History N' Games

History N' Games Episode 4 (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild)

June 17, 2019 Season 1 Episode 4
History N' Games
History N' Games Episode 4 (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild)
Chapters
History N' Games
History N' Games Episode 4 (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild)
Jun 17, 2019 Season 1 Episode 4
Meghan Sullivan
Meghan Sullivan explains how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is closely tied to Japanese history.
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, host Meghan Sullivan explains how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is closely tied to ancient Japanese history.



Speaker 1:
0:00
[inaudible].
Speaker 2:
0:10
Hi everyone. I'm Megan Sullivan and welcome to history and games podcast where I play historical fiction games and talk about the real history behind the game. In today's episode, we're going to be breathlessly talking about the legend of Zelda breath of the wild, which is full of rich history, specifically ancient Japanese history have. Don't worry, there are no spoilers for the game, so if you haven't played it yet, you can listen to this episode. Worry free. Also, please go play breath of the wild. It's a fantastic game and no, I'm not sponsored by Nintendo. This is history in games.
Speaker 1:
0:55
Okay.
Speaker 3:
0:57
Okay, so the legend of Zelda, breath of the wild. It is one of my absolute favorite games of 2017 which was a banner year for games by the way, and one of my absolute favorite Zelda Games of all time and I've been playing this series since 1988 so that tells you something. Now, for those of you who are history buffs but are not familiar with the game, here's a very quick, basic summary of what breath of the wild is. It's an action adventure game. It's developed and published by Nintendo. It's set in a beautiful, mysterious kingdom called high rule. And the story revolves around a character name to link who awakens from a hundred years slumber in order to defeat an evil being known as calamity Gannon. To do so, link must do all sorts of things like acquire the power of four divine beast, solve a bunch of puzzles, find the Masters Sword and regain his lost memories, which include memories of the Princess Zelda, who is also key to defeating calamity Ganon.
Speaker 3:
1:55
And again, that's a very basic summary of the story, but the best part of the game is the sense of freedom you get from running around a big open world fighting weird creatures like Madeline's in Tutus. It actually reminds me a lot of the original legend of Zelda. Since there's no roadmap to where you're supposed to go or what you're supposed to do, you're free to just go out and explore. And as long as you have the right equipment and enough stamina, you can go anywhere, do anything and approach any puzzle or problem however you want. And do you know what? I really love if you just want to play tourist and walk or gallop across deserts and forests and taken the beautiful sites, you can do that too, which is great because breath of the wild cel shaded world is not only gorgeous to look at.
Speaker 3:
2:42
It's oddly shaped buildings and ancient technology aren't like anything we've ever seen in a Zelda game, which gives it a fantastic sense of wonder and mystery. And as it turns out, that is not an accident. Almost everything you see in the game from divine peace to, to elaborate facial tattoos can be tied to real Japanese history. And when you know that you have an all new appreciation for the game. So if you're a Zelda fan, this podcast is going to be a lot of fun for you. And if you love history, it's going to be a lot of fun for you. And if you love both boys, it's going to be a lot of fun for you. So let's hop back into the animus. Yes, I know the animus is an assassin's creed construct, but eh, whatever, and travel back in time, 5,000 years to ancient Japan when we'll learn more about the prehistoric Joe Mon people, why they had such cool tattoos, why they had such cool sunglasses, how they made such cool pottery, why they lived partially submerged in the earth and how Lincoln Zeldas world is connected to it all.
Speaker 3:
3:48
As we travel back in time, I just want to let people know that although I have studied the Japanese language for about two decades, my accent is still not very good, so I apologize in advance if my pronunciation is terrible. Also, if your Zelda fan or a fan of Japanese history, I want to hear from you. Tell me your favorite Zelda game or your favorite moment from breath of the wild. Tell me about your favorite part of this podcast, something you learned that you never knew before. Email me at Megan history, m e g n H I s t o r y@gmail.com and let me know and I'll share your answers on the next episode. Thank you and enjoy the rest of the show.
