Now Reading
The Best Fake Kabbalah in Japan
Gefilte Guilt
Messy Meshugane. Again.
The Art of Kosher Cheesemaking
Smitten with Schpilkes
Behar, and the Source of all Sustenance
Conflicted Convert

The Best Fake Kabbalah in Japan

A couple of months ago, the Kabbalah center down the street from my house closed down. I wasn’t surprised at all. I’m not trying to knock Madonna, or any of the other devotees of appropriated Jewish mysticism, but when was the last time you heard about celebrities and Kabbalah? At this point, it’s old news. So it’s a bit surreal when the phrases “Shekinah Glory” and “Daath” pop up in the corner of the screen in this trailer for an upcoming Japanese video game:

This is the trailer for Shin Megami Tensei V, an upcoming game in the long running series of Japanese role playing games often known as SMT for short. The release of the trailer is pretty exciting; this year marks the 25th anniversary of the series. It’s also one of my favorite video game series, and it’s real weird.

What are the games in the SMT series like? Well, they’re sort of like Pokémon. You run around in dungeons and capture monsters, which you then force to fight other monsters. But instead of adorable little electric rats and weird dinosaurs, you’re fighting mythological figures cribbed from religions and folk traditions from across the globe. In fact, SMT predates Pokemon by about a decade, but it remains a pretty niche series, and it’s clear why. While the Pokemon games are fun, cute and accessible, the SMT games can often be unforgivingly hard, and layer on the obscure mythological references thick.

And that brings us all the way back to that brand new trailer. What’s going on with the mix of transliterated Hebrew and English? Well, as long as the series has been using foreign elements, the games’ grasp of religion and mythology have been a bit shaky. In an interview, the creator of this new game had this to say:

“The keywords ‘Shekinah Glory,’ which appeared in the trailer, literally translate to ‘miracle of God.’ When you actually play it and have these keywords in your head, I think you will be able to feel their true meaning.”

…What? Now maybe the interview was poorly translated into English, but “miracle of God?” How do you get there from Shekinah Glory? It’s a nonsensical combo of the Hebrew word for the feminine, divine presence of God and the english word “glory.” Searching that phrase does yield a couple evangelical Christian sites, and a Chicago based gospel band, but that’s it. They may have been going for the (much less awkward) phrase “Kavod Ha Shekhinah,” which means the Glory of the Shekhinah, but that’s got nothing to do with miracles.

It’s possible that the awkward turn of phrase is the result of a poor translation, but it’s representative of how the series tends to tackle Judaism in general. Abrahamic religion forms the core mythology of the series, but more specifically, the creators are really into gnosticism. If I had to oversimplify it, gnosticism is an anti-materialist religious movement that spun off of Judaism in the 2nd Century CE.

According to the gnostics, the source of evil in the world is that the divine spark of God is trapped within the material world, which is a crappy place. And the reason everything is so crappy is that the god who created the material world is actually a jerk named the Demiurge, who trapped the endless light of God in a material prison. The Megami Tensei series collapses this idea into Kabbalah. The result is a series of games where you can team up with Lucifer, who is actually a pretty cool dude, and beat up God, while random Kabbalistic imagery sort of floats around in the background.

Of course, the SMT games are far from the only pieces of Japanese media to try and appropriate foreign culture, often Judaism. It’s not unusual to see bits of Hebrew floating around in an anime because it appears exotic and meaningful. In fact, Jewish mysticism has a special (awkward) place in Japanese games, anime, et cetera. For example, Final Fantasy VII is one of the most famous Japanese RPGs ever made, and its main villain is name Sephiroth. Is there any explanation why this character is named after the Kabbalistic concept of the emanations of God? Not in the game, and while fans have tried their darndest to create some sort of meaning in it, they tend to be pretty weak tea.

Honestly, as far as the SMT games are concerned, I love them not despite this weird hodgepodge of religious imagery, but in part because of it. The creators throw so many concepts at the wall, and if for no other reason, at least some of them stick. And more importantly, these concepts are implemented in a way that makes the misses way more amusing. One of my favorite things about the games is that the man who designed the demons, an artist named Kazuma Kaneko, smashed together his love of high fashion with whatever he understood about the figures he was depicting to create some fascinating designssome of which may seem familiar.

A “Seraph”
A “Dybbuk”

Hey! That second one isn’t even a terrible understanding of what a Dybbuk is, though I guess Kaneko thought that shtreimels as a choice of headwear don’t match his standards of haute couture.

