, 2016
Matthew Perry and Episode 23 of ‘Samurai Champloo’
In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry visited Japan to force trade, on orders from President Millard Fillmore. Japan was intimidated by the strength of America’s naval fleet, and the Shogunate eventually agreed to open Japanese ports to American merchants. All of this certainly did not go down in the episode. However, the show did feature a similar naval commander named Admiral Joy Cartwright. For those who aren’t familiar, this man was the father of modern baseball.
— Brian Dreyer (@Bwdreyer) April 17, 2016
Obviously, Admiral Cartwright was modeled after Commodore Perry, but the most important fact is that this anime actually depicted the American naval fleet barging its way unto Japan’s shore. The admiral even declared that if any resistance is initiated, the fleet will attack will full force. In other words, this was an order.
Miyamoto Musashi: The Greatest Japanese Swordsman
Anyone that has extensively studied Japanese history knows of the legacy of Miyamoto Musashi, who is widely considered to be the greatest swordsman in Japanese history. In Episode 21 of Samurai Champloo (Elegy of Entrapment), a hermit teaches Jin how to catch fish. When Jin asks him what his name is, he replies: Musashi Miyamoto. Of course, he laughs it off as a joke and says that that man has been dead for a long time. While no one is sure whether or not he was actually Musashi, the hermit’s depiction certainly does match the famed swordsman.
To start, Samurai Champloo is set in an undetermined time in the Edo period. Musashi lived from 1584-1645, and actually played a great role in the Shimabara Rebellion, which ended in 1638. Around this time, Musashi traveled Japan while writing his books. It could stand to reason that the vagrant in Episode 21 could have been Musashi. The claim wouldn’t have been made for nothing, and even so, Jin took that ‘joke’ very seriously.
If you really think about it, a normal hermit wouldn’t have as much insight as that man did to properly instruct Jin on the movements of the fish. These teachings perfectly correlated to Jin’s new fighting technique. No coincidence there.
Some Events Impede The Show’s Historical Accuracy
Samurai Champloo is definitely set in Edo Japan. However, a specific date has never been determined. We already saw that in Episode 19 (Unholy Union), Jin and Mugen were forced to defile a Christian image. This practice was institutionalized in the 1620s. However, in Episode 23 (Baseball Blues), Admiral Cartwright’s naval assault represented Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan in 1853. These dates obviously don’t overlap, and even so, the persecution of Christians stopped in the 1850s. This inconsistency can confuse viewers who may be looking to this show as a historical source. The undefined date of the show’s premise actually impedes Samurai Champloo’s historical validity.
Moreover, in Episode 13 (Misguided Miscreants Part I), a six-shooter was shown, wielded by one of the pirates. This weapon wasn’t invented until 1814. This suggests that the story takes place after 1814. Nevertheless, this is also inconsistent because in Episode 6 (Stranger Searching), the trade relationship between Japan and the Dutch East India Company has been blatantly revealed. This relationship, though, ended in 1798, 16 years before the invention of the six-shooter.
In essence, these inconsistencies with historical dates obstruct Samurai Champloo’s historical value, but it doesn’t totally make the show any less worth seeing, especially if you want to learn a lot about Japanese history. People can find valuable information from the most irrelevant sources, whether entirely factual or not. Being an anime show first, it is understandable why Samurai Champloo isn’t a direct history book. This is probably because the creators wanted the viewers to research the facts themselves.
Therefore, Samurai Champloo is a great anime show to view for entertainment, and it does have real historical events that can teach viewers a lot about Japanese history. Still, people continue to say that television rots the mind. Would you still believe that after watching this show?