The main antagonist of Jujutsu Kaisen, Sukuna, is a mysterious character. Even though he lived more than a millennium ago, we still know very little about him. Even the Jujutsu community does not know his real name. He received the title of Ryomen Sukuna in recognition of his exceptional abilities and wisdom. His soul is a cursed spirit that resides in Yuji's body in the present, giving the main character unimaginable strength.
However, a demon with two faces and eight limbs by the name of Sukuna who appeared in Japanese mythology was also incredibly strong. There are undoubtedly enough parallels between the Sukuna from Jujutsu Kaisen and the mythological Sukuna for viewers to get the impression that the show is more complex than first appears. Explore further to learn more about the Japanese mythology that inspired Sukuna's name and how it functions in the series' narrative.
In the Anime Jujutsu Kaisen, Who is Sukuna?
Sukuna was crowned with the title of "Ryomen Sukuna" and was considered the "King of Curses" because of his unparalleled strength and wit. Though considered an imaginary demon in the legends, Sukuna was once a human Jujutsu sorcerer who existed over a thousand years ago. Jujutsu Kaisen's author Gege Akutami described Sukuna as less of a sorcerer and more of a walking disaster. According to Gojo Satoru, Sukuna was so strong that during the golden age of Jujutsu Sorcerery, sorcerers had to combine their powers to defeat Sukuna.
Even then, they couldn't completely destroy him, and the fragments of Sukuna's power remain intact to this day. After killing Sukuna, the sorcerers from that era had to cut off all Sukuna's fingers and seal them as curse objects. Now that over a millennium has passed, the 20 fingers are scattered across Japan. These fingers are listed as special-grade cursed objects that are strong enough to remain unscathed even after a direct hit from Gojo.
Who Is Ryomen Sukuna in Japanese Mythology?
Gege Akutami once revealed that he had taken the antagonist's inspiration from Japanese lore and mythology. Ryomen Sukuna was a real person who existed in Japan’s history and was later made to be a legend or myth. The real Ryomen Sukuna was a renowned leader, but the Yamato family sought to overthrow him through a hostile takeover. The stories about Sukuna are covered in an ancient book of classical Japanese history called Nihon Shoki, translated as The Chronicles of Japan. In these stories, Ryomen Sukuna was a mighty being with two pairs of arms and two pairs of legs, and each pair was on the front and back of the body -- similar to in the series.
In Nihon Shoki, Sukuna is described as quick, witty and possessing superhuman strength. The demon carried a bow, arrow and swords in his hands. He was called a natural calamity, and during his reign, he pillaged countless villages, leaving a trail of death behind him. However, even though the ancient book states that he was a villain and an enemy of the Emperor, a lot of people treated him as a hero, and he is even a minor deity in Japan. Sukuna rebelled against Japan's tyrannical government during his time.
Folklore holds that Sukuna, who is revered in numerous ancient temples in the Hida and Mino Provinces, both of which are located in the present-day Gifu prefecture, was the founding patron of the Senko-Ji and Zenkyu-ji temples, which brought Buddhism to Hida Province. In addition, the Kurai Mountain in Gifu is revered as a shintaizan, a sacred place where a deity resides. One theory contends that Ryomen Sukuna is the mountain's hidden deity, but the true deity of the mountain is unknown.
What Shares the Two Sukunas' Characteristics?
There are many similarities between the two Sukunas aside from their outward appearances. Sukuna was overthrown by the oppressive empire and its army in Nihon Shoki. The plot is similar to that of the television show; in the Heinan Era, the entire army of Jujutsu Sorcerers had to cooperate to vanquish a common adversary. Additionally, JJK fans are aware of how oppressive and corrupt the leaders of the Jujutsu world are, similar to the tyrannical Japanese government in the lore. As a result, it is clear that Sukuna in the series was defying the law and needed to be destroyed.
As mentioned, the folklore also talks about Sukuna building the first Buddhist templates in Japan. In the series, Sukuna's Domain Expansion, Malevolent Shrine, resembles a ruined Buddhist temple. Its appearance sits perfectly as the home of a demon. The literal meaning of Ryomen Sukuna is "two-faced spirit." In mythology, he was considered a demon or villain by few and a hero or deity by the rest. Furthermore, in the series, Sukuna was considered either a demon or a human. Therefore, the name perfectly fits both characters, whose real identities are still not clear.
What they are depends on how someone perceives them. In the artwork, the antagonist was depicted as standing atop a mountain of dead people as Gojo was relating Sukuna's legend to Yuji. Sukuna killed countless people in Nihon Shoki as well, which is yet another similarity between the two. Sukuna was a truly terrifying creature that no one would dare to oppose in folklore because he was much taller than any typical human being. This makes him more similar to the Sukuna in the series.
It's not rare to see anime being inspired by ancient mythologies and folklore. However, in JJK, the similarities are far too many to be called just inspirational. The deep roots that the series has in Japanese culture only add to the charisma of the series while displaying the colorful and fascinating culture of Japan. The connections to the history and culture of Japan already have quite a few people making theories and guesses as to what might be awaiting the beloved characters in this captivating story.
Whether in the folklore or the series, Sukuna is not only feared but also respected as a godly being. In the anime, Sukuna threatened to go after Gojo's life as soon as he took over Yuji's body. However, Gojo's response was simply that he was honored to be targeted by the King of Curses himself. Seeing how prideful Gojo is about his powers, saying such words meant that he acknowledged Sukuna's strength and treated him more than just his opponent.