When somebody (say, Japanese video game developers) tries to depict a culture or tradition that they aren’t familiar with (say, Jewish mysticism), they tend to try and cram it into the framework of whatever they’re making. The creators take these Jewish concepts and filter them through their own perspectives, adding in their own cultural context and also their weird idiosyncrasies. The result is a series of games that often reveal a lot more about the game designers than they do about Judaism. It’s also completely bonkers, and a lot of fun.

Plus, in the third game in the series, the main character has to run around and collect objects that are called Candelabra in the English version. And is each candelabrum named after one of the Sefirot? Why not! Oh, and they look like this:

Their name in the original game? “Menorah,” written out in Japanese characters. Gotta love that.

Images via the Megami Tensei Wiki.

View Comments (35)
  • Hello every one, here every person is sharing such familiarity, thus it’s pleasant to read this webpage, and I used
    to pay a quick visit this weblog every day.

  • Hello i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anywhere,
    when i read this post i thought i could also make comment
    due to this brilliant article.

    Here is my website … coupon

  • Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your weblog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

  • Generally I do not read article on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me
    to try and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me.
    Thanks, very nice post.

  • I really like what you guys tend to be up too. This type of clever work and exposure! Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve added you guys to my blogroll.

  • What’s Taking place i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered It positively useful and
    it has helped me out loads. I hope to contribute & help other customers like its helped me.
    Good job.

  • My programmer is trying to convince me to move to
    .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of
    the costs. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on a number
    of websites for about a year and am anxious about switching to another platform.
    I have heard fantastic things about Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress content into it?
    Any help would be really appreciated!

  • I know this website presents quality dependent articles and extra material,
    is there any other web site which offers these data in quality?

  • I’ve been browsing online greater than three hours nowadays, but I never discovered any fascinating
    article like yours. It is lovely value sufficient for
    me. In my view, if all website owners and bloggers made excellent content as you
    did, the net will be much more helpful than ever before.

  • What’s up to every one, the contents existing at this website
    are truly awesome for people knowledge, well, keep
    up the nice work fellows.

  • I really like what you guys are usually up too.

    This type of clever work and exposure! Keep up the very good works guys I’ve added
    you guys to my personal blogroll.

  • Wow that was odd. I just wrote an extremely long
    comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways,
    just wanted to say excellent blog!

  • My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find the majority of your
    post’s to be exactly what I’m looking for. Do you offer guest
    writers to write content to suit your needs? I wouldn’t mind writing a post or elaborating on many of the subjects you write about here.
    Again, awesome site!

  • Hi there very cool web site!! Man .. Beautiful .. Superb ..

    I’ll bookmark your web site and take the feeds additionally?
    I’m happy to find a lot of helpful info here in the put up, we’d like
    work out more techniques on this regard, thanks for sharing.
    . . . . .

  • This piece of writing offers clear idea in support of the
    new viewers of blogging, that really how to do running a

  • Heya just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you
    know a few of the pictures aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why
    but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different
    browsers and both show the same outcome.

  • My spouse and I stumbled over here by a different web address and thought I might check things out.
    I like what I see so now i’m following you. Look forward to exploring your web
    page for a second time.

  • Hello There. I found your weblog using msn. That
    is a very smartly written article. I will make sure
    to bookmark it and return to read more of your
    useful info. Thank you for the post. I will definitely return.

  • Hello there, I found your site by the use of Google at the same time as looking for a related matter, your web
    site came up, it seems good. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

    Hi there, simply became aware of your weblog via Google, and
    located that it is really informative. I’m going to watch
    out for brussels. I will appreciate should you continue
    this in future. A lot of people will be benefited from your writing.

  • It’s really a nice and useful piece of info. I’m satisfied that you simply shared
    this helpful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Thanks for the marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you’re
    a great author.I will ensure that I bookmark your blog and will often come back down the road.
    I want to encourage continue your great posts, have a nice
    holiday weekend!

  • Hey there! I simply wish to offer you a big thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post.
    I’ll be returning to your website for more soon.

  • Its such as you read my mind! You seem to grasp a lot approximately this, like you wrote the e-book in it or something.

    I think that you could do with some p.c. to power the message house a little bit, however instead of that, that is excellent blog.

    A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

  • Today, I went to the beachfront with my children. I
    found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed.
    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.

    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll To Top