The Japanese Culture in Fatal Frame III

My self-made reference guide of cool things I didn’t know about Japanese culture until I played Fatal Frame III.

Cultural Facts Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame III

Q: “Why’s that flower-like pattern on Kyoka’s doorframe only?”

     A: = HIIRAGI

Q: “What’s the big fireplace doing in middle of the room?”

     A: = IRORI

Q: “Why is the text on old notes so unreadable for Japanese let’s players?”

     A: = KOBUN

Q: “What’s with the ropes decorated around the Manor of Sleep?”


Q: “Why are the ropes tied around the trees?”


Q: “Why is there just walls of kimonos in Kyoka’s room?”


Q: “What are those wooden stick things in the Garden Corridor?”

     A: = SOTOBA

Q: “What’s with the creepy dolls pinned around the Doll Altar rooms?”


Q: “Why are there papers plastered to some doorways in specific?”


Q: “Did people really put bodies in the inside of their walls?”


Q: “Any cultural significance to that ending river, where Rei meets Yuu?” (spoilers, I’m sorry!)


Let me tell you a quick introduction to how I came about buying the Japanese version of Fatal Frame and a Japanese PS2.

So shortly after coming to Japan, I bought me the Japanese version of my all-time favorite horror game, Fatal Frame III (or 零~刺青の聲~ Zero Shisei no Koe in Japanese). Found a copy for about 2500en at my local Bookoff in Akihabara. Bookoff is a super popular used item store that mostly sells games, movies, and books. But being a heavy secondhand shop, you can also find little hidden treasures. I’ve even seen a cute, pink electric guitar on sale there, too.

The PS2, I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember how much it cost (guessing around 6,000円 rokusen en or 8,000円 hassen en), but I remember I bought it from a third-party seller on Japanese Amazon.

I might dedicate another tutorial to game shopping in Japan, but at a later date.

I soon learned that buying a Japanese PS2 would be a lot less accommodating on my wallet. Unlike the States, where you can find a cheap PS2 for about $20 or less at a pawn shop, in Japan, that’s not the case. It’s not a matter of “the older the console, the more rare it is” kind of retro pricetag thing. But it can be hard to find an actual WORKING console.

Tip for those hoping to get consoles in Japan, if the price looks too good to be true (for a PS2, maybe under 4,000円, yonsen en, it probably is, and most likely, won’t actually run. Just to be on the safe side, when you’re about to buy a console in Japan, I’d highly recommend asking the shopkeep, “これは動けますか?” kore wa ugokemasuka? “Does this work?” If so, and the price is right, snag it.

Found in: Hour V

There’s a festival that passed in February called Setsubun. On the 3rd of February, there is a decoration that some people use called hiiragi iwashi (holly leaves and sardine heads) on their doorways, so that bad spirits won’t enter. The bad spirits are said to dislike the smell of sardines, and also fear getting their eyes poked by the sharp points of the holly leaves. Essentially, holly in Japan is like a good luck charm and means protection.

On one important room in this game (perhaps some of you remember the room where you first meet the Woman Brushing or kami o takasu onna), there are three special holly patterns on the doorframe that could mean that they don’t want bad luck in (or in this game’s case, they didn’t want any unwanted people to enter). Excellent little touch for a room that’s warning you about the boss battle to come.

Found in: Hour I

The entire map you travel around in this game is traditional Japanese-esque (tatami rooms, shouji, futon rooms, and that sort of thing), but in one room in particular, we have the 囲炉裏の間 irori no ma (hearth room).

As we all know, the 囲炉裏 irori (sunken fireplace hearth) has many uses, such as cooking, heating water, lighting and heating the room, drying clothes, etc. But the traditional Japanese irori always has a hollow bamboo pole hanging from the ceiling that has a metal rod or chain with a hook at the end, as well as a lever that lets you regulate the height of the hook and how close your pot is to the fire.

Interesting thing about the lever, though, is that it’s almost always in the form of a fish. Why is that? The fish, a water creature, means protection against fire, accidents, or house fires. Fish also have no eyelids and are thought to never sleep, thus giving you around-the-clock protection. In Fatal Frame, though, the around-the-clock protection didn’t help to stop one particular victim’s fate they met in that room.

Found in: Hour I

Occasionally, during your travels, your character can find notes or journals from times long ago. And those journals are all written in old-time Japanese, 古文 kobun or 古語 kogo, which obviously, you don’t see in the English version of the game.

For instance,

This: 起こしてしま okotte shimaU

is read like this: 起こしてしま okotte shimaU

This: 見てると miteIruto

is read like this: 見てると miteIruto

This: 帰てこない kaeTTe konai

is read like this: 帰てこない kaeTTe konai

And this: 伝はつtsutaWATTeIru

is read like this: 伝わっている tsutaWATTeIru

I’m told that Japanese grade schoolers, high schoolers, and even some college students and post-grads don’t know how to read these correctly, depending on what kind of education they had. It’s one of those things that’s taught in some schools, but “if you don’t use it, you lose it” type of things. Most Japanese let’s players on Youtube pass up the text, saying they can’t read it. Even the kanji varied back then. It would be a dream come true to be able to translate Japanese language of this caliber.

