Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stained Glass Window & Howl's Moving Castle

I had a great question about the stained glass windows in Spirited Away and its relationship to Howl's Moving Castle.  I just have to share the answer because I was similarly baffled until about two years ago.
The quartered circle actually is a representation of the manji or swastika, an ancient symbol found pervasively throughout time and culture.  I happened accross the symbol represented as a circle and not in its boxy form on a trip to the Minobu Kuonji temple in Yamanashi Prefecture, the primary temple in Nichiren Buddhism.  In our case the manji, as the swastika is known in japan, is a Buddhist symbol the represents the eternity of the ever turning dharma wheel.  Not only that, each quadrant represents a different cardinal direction and is associated with a color and an animal and a guardian deva collectively known as the Four Heavenly Kings.  

Traditionally the four cardinal points are north, west, south, east: black, white, red, blue/green.  You might be thinking, "Hmmm...  The window in Spirited Away has red, blue, yellow, and green quadrants...That's not quite right, isn't it?"  This circle manji is Tibetan in origin. You'll see that black is often traded for blue
much in the same way yellow is traded for white.  Also, there is a fifth direction that represents the interior soul that often gets left out of the four points discussion.

Regardless of all that, the manji is a symbol that embodies the Buddhist cosmology, or their world view.  The manji also is considered a lucky symbol and gets stamped on a lot of things as a result. Miyazaki is fixated on apotropaic symbols, much like most of Asia.  Think of Miyazaki's almost obsessively repeated eye imagery.  The watching eye is a powerful magical emblem that turns away bad luck.  Much in the same way, the windows can be seen as warding symbol that keeps watch over this transitional space much like the stone
guardian watches over the front of the tunnel.  Whether or not they are successful is an entirely different matter.  ^_^

Then there is the colored wheel's appearance in Howl's Moving Castle, the symbols association with the different directions lends nicely to the idea of travel.  Each color represents a different location much like
it represents a difference direction. 

That's more of a stretch than the Spirited Away explanation but ultimately I think Miyazaki does things sometimes because he likes the way they look, neh?  ^_^


  1. Hey! Great blog!
    There is a crappy sci fi movie that came out maybe in the 90's called Crossworlds. At one point the protagonist opens his apartment door to reveal a different plane of reality and above his door is a half circle stained glass window in multi colors.
    It reminded me of the wheel in Howl and the corroboration of colors and doors into other-lands caused me to need to know the significance of it.
    A cursory glance at google gave me your blog and I'm so thankful it did!

  2. My friend and I have a theory that the River Spirit Haku is actually a young Howl, and that Spirited Away is actually the prequel to Howl's Moving Castle. We know that Haku is Yubaba's apprentice, and Howl was Madam Suliman's. But what if Madam Suliman and Yubaba are the same person! It certainly explains why Howl and Madam Suliman have such a strange relationship. Yubaba is a known witch and could have used a spell such as the Witch of the Waste to make herself younger (although the wheelchair I'm unsure about) It certainly is a fun theory to look at and nitpick different details.

    1. Are drawing parallels between Sophie and Chihiro as well?

  3. I noticed that the stained glass window in the beginning of spirited away is just like the windows computer symbol

  4. This is definitely very interesting. I theorize that the “wheel” that appears as a stain glass window is a portal itself hence why Chihiro and her family were able to enter the spirit world. Chihiro couldnt get back herself and needed help from Yubaba meaning that only magic could have controlled where the portal/door would lead to.