The Kinmokusei Pun
This page is about the "Kinmokusei" pun. All about the Kinmokusei pun. Probably more than you ever wanted to know about the Kinmokusei pun. But it's here, I hope it's coherently written, and I've tried my best to make the content of this page as accessible (and as easy to understand) as I possibly could, for both visitors who know how to read and write Japanese, and visitors who haven't a clue. To navigate through the different sections of this page, please click on the links below.
The Pun Explained
The name of the Sailor Starlights' home planet is Kinmoku. Sometimes it is referred to as "Kinmokusei" ( ), which means "Kinmoku planet" or "Kinmoku star system." The suffix "-sei," in this case, means planet or star, therefore, Kinmoku + sei = Kinmokusei.
That Kinmokusei also happens to sound exactly like the Japanese word kinmokusei ( ), the common Japanese name for the Orange Osmanthus olive tree, the "fragrant olive," scientific name Osmanthus fragrans variation aurantiacus. The Orange Osmanthus is a particular olive tree with orange blossoms and a pleasant, distinct sweet scent.
Now, a clarification: You can see that although both words are pronounced as "kinmokusei," (and written as "kinmokusei" in our limited roman alphabet), they are written with different characters. In particular, the kanji read as "sei" on the end of each one is entirely different. On this page, I will use Kinmokusei (with a capital K) to refer to the Starlights' home planet, and kinmokusei (with a lower-case k) to refer to the Japanese name of the Orange Osmanthus olive tree.
It is inaccurate to say that the title of the Starlights' home planet, Kinmokusei, translates as "olive blossom planet" or whatever. It doesn't translate as anything other than "Kinmoku planet" or "Kinmoku star system." It doesn't MEAN anything other than "Kinmoku planet" or "Kinmoku star system," and in this case, "Kinmoku" is simply a made-up, meaningless name. However, Kinmokusei just SOUNDS exactly like the name of the olive tree, kinmokusei, which happens to be spelled with different specific kanji characters. This is an example of a pun (or a homonym, or a homophone). For a similar example from English, think of it this way: A girl (with apparently very cruel parents) could be named Ana Conda, and her name would be a pun on the name of a large, swamp-dwelling snake called an anaconda, because "Ana Conda" sounds like the word anaconda. However, you can't say that poor Ana Conda's name actually means "a large, swamp-dwelling snake"; no, it just happens to sound like the word anaconda, and Ana Conda doesn't mean anything other than itself, a proper name. It's just like the way that "Kinmokusei" sounds like the word kinmokusei. See how this works, now? It's just a simple pun.
Another quick clarification: The name of the planet is Kinmoku, and although it can be referred to as Kinmokusei, the "-sei" suffix is optional.
And, like I said before, "Kinmoku" has no translation. It means nothing other than Kinmoku. It's the made-up name of a fantasy place, like Oz or Wonderland. So, whether you are writing in Japanese, English, Swahili, or whatever, the name of the Starlights' home planet is ALWAYS Kinmoku, and it means nothing else and translates as nothing else. One way you can tell that Kinmoku has no translation is because, in the manga, it is *always* written out in katakana characters ( ), never in kanji.
Credits and Resources
A Silly Rumor
There are certain websites out there (more than one) that I've seen that claim that Kinmokusei is written out with kanji in the manga, and that it translates as "cinnamon blossom star/planet" or "redbud blossom star/planet". Apparently, the French translation of the Sailor Moon manga also made this same translation mistake. The cite to support this claim is apparently page 39 of volume 18 of the manga. But this claim is just wrong, really wrong, on a lot of levels.
To explain why this claim is false, however, I'm going to have to provide as thorough an explanation as possible that I hope will be understandable to readers who don't know how to read or write Japanese in the first place. To this end, I'm going to start off by explaining some really, really elementary concepts of Japanese writing, because I can't possibly construct my arguments against this rumor without referring back to these concepts.
So if you already know Japanese, you can just skip to the portion following this line. ^_^
Don't know any Japanese? Please start reading here!
Here's the gist of it. Japanese is written using three scripts: hiragana, katakana, and kanji.
Hiragana is a system of simple characters that composes the basic Japanese syllabary. Think of it as sort of like the English alphabet - each letter represents a single sound. For a quick chart of all the basic hiragana characters, click here. To view a more complex chart of all the possible variations on hiragana characters, check out this page from TokyoWithKids.com.