Found in: Hour Zero

I can’t be the only person who’s asked, “What’s the meaning behind those ropes that are tired around the trees and on the walls?” (Or maybe I am. Who knows.) The ropes themselves are called 注連縄 shimenawa. If it helps you remember, the word shimenawa can be broken into two: しめ shime meaning “to mark, to point out” and 縄 nawa meaning “rope”. A shimenawa is a Shinto rope that’s used to cordon off consecrated areas or used as a talisman to ward off evil. In other words, they’re used for purification purposes.

The shimenawa ropes are used all throughout Japan as a part of their Shinto culture, and you can find them mostly in shrines, strung across 鳥居 torii (Shinto shrine archway-like gates). Other than shrines and gates, you might also see shimenawa tired around sacred landmarks like rocks and trees, and they’re also used in many different Shinto ceremonies, too, like the ground-breaking ceremony (ceremony done for the ground before construction starts on a new building). They are originally made of rice straw, hemp rope, and sometimes plastic, too.

If a shimenawa is wrapped around a tree, we call that tree a goshinboku. If it’s wrapped around a rock, we call the rock an 岩座 iwakura. Both are places that are considered very sacred, since that’s where the gods live.

According to the whole process of Shinto terminology, it starts with a 依り代 yorishiro, which is a physical object that has the potential to attract a 神 kami god and give them dwelling space to occupy. For example, the iwakura would be considered a type of yorishiro. Think of a yorishiro like a calling card to convince a god to come for workship or religious ceremony purposes.

Another more simple way to think about the whole idea of yorishiros, is the famous 招き猫 maneki neko, who is made to attract the god of good luck.

Once a god comes and makes its home in a yorishiro, that sacred object (be it tree, rock, whatever) is then called a 神体 shintai. It’s said that the shimenawa and the 紙垂 shide are what can manifest the sacredness of the object. So, the goshinboku, where a god now lives, is considered a shintai.

In Fatal Frame III, too, you might notice that some of these shimenawa also seem to be paired with some white, lightning-bolt shaped sheets of paper. These are called shide, and their purpose is mainly just to decorate the Shinto-related objects like shimenawa. There are different kinds of shide, predictably.

Found in: Hour III

In the center of the Garden Corridor, you’ll notice a giant tree tied with a shimenawa. That tree is called 御神木 goshinboku or “sacred tree”. Basically, a goshinboku is home of a Shinto 神 kami god, who is respectfully protected with a shimenawa that’s tired around the stump. The goshinboku is a type of shintai, which is a worshipped, physical object (like rocks and trees) that a god resides in. Without being an “actual shrine”, these goshinboku are retreated like a divine body in and of itself. Needless to say, since there is thought to be a god (named 木霊・木魅 kodama) living inside the goshinboku, cutting any tree with a shimenawa around it means bad luck.

Found in: Hour V

Throughout the whole Fatal Frame series (or at least, leading up to three. I can’t say for the newer games.), the maps consist of treking through old-time Japanese houses that contain a lot of tradition. First of all, back in the olden days of Japan, kimonos, yes, they were worn. But there were some kimonos that were never worn, and rather, they kept them at home as decoration and a symbol of wealth. So the wall of kimonos in Kyoka’s room doesn’t necessarily mean that she has her wardrobe just out in the open.

Found in: Hour III

So, do you rememeber those sticks in the Garden Corridor? These are called 卒塔婆 sotoba or wooden grave tablets. If you’ve traveled to Japan and visited a Buddhist temple, you may have seen these before. These sticks each represent a family or name of a family member that passed away.

Basically, the middle part of the Garden Corridor is a gravesite, which you find out later on is dedicated to the Men in White who built the Manor of Sleep (and some of which who are built INTO the house, yikes).

Found in: Hour VI

I’m sure you can recall how four sotoba appeared in Hour VI? Each of those four sticks represented an Engraved Man that you needed to defeat in order to continue through the level, right? On top of those sticks were the little, blood-red doll-looking-like things, right? Do you remember those? Those creepy things?? Those straw dolls, which you find all over the game, and specifically the Doll Altar rooms, are called 藁人形 waraningyou.

(Under construction…)

Found in: Hour VI

If you’ve been aquainted with the Manor of Sleep, you’ll have probably seen about a million jillion of these things on walls, on doors… Pretty much all over the place. These things are called 御札 ofuda, and in short, these are talismans that protect against evil.

So in other words, they just didn’t help the fate of this house AT ALL.

In Japan, one of my favorite uses for these are to hang them up in your own house for protection, too! Every new year, it’s common for some Japanese families to go to their local Shinto shrine to get a new, annual ofuda blessed by Shinto shrines. They then place them in their homes, like on a doorframe or wherever they’d like. The ofuda is said to protect the family from sickness, while also protecting the house from fires. Another version of an ofuda is the お守り omamori, which you can also find and purchase in Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples.

(Under construction….)

Found in: Final Hour

(Under construction…..)

Found in: Final Hour

(Under construction….. tourou nagashi)

After note #1: After writing this, I’ve really come to realize how much I miss Fatal Frame III. I should visit the Manor of Sleep again sometime soon. And for all those looking for an insanely good Japanese horror adventure, I hope to see you there.

After note #2: I’ve always been a sucker for Japanese horror. And video games being my number one passtime, the relationship between me and Fatal Frame just seemed like a match made in heaven. I’ve been studying Japanese since my high school years, and before that, during the Super Nintendo glory days when RPGs like Lufia II, Final Fantasy III, and Chrono Trigger just rocked my world, I stemmed a life-long passion for understanding Japanese culture, as well.

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