The Use of Names in Utena

In the course of reading The Chrysanthemum Throne by Peter Martin, I discovered some very interesting information about names, as they relate to the Utena characters. So much of interest, in fact, that I had to take the research further.


According to Martin's book, there is an Arisugawa family that is a cadet branch of the Imperial family, known as "Arisugawa-no-miya." I found an unofficial Imperial family site (now defunct) that gives the dates on this family as 1625-1913. Another site (also defunct) said:

Arisugawa-no-miya: This house 'technically' became extinct with the death of Prince Arisugawa Takehito (9th of the line) on July 13, 1913. The Takamatsu-no-miya title created for Prince Nobuhito, third of son of Emperor Taish┘, was a revival of the earlier Arisugawa-no-miya title."

Here is a site that details the history of the house name, which apparently falls into and out of use.

Arisugawa Takehito apparently was responsible for the building of the now-notorious Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where certain war criminals of WWII were buried. (Now, when Japanese dignitaries make official trips to the shrine, there tends to be international outrage.)


The name Saionji is also well-known in Imperial circles:

The Saionji clan was part of the northern branch of the Fujiwaras, and at first was not particularly influential. With the appearance of Saionji Kintsune, who became a central figure in the imperial court, the power of the clan grew so strong that it eclipsed that of the regent. At about this time (probably the 1220s), Kintsune decided to build a clan temple on the site of the present Kinkaku-ji. (original site now defunct)

While the family's prestige declined somewhat in the Imperial Court after this time, it resurged in the Meiji Era, when Saionji Kinmochi became a leading advisor of the Emperor and, eventually, Prime Minister of Japan. He resigned his position in 1912.


It is difficult to pin down any "real world" correspondences to the name Kaoru, but it is certainly colored by its association with Kaoru of The Tale of Genji, the man believed, mistakenly, to be Genji's son, but who is the grandson of the Emperor. We can leave that association as it stands, I think.


And here we come to the most interesting name association: Kiryuu. There is a "Kiryu" region of Japan, and as such, once had a lord named for it. From this site:

The earliest records of a Kiryu domain with a local lord goes back to the 12th century. The domain was located in the Tenjincho - Umedacho area of present day Kiryu, and the first Lord, Rokuro, a vassal to the Ashikaga Lords, was its ruler. [...]

Little is known of Rokuro, usually referred to as the "Former Lord Kiryu" to distinguish him from the Kiryu dynasty which came much later. The following story tells of his demise.

In September of the year 1181, Kiryu Rokuro assassinated his liege lord, Ashikaga Toshitusna. The explanation for this drastic action lies buried in history, however, some aspects of the political situation at the time bear light on this most puzzling case. [... The task of] administrative control [was left to] the Heike and Genji clans, the heads of which were distantly related to the Emperor and formed part of an extended aristocracy. Controlling power shifted back and forth betweeen these two clans over time.

The branch of the Ashikaga family to which Kiryu Rokuro pledged his allegiance belonged to the Taira (Heike) clan which at the time had fallen out of controlling power.

Minamoto no [Yoritomo ...] of the Genji clan was the dominant power at the time and the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate (1192-1333), the first warrior government of Japan. This dramatic change occurred in the year 1180 when the forces of Heike and Genji battled at Uji and later at Fujigawa in Shizuoka. Yoritomo emerged as the victor and established the Kamakura Shogunate.

As a result, the Taira families (Heike), of which Ashikaga Toshitsuna was one, fell out of power. The most obvious explanation for his assassination by Lord Kiryu lies in this sudden change of power and Kiryu's desire to be associated with the Minamoto (Genji) clan. By assassinating Toshitsuna and taking his head as a trophy to Yoritomo in Kamakura, Kiryu hoped to establish his allegiance to the Genji clan and be recognized as one of his vassals. Unfortunately for Kiryu, however, Yoritomo, thoroughly imbued with the samurai ethic, considered Kiryu as a traitor to his Ashikaga lord and unfit to be a Genji retainer. Yoritomo condemned Kiryu to death and had his head displayed with that of Ashikaga Toshitsuna at Inamura ga Saki. Thus, Rokuro never returned to Kiryu.

While the above is the most obvious explanation, another more complicated course of events has also been suggested. This explanation gives proof to the more devious and convoluted politics of the time. The Heike forces, having been defeated at Uji, returned embittered and anxious under the new Kamakura regime. Ashikaga Toshitsuna, it has been postulated, offered himself as a sacrifice in a devious plot to overthrow Yoritomo. Kiryu Rokuro, carrying the head of Toshitsuna to Kamakura, would gain the esteem and confidence of Yoritomo, and while there he would supposedly find the opportunity to assassinate the new shogun.

Minamoto no Yoritomo, however, anticipated this move and suspected a plot against him. In a calculated move to protect his new government, Yoritomo, deftly employing the Samurai ethic as his rationale, condemns Rokuro to death and foils the plan to reinstate the power of the Heike.

Whichever explanation is correct, the fact remains that Kiryu Rokuro, after a brief 2 years as a vassal, was indeed beheaded in Kamakura and never returned to his domain. It would be another 170 years before the next Kiryu Lord, Kiryu Kunitsuna, would appear. Because of this gap in time, Rokuro is referred to as the 'Former Kiryu' and Kunitsuna and his successors as the "Latter Kiryu."

Of interest in this story is not just the betrayal of his lord -- the ultimate crime for a samurai -- but the fact that Kiryu was of the samurai (bushi) class.

In Conclusion

Taking this information, it becomes obvious that there is an extremely interesting undercurrent present in the family names of the Student Council. We have two members of the Council -- Juri and Saionji -- who are clearly suggested to be of the noble class. Miki, I think, we can assume to have a rather blurry, but still implied, association with the nobility. And yet it is Touga, whose name suggests that he is of the samurai class, who is the ruler of the Council. The Shogun, in his own way.

As pointed out in discussion by Celeste Goodchild, the series creates even more distance from the more nobly-named character by pointing out that Touga and Nanami weren't even born to the Kiryuu name. They are, essentially, nameless orphans taken into a great family.

I don't think that this is reading too much into the names. In cultural terms, it may be just as if an American writer had populated her movie/book/comic book with teen characters whose surnames were Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Dupont, and then put some nouveau riche upstart -- say, a Trump or a Gates -- in charge of them at a boarding school.

Tenjou Utena and Himemiya Anthy certainly have names chock-full of interesting meanings, not least of which being that, while the kanji translation of Himemiya is, according to the Utena Encyclopedia, "princess shrine," the word "miya" is a suffix used to connote royalty, thus implying that the name is actually "princess princess." (And, in fact, one might note that only Utena ever calls her "Himemiya" -- is Utena obliquely affording her a title the other characters deny her by either calling her "Anthy" or "Himemiya-san"?) And there are the associations of "tenjou" (as "heaven") with "the Son of Heaven" title of the Japanese Emperor. So why should the creators of the series stop there with the symbolism of names?

The names of the Student Council seem to be clear cultural referents to indicate wealth, position, and political connections. The wealth is adequately demonstrated by their portrayals in the series, but the further complication of the class issues is obviously something that an uneducated Western viewer will miss.

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