Sekiro’s straw doll

A youtuber I follow recently uploaded the video below. There’s an “unsolved mystery” regarding the writing on a talisman that features in the model, but a bit of digging around on Japanese internet led me to some interesting discoveries. The following text was originally posted as a comment on the video itself, but I figured I would preserve it on my own blog as well since it involved a decent amount of research.

The “writing” on the talisman has its roots in Daoist magic (符籙 in Chinese, 呪符 in Japanese; English wikipedia has an article on it called “Fulu”), where the symbols are basically formed from kanji components but don’t actually make up real characters at all. These talismans are usually written in seal script, which ranges from “I can read it if I squint” to “how the heck is that supposed to be the same character”, but even so, the writing here is really more like drawing ; while it does contain valid characters like 竜 (dragon) and 王 (king), they aren’t arranged in such a way to suggest that they’re intended to either produce composite kanji nor that they should be interpreted on their own. There are also some other characters which are likely chosen for their appearance alone, like the one that looks like 丑 missing its bottom stroke, or 弗, which can be taken to mean “dollar” but considering the time period I think it’s more likely just the right-hand component of something like 沸. Other parts have no basis in writing at all, like the mirrored squiggles that extend from the bottom of the 田 character, or the cartouche that encloses the bottom two thirds.

Here’s a post (all in Japanese unfortunately) that has some interesting insights into this talisman and also some others that are found elsewhere in the game:

One other thing I’ll point out, is that this guy is definitely a wara-ningyou (lit. straw doll), but he’s not constructed in the typical way of tying together two straight bundles of straw. He’s actually made from a shimenawa, which is a type of rope which is used to cordon off sacred areas and provide protection from evil. The talisman itself (according to that link above) is a warding-against-evil type, though the author points out that depending on how the talisman is affixed, the effect can be reversed, resulting in an invitation for possession by an evil spirit. It’s not obvious which is the case here, but it’s an interesting thing to consider.