Speaker 3:
4:29
And here we are in northern honed shoe Japan. It's 2,500 BCE and we're about to meet a prehistoric people known as a Joe Moon. If we look around, we can see a sunny clearing near a river ringed by sunken thatched huts and around this river, a peaceful group of people no older than their thirties or forties wearing jade necklaces, bone hairpieces and clothes made of animal skins and mulberry bark are busy going about their daily lives. Some are fishing for salmon in the nearby river. Others are baking cookies, made of acorns and Yam paste or animal fat. One group has taken their bows and arrows into the nearby forest to do some deer and bear hunting while the rest are shaping clay into small figurines or elaborately shaped pottery, the Joe won't. People have a somewhat darkish complexion, thick black hair, and a smattering of freckles.
Speaker 3:
5:22
They're also covered in red tattoos and body paint. When they smile, you'll notice that some of them have had their teeth knocked out. They don't have any iron tools and though they're familiar with horses, they don't really use them. They also don't have a writing system, so it's hard to decipher their language, but it probably wouldn't be recognizable to modern Japanese. Who are they? Are we in the right place and time? What does a long period have to do with the legend of Zelda? Well, let's start with the latter question. In a promotional video by Nintendo published March 14th, 2017 breath of the wild art director Tuckey Silva [inaudible] explains that the Jo one period is the inspiration for much of the art style in breath of the wild. Here's a quote from the video. The Gym on period in Japanese history was the inspiration for the shake of slate shrines in all the other ancient objects and structures in the game.
Speaker 3:
6:17
We ended up taking the gym on aesthetic and using it as a base to expand upon the games ancient shake, a civilization. The reason was because the [inaudible] period is relatively unknown. Too much of the world. It has a nuance and mystery that we found really appealing. We were looking for something that would feel unique and settled on Japan's Joe Mon period as a result. And thus the gentleman period is definitely linked to well link and as well later. See, it's not just structures and objects that are connected to prehistory. There are also features in the game that although may not be directly inspired by Joe, culture wouldn't be out of place in it. So with that said, what is the Jomon period?
Speaker 2:
7:02
The gentleman period or Jumanji die in Japanese is set in Japanese pre history and it's traditionally dated between 14,300 BCE. Although I should note that recently some scholars have pushed the end date back to about a thousand BCE. Anyway, the name Joan Mun means rope or cord mark. The term was coined by an American scholar named Edward S. Morse, who while excavating and the area around Yokohama in 1877 came across distinct pottery featuring elaborate designs made by pressing braided twine or grass into the surface of wet clay. This artistic technique was used for over 10,000 years. This marking and naming the Jo Malone
Speaker 3:
7:47
period. Now tuck is Elva Vasan doesn't mention which part of the Jones loan period breath of the wild is inspired by, which is a bit confusing because we're dealing with nearly 14,000 years of history divided into six phases, incipient, initial, early middle, late and final Jomon. But it's likely we're dealing with a timeframe somewhere between the mid to late June one period about 2,500 to a thousand BCE where the most distinct and beautiful prehistoric objects like flame pottery, Dogo statues really start to take form. And if you play a breath of the wild, you can clearly see mid to late June one influenced just about everywhere. Now for those of you who have played breath of the wild, I know what you might be thinking, what Joe Mon influence, where there doesn't seem to be anything prehistoric about this game. I mean there are villages in the game that look like something out of medieval Europe and a lot of the characters have hairstyles and costumes to look more reminiscent of say Japan's Kofu period or even warring states period.
Speaker 3:
8:52
They certainly don't look like anything at caveman would wear. And that's true, but if you know what to look for, you can start to see just how much of the German culture is snuck into the game. And I think the best place to start a historical Easter egg hunt is with one of the most ubiquitous objects you'll find in the game. Shrines, shrines. For those who haven't played the game or like little mini dungeons, we have to solve puzzles or undergo trials. There are about 120 shrines scattered throughout high rule and the only way to find them is to either go out and explore or complete special requests. Now, although every shrine has its own name, its own trial and its own treasure, they all look alike on the outside, which is good because it makes them easier to find. Well that in at the start of the game you're given a device called a shake, a slate, which pings you whenever you're near a shrine.
