Chapter 4: The Japanese Inspirations for Kyoshi Island

Kyoshi Island and the Kyoshi Warriors draw inspiration from Japanese history and culture in a number of ways, but some Chinese influences can also be seen. 

Names 

Kyoshi – 京士, is actually a Japanese male first name, Kyo means capital, shi can mean samurai 

Suki – すき or 好希 using Kanji, is a Japanese female first name, the Kanji mean good and hope, respectively 

Unagi – うなぎ, 鰻, is the Japanese word for eel

The Onna Musha and the Kyoshi Warriors

The Onna Musha were female members of the samurai class in feudal Japan. They were trained in the use of weapons primarily to defend their homes and clans but there are historical instances where they would also join the samurai men on the battlefield, typically in all female units.  Recent archaeological excavations at battlefields from the Sengoku period (1467-1615) have found evidence that suggests these women may have played a much larger role in samurai battles than previously thought.  

Like the Onna Musha, the Kyoshi Warriors are an all female fighting group primarily tasked with defending Kyoshi Island, but they do join the larger war against the Fire Nation later on.  Their armor and clothing appears to have been inspired by that worn by the Onna Musha.  

Avatar: The Last Airbender - 10 Hidden Details About the Kyoshi Warriors  You Missed

The Kyoshi Warrior’s Makeup: Beijing Opera and Japanese Kabuki 

The Kyoshi Warrior’s makeup appears to be modeled after the makeup worn by female characters in Beijing Operas, but there may have been some influence from Kabuki as well.  In Japanese Kabuki performances red makeup indicates that the character is heroic while blue indicates the character is a villain.  Brown indicates the character is supernatural in some way.  The heroic Kyoshi Warriors, of course, wear red.      

Beijing Opera Make up
Kabuki Make Up Designs

Japanese architecture  

The architecture of Kyoshi Island appears to have taken inspiration from historic villages of Shirakawa-go in the Gifu Prefecture of Central Japan, now a Unesco World Heritage Site. The architectural style of the villages is known as gasshō-zukuri (“prayer hands construction”).  The name derives from the steep roofs which resemble two praying hands and is designed to shed heavy snowfall.  

The Moon bridge

The bridge that the girls chase Aang over is a moon bridge.  Moon bridges originated in China and were later introduced to Japan.  They are frequently used in Chinese and Japanese gardens where they are placed over still water.  The water reflects the half circle of the bridge into a full circle representing the moon. 

The Dojo

The building where the Kyoshi Warriors train is laid out like a traditional Japanese Dojo.  A shomen, which literally means “front”, is usually placed on either the north wall or the wall opposite the door of the Dojo.  It contains a Shinto shrine and/or other artifacts.  The students bow towards the shomen during lessons.  The Kyoshi Warrior’s shomen can be seen on the right wall opposite the door Sokka enters through.  The walls of the dojo may display weapons.  The Kyoshi Warrior’s Dojo displays a katana and a fan, one of their weapons. The floor of the Kyoshi Warrior’s Dojo is covered in a Tatami mat.  Tatami mats are a traditional Japanese floor covering made of woven rushes and are often used as floor coverings in dojos to this day. 

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