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The Real Reason Tanjiro Wears Hanafuda Earrings In Demon Slayer

"Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba" is one of the most successful animes in recent history. The show has stayed at the top of Netflix's trending list, the sequel film "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train" made movie history in the U.S., and fans are anxiously waiting for the premiere of Season 2.

The primary protagonist of "Demon Slayer" is Tanjiro Kamado, a young man who embarks on a journey to become a demon slayer after his entire family — aside from his sister, Nezuko — is murdered by one. Tanjiro is well loved for his kind nature, as many of his fellow demon slayers are jaded in one way or another, but he can almost always find the good in people. Tanjiro is also famous for his look: his forehead scar that changes form, his green checkered haori, and his hanafuda earrings. 

Why does he wear these accessories on his ears? Let's take a look at their significance and the story behind the iconic jewelry.

The earrings are a family heirloom

In Episode 19, "Hinokami," we see a flashback of Tanjiro's father, Tanjuro, wearing the same hanafuda earrings. Further into the scene, Tanjuro performs a fire dance known as the Hinokami Kagura.

A young Tanjiro asks his mother how his father can dance so long in the snow if he's sick. Tanjuro then explains how he's able to avoid freezing: "There exists a breathing technique, one that will prevent you from ever exhausting yourself. If you can master the correct way to breathe, you'll be able to dance forever, too. Even the cold won't bother you. Tanjiro — this ceremonial dance and pair of earrings — I wish for them to be passed down to you. This is my gift." Tanjiro then snaps back to the present and uses the Hinokami Kagura to defeat the Spider Demon he's fighting.

This whole sequence provides us with the background information behind the earrings, as they've been passed along through generations by Kamado family members after teaching their sons the Hinokami Kagura Breathing Style. The earrings were also famously worn by Yoriichi Tsugikuni, the creator of the Breathing Styles, who didn't have successors. We can therefore assume that he passed the earrings on to Tanjuro to keep the symbol of the Sun Breathing Style fighters alive.

They are easily recognizable symbols of power

The hanafuda earrings are a strong symbol of Sun Breathing Style fighters and are often recognized within both the "Demon Slayer" manga and anime. In the manga, Kyojuro Rengoku's father Kyojuro Shinjuro instantly recognizes them and calls Tanjiro "a practitioner of Sun Breathing."

Muzan Kibutsuji also immediately identifies the hanafuda earrings. In Episode 7, "Muzan Kibutsuji," Tanjiro and Kibutsuji cross paths for the first time. Their meeting obviously irritates Kibutsuji, because in the next episode, "The Smell of Enchanting Blood," he summons two of his followers and says, "There's a demon slayer who wears hanafuda earrings. I want you to bring me his head." We then see another flashback, this time of a younger Kibutsuji seemingly being overpowered by a demon slayer wearing the exact same earrings. It looks like they are a stark reminder of a time when Kibutsuji was almost defeated, and he wants to get rid of any lasting symbol of that traumatic moment.

The hanafuda earrings sparked controversy in real life

Tanjiro's hanafuda earrings were meant to pay homage to Japanese playing cards. Similar to their U.S. equivalent, hanafuda cards have multiple uses and have existed for centuries. The word "hanafuda" means "flower cards," and many of the cards feature floral illustrations. While it looks like Tanjiro's hanafuda earrings may have been drawn to resemble flowers themselves, others thought they resembled something a bit more controversial.

According to critics of the earrings, the design resembles a Rising Sun, which was the motif used in Japan during World War II when it colonized other Asian countries. The symbol is still controversial in many Asian countries today, as it is a reminder of the Japanese military's war crimes. In response to the outcry over the hanafuda earrings, the "Demon Slayer" producers changed the design for streaming platforms in countries that include Mainland China and South Korea. According to Kotaku, the altered earrings include four horizontal lines, rather than the original several lines that resemble sunrays.

While Tanjiro's earrings may have received more backlash than anticipated from viewers, they still hold plenty of positive meaning for the Kamado family and Sun Breath Users.