Speaker 3:
9:42
So you know that also helps. So what does shrines look like? Well, trines look like an upside down flower pot. They have a narrow cylinder top and a wide domed bottom. Every shrine is decorated with beautiful swirling patterns. I glow orange and blue and the interior is always built underground. These details are important because they indicate shrines or possibly based on one of two different historical relics from the Jomon period. The first is related to prehistoric architecture. The people of the Jomon period lived in what a called pit houses or picked dwellings. These pit dwellings started off as simple conical shaped huts, made a fetch and wood with dirt floors sunk deep into the earth in order to take advantage of the earth's natural warmth. During cold winters, the interior of a pit dwelling was around three meters are more in diameter. It featured a central herth and enough room to store food, pottery, and tools.
Speaker 3:
10:40
It was a pretty spacious home and could accommodate anywhere between five to 10 people later. These conical pit dwellings would evolve and include additions like multiple wooden poles that could hold up a more square shaped height and a grass rooftop meant to keep the home extra dry during the rainy season and starting in the late Joe Moen period. Some buildings or even elevated off the ground on stilt, like structures with ladders or steep stairs leading up to the entrance. By the way, if you play breath of the wild, you can see an echo of these elevated types of buildings by going to places like Kakadu Eco village. But whether they were elevated off the ground or buried in the ground, the conical shape of Joe Mont architecture never really disappeared and remained throughout the era. And you can see that rotunda like form in every shrine in high rule trines even function like early June one houses.
Speaker 3:
11:32
You have to go down into the ground in order to access the inside of the shrine. And once you're inside, you'll notice the floors are made of stone, not earth. Interestingly, some Jomon pit dwellings did feature flagstone floors, which makes the similarities between breath of the wild trines and Joe on pit dwellings even more acute. Of course, I have to note that the inside of these shrines also feature a lot of futuristic technology, which isn't exactly historically accurate, but I like how the Shaker relics found in the game represent a long lost civilization. And that's kind of what the gentleman period is, but there might be a far more simple and straightforward explanation for why breath of the wild shrines look the way they do. I mentioned earlier these shrines look like upside down pots. Right and that's because they might actually be based on what the gym on period is best known for. Its rare and exquisite pottery.
Speaker 4:
12:27
Yeah.
Speaker 3:
12:31
Pottery from the [inaudible] period has been classified by archeologist and to at least
Speaker 5:
12:35
70 different main styles every piece of this earth and where it was made using something called the coil technique, which is when a basket is used to steady the base of the vessel or coils of clay are piled up one layer at a time by hand. Archeologists can tell when a particular piece of Jomon pottery was made by looking at it size, shape and surface patterns and the gentleman period produced some amazing shapes and patterns. For example, the earliest pottery from the gym on period was actually bullet shaped with a wide mouth at the top and a tapered pointed and at the bottom. As time went on, the pottery grew in size and then dramatically changed shape. The tapered end of the bullet vessels were widened and flattened out, and by the mid Joe Man period, which was from about 2,500 to 1500 BCE, the surface patterns of each vessel started to feature increasingly complex rope patterns. Meanwhile, the mouth of each boss morphed into a long gated protruding rinse that arched high over the pot. These flared angular projections made these vessels look similar,
Speaker 3:
13:42
the crown's worn by royalty in ancient China and Korea, which might be why archeologist often refer to this type of earthen ware as crown pottery, and it's these unglazed crown pots that the shrines and breath of the wild look like, but they're not the only objects in the game that resemble these unusual vases. You can see the same shape and form on a lot of things from the lookout posts known as shake a towers to a special type of outfit known as ancient armor and you can really see it when you look at creatures known as Guardians. Guardians for those who don't know are these weird machines that patrol certain areas of high rule and they like to zap you with lasers. If you get too close, they're really annoying, but visually they're cool because they look like upside down. Crown pottery come to life, even their spindly robot legs look like the ribbed water spouts you see on some ancient jome on vessels.
