WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers from the Demon Slayer manga. Read ahead at your own discretion!
At first glance, the Hanafuda earrings that Tanjiro wears seem to be just an accessory choice to add depth to his character design. It’s not until when we see his first interaction with Muzan that we realise that the earrings are more than a family heirloom.
The Hanafuda Earrings are undoubtedly the most popular design attribute of Tanjiro, making for popular merchandise (and controversies). With Demon Slayer’s reputation of paying homage to Japanese culture, the earrings were a smart way to incorporate more of that while also serving as a major plot point.
If you’re curious about why the earrings scared Muzan and how Tanjiro got them, you’re at the right place!
What are Tanjiro’s Hanafuda earrings? What do they mean?
“Hanafuda” translates to “flower cards” in English. These are playing cards that depict quite a number of things, from cultural references to animals. In Tanjiro’s case, rather than playing cards, the hanafuda are earrings.
For the design of the earrings, they seem to depict a flower. The semi circle on the lower half is grey, and follows the design of some traditional cards (for example, the eighth card from the left in the first row). Usually, the drawings on the hanafuda depict a scenery when placed next to each other. However, the earrings are horizontally symmetrical rather than the usual vertical.
Some also find similarities of the design with the Rising Sun smybol of Japan. But, more on that later.
Origins of Tanjiro’s Hanafuda earrings:
The Hanafuda earrings that Tanjiro wears are family heirlooms. They have been in the family since the Sengoku era (1467-1615). Yoriichi Tsugikuni, the progenitor of all breathing styles used to wear them before. He was the first user of Breath of Sun; the legendary breathing style that gave birth to all breathing styles that we see.
Yoriichi and Sumiyoshi (Tanjiro’s ancestor) seem to be quite close to each other. Yoriichi even visited him and his family sometimes. On his last visit, Sumiyoshi’s wife wanted to see the Breath of Sun performed, and the demon slayer obliged. Seeing it, Sumiyoshi learnt the moves. As a departing gift, Yoriichi gave the earrings to Sumiyoshi.
It is important to note here that Sumiyoshi and his family were the only people that Yoriichi could turn to. On the other hand, Tanjiro’s ancestor saw him in high regards since he saved his life. Despite all his achievements, Yoriichi considered himself worthless because of the misfortunes (which I will not list here, please read the manga) in his life, and how he failed at preventing them from happening. It pained Sumiyoshi to see his friend this away, and he wanted his descendants to know of Yoriichi and wished to carry on his legacy as Yoriichi had no heirs.
Therefore, Sumiyoshi decided to carry on Yoriichi’s legacy by passing down earrings and the Breath of the Sun in his family. The Breath of the Sun there on was known as Hinokami Kagura.
Unfortunately, the manga only dictates times through the Eras of Japan. Therefore, we don’t know the exact year when Sumiyoshi received the earrings.
Why does Muzan hate Tanjiro’s Hanafuda earrings?
Muzan hates the Hanafuda earrings because it reminds him of Yoriichi. As mentioned above, these earrings belonged to Yoriichi Tsugikuni. He was the only demon slayer who got close to finishing off Muzan.
Therefore, Muzan getting scared out of his wits when he saw Tanjiro’s earrings was understandable. This is why he immediately ordered his cronies to eliminate Tanjiro; he knew that the boy could be a Sun Breathing user thanks to the Hanafuda earrings.
In fact, it is Yoriichi who instilled the fear of the Demon Slayer Corps in Muzan. Before this, Muzan had not paid much attention to the organisation. After his meeting with Yoriichi, he started killing off anyone who knew of the Sun Breathing style in the corps. He also annihilated the strongest slayers.
Therefore, it makes sense that the earrings instilled an almost 500-year-old fear back into Muzan’s body. Despite him killing off those who knew about it in the Corps, Muzan seemed to have never questioned the possibility of the style surviving until he saw Tanjiro.
The Hanafuda earring controversy
While the Hanafuda earrings were meant to resemble a flower, they bear resemblance to the “Rising Sun” as well. The “rising sun” has been an integral part of Japanese culture and can be seen in many paintings. However, it is mostly identified with the Japanese Imperial Army in modern times.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would know that the Imperial Army sided with Germany during World War II. It also committed horrific violations of human rights (so bad, that South Korea is still at odds with Japan.)
This is why the earring design sent shock-waves in China and South Korea; the two nations that suffered the most at the hands of Imperial Japan. Consequently, the design changed for the Chinese and South Korean streaming of the anime to avoid any potential discomfort to the audience.
However, there is no ill intent behind the earrings’ design. They were made for Yoriichi (who was selectively mute as a toddler) by his mother as charms. She prayed to the sun deity to bestow her blessings on Yoriichi’s ears, thinking he was deaf. Its a known fact that Japan considers the sun as an auspicious symbol, however, the design is now the symbol of terror and propaganda throughout East and South East Asia. Demon Slayer is set in the Taisho Era; the one that precedes the Showa Era under Emperor Hirohito, who was emperor during World War II when the symbol was excessively used.