Hello, Kyra here! This is Onamae wa? #38, our weekly encounter where we pick Anime character’s names and look for anything interesting in them.

A new year has started and in a few days so does the Winter 2017 Anime Season. Today we will close our Fall 2016 exploration by looking at a character with a very fitting name.

Our guest guest today is 桐山(kiri.yama) 零(rei), protagonist of Sangatsu no Lion, a slice of life drama Anime currently airing in Fall 2016 / Winter 2016. For the sake of this post, it is recommended to have watched up to Episode 11 to avoid being checkmated by spoilers.

桐山(kiri.yama) 零(rei)

Episode 2

桐山(kiri.yama) 零(rei) is a 17-year-old professional Shogi player shouldering many burdens on his yet to mature life. Family loss, adoptive house being a mess, competitive Shogi pressure and social inadaptability make every single day a struggle for him, which in turn makes for a fine delicacy for viewers. Let’s tackle on his name before we go any further. お名前は?


Family Name: 桐山(kiri.yama)


桐山(kiri.yama) isn’t a very popular name in Japan, although it is still around the 1500 most used surnames there (keep in mind that there are over 100.000). It traces back to a homonymous village in the former Mikawa Province (current Aichi Prefecture) from 17-19 century.

桐 is the kanji for 桐(ki.ri; Paulownia), a tree originally from China but later introduced and from then on being long cultivated in other regions, notably Korea and Japan.

Paulownia, also known as Empress (or Princess) Tree

downloadAccording to Wikipedia and a few other sources, it was once customary to plant a Paulownia upon the birth of a girl, as the tree would reach maturity at the same time. After that it would be then cut and carved into a dresser or similar as a marriage gift to her. It is also used in the emblem for Office of the Prime Minister of Japan.

Trivia above is nice but here comes the important part. The paulownia is widely known for its regenerative power, being able to successfully regrow from their roots after harvest, ability which granted it yet another name: Phoenix Tree. This also ties into a Chinese Legend that a Phoenix would only land on a Paulownia and even then, only if a good ruler were in power. It also cannot thrive in the shade of other trees and lastly, while its seeds, seedling, roots and mature trees are susceptible to rot, its wood is very resistant.

The details make 桐 a highly suitable kanji for Rei. Being the 5th middle-schooler to go professional parallels into the tree’s fast growth rate; suffering numerous losses and scars over his short life but still managing to somewhat keep going matches its regenerative power. While under the shade of his adoptive family, he felt suffocated and couldn’t strive ties into the Paulownias not being able to properly breathe when near taller trees. The exception for the last point on the previous paragraph, its wood not being prone to rot, points out the only way Rei-kun managed to escape rotting away so far. If you think about it, trees don’t become proper wood by themselves. They need someone to cut the bad parts, remove the twigs and polish you into a fine work. Like Rei and the numerous wonderful people that surrounded him in the most recent part of his life. It is worth bringing up here that, as I make it clear on the post [About this blog]I’m not saying that using 桐 here was intentional. Irrespective of this fact, this coincidence make it an interesting asset to explore and rather amusing to do so.

山 is mainly known for 山(yama; mountain) or even 富士山(fu.ji.san; Mt. Fuji), but here is a quote from [Onamae wa? #7], when talking about 葉山(ha.yama) 照(teru) from Sansha Sanyou (Spring 2016):

山 has a few other meanings besides mountains and hills, including nouns like crown, climax, speculation and also used to indicate that something is great or very much.

Both concrete and abstract ideas here are better explained when in junction with the other kanji. Following a concrete base, 桐山(kiri.yama) originally denoted a hill of paulownias, which is a pattern seen here in this blog multiple times. If we abstract here though, 桐山(kiri.yama) now portrays an exceptional paulownia. Based on what we saw above about this tree, we can then draw that this name evokes someone who is the climax of being cut and reborn; being hurt and healed; someone who would rot if let alone, but grow strong if properly cared by others. In other words, a perfect match for Rei.

Others 桐山(kiri.yama) in Anime:

  • 桐山(kiri.yama) 美花(mi.ka) from Love Lab! (Summer 2013)
  • 桐山(kiri.yama) 臣(omi) from Kanokon (Spring 2008)
  • 桐山(kiri.yama) 唯(yui) from Kokoro Connect (Summer 2012)


Given Name: 零(rei)


While the association between 桐(kiri; paulownia) and our guest’s personality was a marvelous finding, Kiriyama’s given name was the solely reason I chose Sangatsu no Lion to wrap up Fall 2016 related posts. I’d like to open with the very first scene of this show, back in October 8th:

Back on Episode 1 we had only a small glimpse of the devil.

零(rei) is an incredible name because it encompasses multiple contradictory concepts. And this ambivalence ties greatly into not only in the kind of series Sangatsu no Lion, but in Rei-kun as a human being.

As Kyouko pointed out in the scene above, 零(rei; zero) depicts the mathematical concept of zero, although in my experience it was much more common to see in katakana as ゼロ. She then associates it with Rei-kun as he is someone without a home, a family or friends, projecting her despise for him in this interpretation of his name as depicting Nothingness. And this would have been truth if he was a lonely Paulownia, left to rot. But he is not.

From the innocent Momo, to the imouto-like Hinata and motherly-aura Akari; the beautiful and sincere friendship of Nikaido; and even the silly jokes of Hayashida-sensei. All these factors disrupt the idea of nothingness. Rather, it is the polar opposite. Thanks to all these people, these woodworkers that shape the ever regenerating/rotting pauwlonia into fine piece of wood, 零 now stops beings Zero and move into 零れる(kobo.reru; to overflow).

A more positive meaning for 零 isn’t restricted to this context though. 零 is formed by 雨(ame; rain) and 令(rei; order, command) and some parents used this idea to name their kids, sometimes borrowing the reading from a similar kanji, 雫(shizuku; drop of water). Some people even go out to relate the (sort of) rounded shape of drops and ‘zero’. It is also common to relate the reading 零(rei) to 嶺(rei; summit), 礼(rei; gratitude) and 伶(rei; wisdom).

In conclusion, the beauty of 零(rei) is that it is at the same time nothing and full. Empty and overflowing. Solitary and surrounded.

Others 零(rei) in Anime:

  • 海棠(kai.dou) 零(ren) from Super Lovers (Spring 2016)
  • 錐生(ki.ryuu) 零(rei) from Vampire Knight (Spring 2008)
  • 綾波(aya.nami) レイ(rei) from Neon Genesis Evangelion (Fall 1995)

Notice that the protagonist of Super Lovers uses the same kanji but a different reading and that while Rei from Evangelion is written in kanji, there are numerous reasons as to why it is possible to relate the kanji 零 and the concepts discussed above to her, let alone her Unit being the 00 one.



Wrapping up!



桐山(kiri.yama) 零(rei), a fast growth boy whose scars will be healed by the overflowing love from the ones around him.

Thanks for your time, hope you enjoyed your reading. Sangatsu no Lion is so far a wonderful work  and I ranked it as my fourth favorite show of Fall 2016, in part because the series is still incomplete. If you haven’t picked it up, here is my honest recommendation.

As a new season approaches, I’d like to emphasize my appreciation for everyone that has joined me in this weekly joint expeditions looking for hidden gems in names. Happy New Year and see you all next weekend!