Speaker 3:
14:37
But if you really want to see Joe man art at its most beautiful and crazy and breath of the wild look no further than the four divine beasts. These giant mechanical constructs are kind of like living dungeons and in breath of the, you're tasked with fighting each one of these bees in order to cleanse them of evil. The exterior and interior of each of these creatures looks very heavily influenced by a specific type of June one art called kind Dachi, which means flame, pottery and flame pottery is one of the coolest and most unique things to come out of the Jomon era. Now, technically, the crowned pots I mentioned earlier are a part of this family of earthenware vessels, but the Cayenne dokie I'm talking about are actually a lot more elaborate. The rims of these vessels are absolutely wild. They have all sorts of curly loopty loops, sawtooth edges, hollow rings, and undulating borders that give the pottery a sense of dynamic movement and the surface of these pots are covered in a series of diagonal lines, straight lines, curly cues, and wave patterns, some of which are presented in high relief.
Speaker 3:
15:46
Seriously, you have to see these pots to believe them. Even the story behind their discovery is pretty interesting. The first such vessel was discovered on New Year's Eve, 1936 in a place called Ooma Taka by the archeologists Kodokan judo and his son took Sabado according to a charming story told by a fellow archaeologist when conjunto and assign discovered the unusual pottery, they were so shocked by it's bizarre farm. They had no idea what to call it. The son just called it either Ooma Taka after the area it was discovered in or just that Baas. The father, however started to call it [inaudible], which means flame or flames after the flame like protrusions decorating the top of the vessel. When other earthenware vessels were discovered with similar designs, the name Cayenne dokie or flam pottery stuck. Some archeologists think these projections really do resemble dancing flames, which would have cast crazy shadows on the walls of Giovan pit dwellings acting as the perfect addition to stories told by the hearth fire during long winter nights.
Speaker 3:
16:49
Others, however, think these protrusions are meant to represent water, and when I look at these vessels, I have to agree, although I can see how the rim of Cayenne pots resemble flames. If you look at the combination of wavy lines and curling vortexes on the surface of the pottery, then look at the rolling motion and wave like form of the mouth of these vessels. The whole effect looks like the natural movements of water water in say a river, which would make sense because a lot of Joe sites were found near rivers, particularly the Shanana River basin in northern Honshu. FYI, nobody knows for sure what these vessels were used for, but archeologists have found traces of salmon and other types of food in them. So it's possible they are used for food storage, but not all the vases have traces of food in them. So some of them could have been used in festivals or rituals.
Speaker 3:
17:41
All we know for sure is that these astounding looking pots are gorgeous. And when we study the art design for the divine bees with all their crazy jacket, protrusions and curving joints and rings and spouts and crazy edges, we can see how the divine peace represent flame pottery taken to its most beautiful and logical extreme. So, okay, there's a lot of pottery to find in breath of the wild, but guess what? Pottery isn't the only cool thing from the Joe Mon period to make it into the game. There's lots of cool stuff both big and small, really small like tiny, cool little statues. Small, which brings us to our next object of interest. Cherry. Now you might be thinking cherry. Who's cherry? Well, if you go to the far northeast and part of the world map and breath of the wild, you'll come across the, call it ancient tech lab.
Speaker 3:
18:32
Inside the lab is an adorable looking furnace nickname cherry. Why is an ancient furnace relevant to Japanese history? Well, you'll notice cherry doesn't look like a typical oven. Instead she looks kind of human with a roundish face, big blue eyes and hollow rings that look like ears. In fact, Cherry looks just like a special type of statue from the Jomon on period called a Docu Daegu, which means earth and figuring our small humanoid statutes that started to become popular in the mid Jomon period. There have been about 15,000 docu statues found in Japan so far and like Jomon pottery. Their style and form can differ quite a bit. Nobody knows exactly what the statutes were made for something. They represent people in prayer while others think that since parts of these statues have been deliberately broken off there effigies associated with sympathy magic. However, since most of these clay figurines have large eyes, wide hips and large abdomens associated with pregnancy, the general consensus is that the statutes are associated with mother goddesses and or women in childbirth.
