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The Real Reason Demon Slayer's Sakonji Urokodaki Always Wears A Mask

In many forms of media, indeed in countless stories that have been written all throughout our history, there is more often than not the figure of the Master, the Teacher, the Guide, who helps the hero acquire the skills required for them to be succesful – or at least not perish – on their journey. This figure, wise beyond their years, is also almost always an older person, old enough to have seen their fair share of what the protagonist will experience. Such is the case of Sakonji Urokodaki (Hōchū Ōtsuka), Tanjiro Kamado's (Natsuki Hanae) sensei in the "Demon Slayer" franchise. He was responsible for teaching the maroon-haired teenager how to master Water Breathing techniques early on in the popular anime series.

"Demon Slayer" fans know that Urokodaki's mean-looking Tengu mask, along with his light blue cloud-patterned haori, are his most defining features. But not all fans realize the real reason behind the creative choice of having the ex-Hashira hide his face.

The intimidating Tengu mask and the kind face beneath it

One fact that is more widely known explains why Urokodaki has chosen to hide his face in the series. If one watches Season 1, Episode 3, until the very end, one will be told by Tanjiro a Taisho secret which describes the reason why Urokodaki began wearing a mask: "I heard that's because demons used to make fun of his face for looking too kind." This is an interesting tidbit especially when we draw parallels between Tanjiro and his Master: not only are they endowed with a superhuman sense of smell, but they are both possessors of an incredibly kind heart which often shows on their soft features — not that we ever get to see Urokodaki's, to confirm this.

What most fans may not know, however, is the real reason why mangaka Koyoharu Gotouge decided to perpetually draw Urokodaki with a Tengu mask. Having roots in both Buddhism and Shintoism, "Tengu are fearsome demi-gods that would protect mountainous areas" (per Eiyo Kimono). Indeed, despite not being a god but a mortal human, the retired Water Hashira also resides in a mountain region and no doubt uses his skills to defend it even now.

A real dandy-looking prince

Putting together all these connotations and folklore, as described by the Museum of Cultural Masks, we can understand why Gotouge chose this particular mask among the many that are part of Japanese popular culture. But why make Urokodaki wear a mask to begin with?

Well, Tatsuhiko Katayama provided the answer to this question. An editor who supported the manga from its very first chapters, Katayama is perhaps one of the people, excluding Gotouge, who has the most inside knowledge of the making of "Demon Slayer." Gotouge was one of the first mangaka the editor was put in charge of. In an interview, when recalling a memorable interaction with the manga artist, Katayama revealed that he was one of the only people to see Urokodaki's face drawn by how Gotouge first imagined it. However, the editor was not sold on the design and when telling Gotouge that, the mangaka replied with an "OK. I'll fix it." The way the artist "fixed it" was by putting a mask over the ex-Hashira's face because they couldn't think of anything better. Katayama said: "I thought that was hilarious. The design itself had impact, so I OK'd it immediately — the only ones who know what Urokodaki's face actually looks like are myself and Gotoge-sensei. He's a real dandy-looking prince, with a balanced face."

Even though the "Demon Slayer" manga is now finished, maybe someday Gotouge will reward fans with a drawing of what Urokodaki's "balanced face" really looks like.