Katakana is another system of simple characters that composes the basic Japanese syllabary. Katakana characters represent the same sounds as hiragana characters, only they are drawn differently. Think of it as like the difference between print and cursive letters in English - the letters are all exactly the same, they signify all the same sounds, but they're just drawn differently. In Japanese, katakana characters are used to spell out foreign words, and sometimes to spell out Japanese words when used stylistically, or for emphasis. For example, in the Sailor Moon manga, "Sailor Moon" is written out in katakana (a foreign word), "Kinmoku" is written out in katakana (a made-up word), and Rei's first name is written out in katakana (a stylistic quirk of Naoko Takeuchi's).
Kanji are characters that signify both sound and meaning. Kanji were originally borrowed from the Chinese writing system. When standing alone, kanji characters have both a reading (what they "spell out," or how they're pronounced) and a meaning (an actual object, place, or concept that they signify). When strung together to form compounds, kanji can signify both meaning and sound, or sometimes just sound alone. It depends on the context. Tricky that way, isn't it?
Now, let's look at how these characters are used in writing. Here's a sample image from the Sailor Moon manga:
But we need to take a closer look. What are those tiny hiragana characters written next to the kanji for? They are called furigana, and they tell you how to pronounce the kanji.
If you could understand all of that, then you'll be able to understand my explanation about the spelling of Kinmoku in the next section.
Still with me here? Good!
In the Sailor Moon manga, the special attacks used by the Sailor Senshi are mostly written out in katakana, since they are spoken as strings of English words. Maker demonstrates:
Read this word bubble from right to left. The katakana characters can be transliterated as:
"Su taa * Ju e n to ru * Uu te ra su!"
This spells out "Star Gentle Uterus!" Try saying it out loud to yourself, you'll see how the katakana spelling comes really close to sounding just like the English phrase.
But sometimes in the Sailor Moon manga, Naoko Takeuchi writes out the names of magical attacks using a special style that breaks the usual rules of Japanese writing. For an example, let's look at Sailor Saturn's attack, Death Reborn Revolution:
This is a close-up of a scan from volume 10, page 90 of the manga. You can see a string of katakana characters alongside the larger kanji. Those katakana look like they should be furigana, in which case they would tell you how to pronounce the kanji. But they DON'T, and they're NOT.
The katakana spell out:
But the kanji are read as:
You can see that the katakana characters do NOT tell you how to read the kanji. Therefore, the katakana characters are not meant to be read as furigana, but as a seperate entity all by themselves. One visual clue that should tip you off to this right away is that the katakana characters aren't even properly aligned with the kanji, as they would be if they were meant to be read as furigana.
The proper name of the attack is "Death Reborn Revolution," as spelled out by the katakana. The kanji, which appear in the word bubble for stylistic purposes only, mean something like "death world change."
Now, we finally get to the good part! We are trying to address a rumor that points to volume 18, page 39 of the manga and claims that "Kinmokusei" is spelled out in kanji and means "cinnamon blossom star/planet." But this is wrong. Why? Here goes!
Volume 18, page 39 of the manga shows Sailor Kakyuu performing her Kinmoku Fusion Tempest attack. Here is an explanation of the writing in that word bubble:
Here we have the same thing, again. Small katakana characters are written alongside the larger kanji, and thus look like they are meant to be read as furigana for those kanji. But they're not.
Before I even touch "Kinmoku," let's start with the left (latter) half of the word bubble, shall we? The katakana spell out "Fuu jo n * Te n pe su to" ("Fusion Tempest"), but the kanji are read as "hyakka ryouran" (meaning something like "many flowers blooming in profusion"). Obviously, in the left half of the word bubble, the katakana characters do NOT tell you how to pronounce the kanji, and vice versa - the kanji characters are NOT read as "fusion tempest" and do NOT spell out "fusion tempest."
Now let's move to the right half of the word bubble, where the katakana characters spell out "Ki n mo ku," or Kinmoku. The two kanji characters in this half are NOT read as "Kinmoku" and do NOT spell out "Kinmoku." The characters are read as "keika" and are used in Chinese to refer to the group of plants known as Osmanthus frangrans, or sweet olive trees in general (i.e., see the chart in the Miscellaneous section).
