Kanji mumblings from Spirited Away

I found this very interesting text on tumblr about the kanji from the bathouse that come out in the movie Spirited away.


I always wondered why the symbol “ゆ” (said “yu”) was on the door to the bath house. I asked my Japanese teacher, and he wasn’t sure so I did a little research.

The symbol is used on the entrance to 温泉 (onsen) and 銭湯 (sento), or Japanese bath houses. The word “yu” is translated to “hot water”. So, makes sense to be on a bath house, yes?

Then I did more reading. During the Edo period, these public baths became popular for men because of women who worked at these communal baths, and functioned as prostitutes as well as bath attendants. These bath houses were called “yuna baro”. The woman were known as 湯女, or “yuna”. This directly translates to “hot water woman”. Guess what the woman who ran this bath house would be called?


Yubaba. (translates directly to “hot water old woman”)

Yubaba is the name of the woman who runs the bath house in Spirited Away. If you watch Spirited Away in Japanese, the female workers are referred to as yuna.

Chihiro was forced to change her name to Sen. Kinda like how strippers get names like “Candy”.

カオナシ(No-Face) keeps offering Chihiro money. He “wants her”.

THEN I read interviews with Miyazaki. This was all put in intentionally. Miyazaki’s stories are filled with underlying themes and metaphors. He said he was tackling the issue of the sex industry rapidly growing in Japan, and that he felt children being exposed to it at such early ages was a problem. 

This can be frustrating because so much gets lost in translation, and people see it as this cute children’s movie and this “masterpiece of animation” (which it definitely is) instead of understanding the deeper meaning behind it.


Knowing how creative the Japanese can get with their kanji, you’d expect a whole new story behind every name of the characters as well. I would like to add also the hidden meaning behind the names Yubaba and Zeniba. As already said above, Yubaba is spelt with the kanji 湯婆婆 (yu-ba-ba), baba meaning old woman and the yu appearing at the bathouse entrance. The first kanji of Zeniba’s name, 銭婆 (zeni-ba) means “yen cent”, but it used to have the meaning “archaic, ancient”, therefore her name meaning “old witch”. If you join the first kanji from Zeniba’s name (銭) with the first of Yubaba’s name (湯), you get a whole new word: sentô, meaning “public bath”. And voilà, that’s another bathouse for you.


There are many other interesting kanji in Spirited away. The name Chihiro literally means “a thousand fathoms”, therefore mentioning water, implying the first meeting between haku and her.

Yubaba’s baby’s shirt is similar to the one Kintarô, from a popular Japanese folklore, is wearing. Kintarô has the first kanji of his name written on his shirt (kin), while Bô, Yubaba’s baby has the same shirt, plus the kanji of his own name.

This entry was posted in Hypothesis and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Kanji mumblings from Spirited Away

  1. arriacross says:

    I’ve read about this before. That’s why Miyazaki is a genius.

  2. DaniSparks says:

    This is really clever. Loved this post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s