What Does “Rurouni Kenshin” Mean & What Is the Significance of the Name?

What Does "Rurouni Kenshin" Mean & What Is the Significance of the Name?
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Rurōni Kenshin is a manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki. It was published between 1994 and 1999 in Shūeisha’s Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine and compiled into twenty-eight volumes. It was adapted into a 95-episode animated television series and an animated film. The first 62 episodes adapted the first 18 volumes while episodes 63 to 95 are completely original. In addition, a series of OVA episodes recount Kenshin’s past and explain, in particular, the cross-shaped gash on his cheek. A new anime adaptation was announced on December 19, 2021. In this article, we will focus on the title of the series, as we will explain what “Rurouni Kenshin” actually means.

The term “Rurouni Kenshin” is written as るろうに剣心 in Japanese. The first part of the phrase, “rurouni” is written solely in Hiragana as るろうに, and it is a new word coined by the series’ creator Nobuhiro Watsuki; it has an almost identical meaning to the word “rōnin” (浪人), which means a wandering samurai without a master. “Kenshin” is composed of the kanji 剣心, which, when put together, would roughly translate to “change of heart,” although this is not the most literal of translations.

The rest of this article will be divided into two separate sections. The first one is going to explain the meaning of the title, and the whole etymology, while the latter is going to give you an overview of the series’ plot, which you will be able to use to see whether the title fits the plot and the atmosphere of the series. Some mild spoilers might be present.

What does ‘Rurouni Kenshin’ mean?

The term “Rurouni Kenshin” is, intriguingly enough, used in all languages and is not directly translated, as is the case with some manga and anime. This is why we have to consider the original Japanese meaning to understand what it means fully. So, first of all, we have to state that the phrase is, in Japanese, written as るろうに. It is comprised of a Hiragana phrase and two individual kanji that mean the following:

  1. るろうに – this Hiragana phrase is read as “Rurouni” and is a new word created by the author
  2. 剣 – this kanji means a double-edged blade or sword
  3. 心 – this kanji means heart or soul

Now, to fully understand the meaning, we have to explain the phrases and the kanji meanings. The phrase るろうに (“Rurouni”) is read like that, and it does not have an actual translation, mostly because it is a completely new word coined by Nobuhiro Watsuki, the author, for the purpose of his series. The word is similar to a well-known word, “rōnin” (浪人), which signifies a wandering samurai with no master. Rōnin are popular characters in Japanese-related or Japanese fiction in general, especially in old samurai movies. The word “Rurouni” is actually derived from that term, and it also signifies a wandering swordsman, although a bit different than a classical “rōnin” (浪人).

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As for the two kanji, we have said that 剣 signifies a double-edged blade, or a blade in general, whereas 心 signifies the heart or soul. A double-edged heart wouldn’t actually make much sense as a translation, but the word “kenshin” is similar to the word “henshin,” which actually signifies a change of heart. Both of these phrases refer to the main character and the story, so the title would signify a wandering swordsman with a change of heart, which makes sense if you know the story.

What is Rurouni Kenshin about?

Nine-year-old Shinta is kept as a servant until robbers kill his owners. He only escapes death with the help of Seijuro Hiko, who becomes his master and names him Kenshin. He learns the art of sword fighting called Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu. At the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, he goes into battle as a 15-year-old assassin for the Shishi to prevent further tragic fates like his. This is how he becomes the legendary Hitokiri Battōsai. Along the way, he meets the beautiful Tomoe, with whom he hides in the countryside when luck turns against them.

They live happily for a while as a pharmacist and his wife. Tomoe wants to avenge her fiancé, who died at the hands of Kenshin and gave him his first scar, but Kenshin doesn’t know that he ruined Tomoe’s happiness. One day her brother Enishi shows up and reminds her of the plan to kill Kenshin. In the meantime, however, Tomoe had fallen in love with Kenshin and still could not prevent enemies of the Choshu patriots from trying to kill Kenshin. A fight ensues with traitors to the Choshu patriots.

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Kenshin attacks one of the men, but Tomoe intervenes and is killed by Kenshin, not wanting anyone to die. He gets his second scar and wins the fight. Kenshin had understood through the happiness he experienced with Tomoe that a sword is there to protect life. He then vows never to kill anyone again after the end of the Bakumatsu era and has used an inverted-bladed sword, the sakabatō, ever since. In Tokyo in the year Meiji 11 (1878), a murderer poses as “Hitokiri Battōsai” (assassin + swordsman), who was a well-known assassin during the Bakumatsu riots.

Now Kenshin Himura appears. He is confronted with his past and has to take on the impostor who threatens the young kendo teacher Kaoru Kamiya. After helping her, he allows himself to be persuaded to stay in her dōjō. Thug Sanosuke Sagara and young orphan Yahiko Myōjin soon join them. Everyone fought or suffered in the civil war and lost relatives or good friends. She soon asks doctor Megumi Takani for help as she is being forced to work for an opium dealer.

The friends help her and fight against the Oniwa Banshū, a ninja group made up of former protectors of Edo Castle who now work under Aoshi Shinomori as mercenaries for the opium dealer. The Oniwa Banshū fight against Kenshin but are only killed when the opium dealer betrays them. Only Aoshi survives and then wants revenge on Kenshin. Later, Kenshin and his friends also fight a Separatist movement of swordsmen and the fake Battōsai who want revenge.

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