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At first I should say that I know nothing about the Japanese language but I find it fascinating. A few years ago I started playing the amazing video game "sekiro:shadows die twice". Since then, there was always this question in my mind: What does the word "sekiro" mean?

Just for context, the main character in the game is called "wolf" if you play the game in English. If you play in Japanese, he's called 狼 (Ōkami) which seems to be the Japanese word for "wolf". No problem till now!

But in the beginning of the game, the character loses one of his arms, and later in the game another character gives him the nickname "sekiro" because he is a one-armed wolf. That would suggest that somehow the word "sekiro" would mean one-armed wolf in Japanese. And people all over the internet just say that it does. But I can't really wrap my head around it because as I said the Japanese word for "wolf" is something completely different and the Japanese word for "one" seems to be "一" (Ichi).

There is also another character in the game which also only has one arm and is sometimes referred to as "orangutan" and is sometimes called "sekijo" in Japanese. So it seems that somehow "seki" means someone with only one arm and "ro" and "jo" somehow mean "wolf" and "orangutan" but none of it sound right to me. Why can't I find these words if they actually have those translations?

What am I missing? Can anyone explain what's going on here? Thanks

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  • Think how we have the word wolf in English but also the elements lyca-, lupus.
    – Angelos
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 13:53
  • Note that Sekirō itself (only looking at kanji 隻狼) is not likely to mean "one armed wolf". It'd sound more like "lone wolf". Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 13:58

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In Japanese, most kanji usually have several readings, which are divided between readings of original Japanese words (kunyomi), and readings that come from the pronunciation of Chinese compound words that were imported at some point into Japanese (onyomi).

Usually, words formed by a single kanji take the kunyomi reading, such as the case of Wolf (狼 Ōkami), and words composed by several kanji use the onyomi reading. This is not a hard rule at all, but the general trend.

Note that the name Sekirō is written 隻狼, so it does have the kanji for wolf in it, but it is read with a different, Chinese reading. This page explains the meaning of the word according to both kanjis. I quote the relevant part here:

The name Sekiro (隻狼) is comprised of two kanji, Chinese characters adopted by the Japanese in the fifth century. The first kanji, Seki (隻), refers to one part of a pair, and is likely a shortening of Sekiwan (隻腕), meaning one arm, or a one-armed person. The second kanji, Rō (狼), means wolf, and is read as Ōkami on its own (detached from other kanji). It seems likely then that Sekiro (隻狼) is in fact a shortening of Sekiwan no Ōkami (隻腕の狼), or one armed wolf.

Regarding Sekijo:

The Sculptor is referred to as "Sekijo," by Hanbei The Undying—a name that was likely given to him in much the same way Isshin of Ashina gave Sekiro his name. The Sculptor is also known as Orangutan (猩々, Shoujou), just as Sekiro is known as Wolf (狼, Ookami); Isshin gives Sekiro his name by condensing One-armed Wolf (隻腕の狼, Sekiwan no Ookami) into Sekiro (隻狼, Sekirou), while Hanbei does the same for the Sculptor, who is also one-armed, by condensing One-armed Orangutan (隻腕の猩々, Sekiwan no Shoujou) into Sekijo (隻猩, Sekijou).

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  • very interesting, thanks! Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 13:48

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