Speaker 3:
19:41
Of course it's also possible over time they had different functions which makes sense because some of them are very unique looking. For example, one statue has webbed hands and a feline or Fox like face. Another Doku has a heart shaped face, not unlike the core Rock Aka for spirits. You come across in breath of the wild, but there's one particular type of Doby statue that comes to mind when you look at Cherry that Shar cookie dough goo. The [inaudible] are fascinating. These types of figurines start appearing in large numbers during the late June one period and they tend to be more elaborately decorated than other Docu. Their bodies are covered in swirling patterns indicating either body tattoos or special clothing, and some appear to have headgear or crowns, but their most distinct feature are there huge buggy eyes, which look either squeezed shut or hidden behind giant snow goggles.
Speaker 3:
20:36
Now the idea of a statue wearing goggles might sound a little silly, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. There's a type of intuit snow goggles made from Caribou antler and sinew that looked just like the goggles of the Shakuhachi statues. In fact, the name [inaudible] means light protecting as in protecting the eyes from the glare of the sun. And if you look a cherry, you'll notice this adorable robotic oven looks just like a show Cokie Dogo wearing snow goggles, which is evidence of yet more German influence in breath of the wild. Neat. Huh? But wait, there's more. So we've talked a lot about what Joe on people made, but we haven't really talked about the Jomon people themselves. What were they all about and do the characters you see inhabiting the world of breath of the wild resembled them in any way, shape or form?
Speaker 3:
21:26
And the answer is yes. You have to look sort of carefully, but if you do, you'll notice certain characters in the game are rather unique looking. Now it's true. The art design team at Nintendo probably made them that way just for fun. But you can draw a correlation between these unique physical features and the prehistoric Joe loan people. For example, there's a sort of goofy traveling merchant in the Zelda series named beetle. He's pretty distinct looking and not just because of the giant traveling pack he has with him. If you look carefully, you'll notice a healthy dusting of freckles on his face. Why is that important? Well, it turns out that the Jomon people may have had freckles to recently a team of Japanese researchers deciphered the genetic traits of a German woman discovered in Hokkaido. They did this by collecting a DNA sample from one of her back molars, and to their surprise, they found a woman shared a gene variant with people who live in the Arctic.
Speaker 3:
22:23
Not only that, but they found out she had a high tolerance for alcohol, the ability to digest extremely fatty foods, and most interesting of all, she had an elevated chance of having freckles. This is an amazing find because Frankel's aren't a common feature in modern Japanese, which makes a gym on people pretty distinct from the area. Speaking of distinct, there's another traveling NPC and breath of the wild, who's also very unique looking. His name is [inaudible] Congo and he's a traveling artist who can tell you all about significant landmarks and high rule. He's pretty cool, but what's really interesting about him is his design. You'll notice that on his left arm and shoulder, he has an elaborate red and blue floral tattoo. That's not a very common feature in a Zelda game, but it is a common feature in this game. Players will also notice that both the bashful girl in Kakadu, Eco Village Paya and the ancient shake us sage impa sport facial tattoos.
Speaker 3:
23:19
Now again, these markings are probably just a whimsical addition by the games design team, but they wouldn't be out of place in the genome on culture. According to a Chinese source from the third century BCE known as the [inaudible], the people of Japan known to the Chinese as a people of Wa tattooed their faces and painted their bodies. Here's a quote, the men of war tattoo their faces and paint their bodies with designs. They are fond of diving for fish and shells. Long ago they decorated their bodies in order to protect themselves from large fish. Later these designs became ornamental body painting differs among the various tribes and the position and size of the designs vary according to the rank of the individual. They also smear their bodies with pink and scarlet just as we Chinese use powder. That's pretty clear evidence. The Jomon loved tattoos and as I mentioned before, you can see elaborate patterns on the bodies and faces of Doga statues which might also say no tattooing, but there's one more potential piece of evidence for this Joan one practice until the modern era, the current indigenous people of Japan, the I knew also practice tattooing particularly I know women who would get large lip tattoos that not only had spiritual and cultural significance that may have also signaled their readiness for marriage.
