Not just another number Sep16

Not just another number...

When Chihiro Ogino finds herself trapped in a magical world, she has her name taken from her. The plot of Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 animated film Spirited Away begins when Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs by eating forbidden food from an uninhabited buffet. Chihiro learns that the place they stumbled across after taking a wrong turn is, in fact, a spiritual realm; a place of retreat where weary spirits can relax. She begs Yubaba, the cruel owner of a bathhouse, to give her a job so she can survive in this spirit world, and Yubaba eventually hires Chihiro in exchange for ownership of the girl’s name. Yubaba renames her Sen. Later, Chihiro learns that Yubaba takes people’s names in order to trap them in this spirit world; if she ever forgets what her original name was, she will be permanently unable to return to her home world. Despite losing her name, she doesn’t lose herself. I wondered where Yubaba got the name “Sen” from, and once I noted the kanji characters that make up both names, I realized exactly what Yubaba was trying to take away from her. “Chihiro” is written as two kanji characters: the first is pronounced “chi” (which means “one thousand”), and the second is “hiro” (which means “questions”). But kanji characters almost never have just one single pronunciation or meaning attributed to them; in this case, the character used for “chi” can also be read as “sen,” the basic number for one thousand. The name “Chihiro” does not necessarily express a finite quantity, but could be interpreted as an endless or uncountable number. Her full given name therefore could be roughly translated to “endless questions.” To me, the translation behind this name paints a mental picture of a girl who...