Now, those of you who know your stuff may be asking, "How can you be so sure that the kanji can't be read as Kinmoku? Kanji have different readings when used in different contexts, you know."
Yes, that's absolutely true. But the problem is that neither KIN nor MOKU is a reading for either of those kanji, as would have to be the case if they were really meant to spell out Kinmoku.
I looked up both of these kanji in several print and online dictionaries, and sure enough, neither kanji has KIN nor MOKU listed as a reading. Below is a pair of screenshots of the entries for each kanji from Jeffrey's Kanji Lookup, a very comprehensive online kanji database. I have provided these screenshots as evidence, just in case you still doubt:
The Readings line says: KEI, KATSURA, KATSU, YOSHI, KA
Notice that KIN is not a reading for this kanji.
The Readings line says: KA, KE, HANA, WA
Notice that MOKU is not a reading for this kanji.
Therefore, when all is said and done, the kanji can NOT be read as "Kinmoku." They are not read as Kinmoku, they do not spell out Kinmoku, they do not translate as Kinmoku, they have nothing to do with Kinmoku.
Finally, this explanation is over. Everything that I said at the top of this page still stands. ^__^ Kinmoku is the made-up name of a made-up planet, that has no translation or meaning other than itself, the name, Kinmoku. It is always written out in katakana, and never in kanji. If anybody tries to tell you that Kinmoku actually means "olive blossom planet" or "cinnamon blossom planet," or that Kinmoku is spelled out with kanji characters that signify something else, they're wrong.
In the manga, Princess Kakyuu gives her self-introduction speech like this:
The romanization of the speech looks like this:
"Kinmoku-sei no Tankei Oukoku daiichi koujo Kakyuu tomoushimasu."
The speech can be translated like this:
"I am the first order imperial Princess Kakyuu of the Tankei Kingdom of the planet Kinmoku."
"Tankei" is the Japanese reading of the kanji that the Chinese use to refer to the the Orange Osmanthus, which is named kinmokusei in Japanese, as explained above. So Kakyuu's reference to the "Tankei" kingdom adds a third layer to the kinmokusei pun. If that seems like a confusing triple-pun, well . . . it sort of is, but it's also quite brilliant too.
I've set aside this section here to include some nifty odds and ends related to the olive blossom motif.
Oleaceae is the scientific name for the olive tree family. Olive trees and their cousins lilacs are included in this family. (You can read about the use of "lilac" as a substitution for "olive blossom" in the English version of the Stars manga here.)
Ian Miller posted this list of "mokusei" flowers at the old Kinmoku Koibito board (now down) and gave me permission to copy it here. This is a list of the kanji and Japanese readings for members of the Oleaceae family.
Basically, this list shows that kinmokusei is just one variation of the olive blossom, and is a particular orange/gold color. Other blossoms like those from the ginmokusei and usugimokusei are white and yellow, respectively.
So here is Ian's mokusei list. Any terms that have been referred to in the discussion above (like keika, kinmokusei, and tankei) will be highlighted in red.
And here are some images of the beautiful, fragrant kinmokusei flower.
Pretty flowers, aren't they? You can also notice the kinmokusei blossom motif used on Princess Kakyuu's costume. In both her Princess and Sailor forms, Kakyuu wears kinmokusei blossoms on her hat, on her forehead, fastening a blue ribbon around her throat, and even as earrings. The olive blossom also appears during Sailor Kakyuu's attacks and transformations.
As for a bit of information about the Orange Osmanthus tree, well . . . Britannica.com describes the Orange Osmanthus tree as normally around 2.5 meters tall, producing distinct orange blossoms with a sweet, almost apricot-like scent. Within the family Oleaceae, the thirty species within the genus Osmanthus are referred to as "tea olive" trees, and are found around the world. The American cousin of the Orange Osmanthus tree, known as the Devilwood tree (Osmanthus americanus) can grow fifteen meters tall and produces greenish-white blossoms.
Credits and References
Images of the kinmokusei blossoms were originally posted at this, this, and this Japanese website. Black and white manga scans of Kakyuu come from Dreamscapes and Shallow then Halo. Color Kakyuu images are edited from images at Manga Style.
Hiragana and katakana charts, as well as a sample portion of a kanji chart, used in the "Silly Rumor" section originally come from Learn-Japanese.info.