Speaker 3:
24:41
Now the jury is still out on whether the I knew are the direct descendants of the jawbone, but it is interesting to note that not only did they practice tattooing for thousands of years, they're native style of dress features. A lot of the intricate patterns and designs you see on Ancient Joan won relics. By the way. You can see some of these indigenous like patterns on certain clothing items and breath of the wild and you'll notice that a lot of characters are wearing animal skins or clothes made of plant fibers, which the Jomon would also have worn. Now to be fair, not everything featured in breath of the wild is tied to Jim on culture. Like those iron weapons that always managed to attract lightning during a storm. Yeah, those didn't exist in the Jomon period because the gentleman, people were not yet familiar with iron and the horses you can ride from one end of high roll to the other.
Speaker 3:
25:32
Well, it turns out horses were very rare in general on Japan and weren't really used. And the food you cook to heal or raise link stats in the game. Well ingredients like spicy peppers, sugar and milk weren't around. But things like nuts, fish, mushrooms, salt and wild game did exist in the gym on era. So some of the food recipes in breath of the wild, like mushroom skewers and salt grilled fish were probably similar to those used by the Jomon people. But alas, the Iot, if you find everywhere in breath of the wild has zero correlation to Jim on culture, which is a real bummer because that would've been kind of cool. Clearly there are a lot of things in the game that didn't exist in the Jomon period. What? What's funny to me is there's one interesting thing that did exist in the Jomon period that doesn't exist in the game and I kind of wish it did. Teeth. Ablasion t the ablasion is the practice of removing perfectly healthy teeth from your mouth for ritual or cultural purposes, and it was practiced by the people of the late and final June one periods who started deliberately removing their teeth somewhere around 1500 BCE. And when I say remove, I don't mean Tyler to twist string or take pliers and Yank them out. I mean their teeth were literally bashed in.
Speaker 5:
26:57
Here's a quote from a study by anthropologists at the University of Nevada for the Jo Malone life milestones for commemorated by the extraction of different tooth classes. Usually incisors, canine and premolars were chosen because they were all visible teeth. The removal of these teeth immediately mark your place in society with a flash of a smile. One would know the individual's family if they were in adult or not, if they were married, if they had experienced the death of a loved one, or if they had children. The practice of tooth removal was rather painful as it used, not extractive methods, but the traumatic method by strong force in a single blow, which sometimes resulted in incomplete removal of teeth leaving residual broken roots and about 10% of cases,
Speaker 3:
27:46
ouch. It's a rough rite of passage for sure, but link would certainly know who he was dealing with right away. If characters and breath of the wild, we're missing a few teeth instead, everyone in the game has the most dazzling smile, especially the Zuora print side on whose blindingly white teeth are kind of as trademark. But what's ironic is that a site on where a real gem on prince or chieftain, he'd be missing a lot of those pearly whites and he'd be proud, Eh, on second thought, maybe it's a good thing the people of high rule have proper dentistry.
Speaker 2:
28:21
At any rate, we've now seen some of the cool ways that the jewel one culture is tied or could be tied to breath of the wild. And like I said before, no this, I really come to appreciate the games aesthetic. So whether you're playing the game the first time we visited the road of high role in order to get ready for the recently announced breath of the wild sequel, be sure to be on the lookout for all the relics and styles that are reminiscent of Japanese history. And that's it for today's episode. Guys. Questions, comments, corrections? Be sure to hit me up at my email at Megan history, m e g n H, I s t o r y@gmail.com or reach out to me on my Twitter account. And Megan, m e G. H, a. N underscore ign. Thanks for listening guys.
Speaker 1:
29:09
[inaudible].
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