Tokyo Olympics Flag Samurai draw on ancient principles
Japanese artists have come up with a unique way of celebrating the countries competing at this year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo: by creating anime-inspired samurai incorporating each country’s traits and colors from their flags.
Fifteen Japanese artists have been working behind the scenes on the World Flags project since last year; so far, samurai for nearly half of the 200 countries competing at this year’s Olympics have been released online at the project’s official website and social media.
Called the Flag Samurai, the creations also appear in Japanese manga comic book form, and some of the panels have been released in English on the World Flags social media accounts.
The Flag Samurai are international warriors who unite to save the world from an alien invasion in the year 2050; the concept of unity between nations reflects one of the tenets of the Olympic Games.
Each samurai features a design based on the colors of a country’s flag along with traits specific to that country. Kamaya Yamamoto, the creator of the project, admits that the depictions may include a stereotypical Japanese viewpoint of other nations.
The United States samurai, for example, has blonde hair and blue eyes, a costume that strongly evokes the country’s flag, and is described as the youngest of the international samurai. His favorite food is listed as “hamburger.”
“Some of the characters might be a bit stereotypical because they are based on a Japanese perspective of the world,” the creator told journalists.
Still, that hasn’t prevented the Flag Samurai from becoming a success abroad. Some international embassies in Tokyo have even contacted the creators for permission to use their illustrations in promotional media.
“We hope this can be a way for people to learn about other countries,” says Kozo Yamada, another artist on the project.
“That’s what the Olympics are about.”
The project is unique in that it incorporates international symbols and imagery into a style and history that is distinctly Japanese. While the traditional samurai warrior may no longer exist, the core tenets of the code they lived by are still highly valued in day-to-day life.
“Samurais are unique to Japan, and we want everyone to get to know traditional Japanese culture,” Yamamoto states.
Samurai made up an estimated 10% of all Japanese during the country’s Edo period, and while they were outlawed in the 1860s their culture and values still resonate worldwide.
The samurai Bushido code, popularized in Inazo Nitobe’s Bushido: The Soul of Japan, focuses on eight core tenets that include Righteousness, Heroic Courage, Benevolence or Compassion, Respect, Honesty, Honor, Duty and Loyalty, and Self-Control.
While many imagine samurai to be battle-hardened warriors, quite the opposite is true: during Japan’s 265-year Edo period when samurai culture was most popular, there were no wars or infighting in the country. In fact, two common samurai stereotypes were officially outlawed: samurai dueling and seppuku, or ritual suicide.
Instead, samurai can be thought of as peaceful warriors that followed a strict code of ethics: one that allowed them to carefully decide upon the morally correct path forward, and take the necessary action to follow that through.
The Olympic Games are often cited as the pinnacle of international sports competitions, and athletes train for years to master their respective disciplines. In many respects, they could be considered modern-day samurai.