A Bird’s Cage

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Note: Due to the nature of this post, there will be spoilers from Persona 4. If you have not yet played the game, I would highly recommend doing so (preferably Persona 4: Golden as the story is much more complete compared to its predecessor).

Otherwise, allow me to introduce to you one of my favorite characters from Persona 4: Amagi, Yukiko!

yukiko-umbrellaYukiko is one of the first few characters you encounter upon starting Persona 4. As you enter the classroom, you find that she is quiet and reserved. As you begin to hang out with the rest of the group, you also find that Yukiko is also quite intelligent. She is also oblivious to the fact that she’s popular due to her beauty.

As you begin to progress further, you find out that she is the daughter of a family that runs a famous hot spring inn. As the next heir to obtain the family business, she often finds herself busy helping out with the family business while trying to balance out her school life.

However Yukiko finds herself feeling discontent with her situation. It later becomes evident that while Yukiko seems willing to take over the business, she is constantly under stress due to the expectations placed upon her as the next owner of the famous inn.

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As a result, Yukiko ends up feeling “trapped” and unable to deviate from the path that seems to be laid out for her. On her way back home, Yukiko finds a injured bird on the side of the street. Yukiko then brought the bird back home where she began to help it recover. As she continued to work for the inn Yukiko found her situation analogous to the bird inside the cage; the bird and Yukiko were trapped with no way out. Later Yukiko found out that she had forgotten to lock the door and the bird had escaped from the cage.

What ends up frustrating Yukiko was not that she had forgotten to lock the cage, but rather that the bird had more courage to make a change than her. In the end, Yukiko’s biggest fear is the inability to deviate from what is expected from her and being unable to alter her path which inevitably manifests in the Midnight Channel as her shadow.

As some of you may already know, I’ve gone through a similar experience in my life.

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I grew up knowing my father was well versed in the gasoline station business. There hasn’t ever been a day where I’ve never seen my father done anything but the gasoline station business. Growing up, I was always around whatever new station he would either own or manage. As the years progressed, I started to get more and more praise from my father’s acquaintances. Many of my father’s friends would always say something like, “He’s going to be a great son. He’ll easily be able to take your place when the time comes!”

The closer my senior year in my high school days, the more I became conscious of these expectations that were placed on me. Due to my insecurities, I thought I could change my “destiny” by going for something I earnestly had thought I could succeed in: Graphic Design.
yukikowithfunnyglassesDue to the costs associated with the Art Institute, I had to work in order to help cover for a little bit of it and start paying for bills (such as for my car, insurance, cell phone, etc). I held onto this path hoping that it would be the answer to resolving my insecurities. Several years had passed until I finally found out that I was really not fit for Graphic Design (or rather a career in the art field at all).

For the longest time, I was proud to be one of the few people who was able to understand himself. I thought I had gotten to know myself pretty well. As you may have guessed by now, that was far beyond the case. It wasn’t until all of that had happened that I began to realize that I still didn’t know who I was. Everything I had thought I knew was only an facade I had placed in order to help justify my irresponsible choices.

Thankfully, with the help and guidance of my friend Nightmaren, I was able to slowly identify all of my faults and weaknesses. One of the weaknesses I have that I can relate to Yukiko with is having the courage (or simply just the will) to have an initiative.

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Like Yukiko, I was looking for an easy way out. I can’t say I would wait for a Prince Charming (or Princess?) to carry me off to a whole new start, but what I had essentially wanted was something similar. I thought Graphic Design would be the easiest way to progress in my life because it was something I felt exclusively good at. No one in my family had ever pursued a career in the arts and I would not have to “continue my father’s legacy” in the gasoline station business.

PQ_Yukiko_Amagi_RenderHowever as both Yukiko and I began to realize, the current path that we’re currently walking on isn’t entirely that bad. For Yukiko, she’s completely comfortable with inheriting the entire inn for herself. As for me, I’m still not entirely too sure. After I started working at the convenience store, it’s starting to feel pretty natural to me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been exposed to this kind of work growing up, however I still feel that this is something that I wouldn’t completely mind doing. Nevertheless, I still feel that there is something greater that I can do other than just this menial job. I just have to work on planning things correctly and actually gaining the initiative to do so.

The interesting thing about Yukiko is the contrast that they subtly place between her name and her personality and persona. Her name Yukiko is 雪子 which literally translates to “Snow Child”. Despite this, she wears red and has a persona with fire attributes. When you enter Yukiko’s castle in the Midnight Channel, she expresses her disgust for her own name. Yukiko had described her name as transparent, nothing, worthless. She began to wear the color red because her friend Chie had said it looked good on her.

I think this contrast exists to help portray Yukiko’s seemingly unconscious desire to fight against her insecurities. Wielding a fire based persona also seems to serve as a way for her to “melt” the insecurities that she’s built up within herself.

“I won’t be rattled anymore. No matter how many times you appear, I WILL overcome you!”
-Amagi Yukiko as she faces herself in the game Persona 4: Arena

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I began to research the identities of the personas that Yukiko wields in the game. The one she obtains initially is Konohana Sakuya. I was expecting to find some parallels between the goddess and Yukiko. To my disappointment, there was almost none. The only similarity would be the fact that the goddess had been involved some event where fire played a significant role in the plot. The stories associated with her persona was rather interesting.

Konohana Sakuya was the daughter of another god named Ouyamatsumi. The word yamatsumi translates to “the mountain’s spirit” or better interpreted as a spirit dwelling in the mountain. A god by the name of Ninigi fell in love upon seeing Sakuyahime (Princess Sakuya) and had asked for her hand in marriage. The father of Sakuya, Ouyamatsumi gave his blessings and they were wed.

Amagi.Yukiko.full.1150964Konohana, meaning tree-flower, is often portrayed as the symbol of Japanese life. She is also known to be the blossom princess. As such, her beauty was incomparable anyone else. So naturally, when Konohana Sakuya became pregnant the first night they were married, Ninigi became suspicious and accused her of having slept with another god prior to their marriage.

Outraged at his accusations, she proposed that she would give birth in flames. If they were indeed his children, they will come out unharmed she claimed. Konohana Sakuya promptly went to seal herself into a hut with no doors and set it on fire. Within the fire, she gave birth to three gods and as Konohana Sakuya proclaimed, they were unscathed by the fire.

The only similar traits that I could find between Konohana Sakuya and Yukiko were that they were both extremely beautiful and were an icon (Konohana Sakuya being an avatar of Japan while Yukiko was the daughter of the famous hot spring inn owners). There was another thing that I thought was pretty interesting in Konohana Sakuya’s story.

Ouyamatsumi actually proposed his older daughter, Iwa-Naga the rock princess, to Ninigi as a better alternative. Ninigi, however, declined and stated that his heart had already settled for Konohana Sakuya. As a result, all the human Konohana Sakuya and Ninigi would produce will have short, fleeting lives like cherry blossoms. Had he chosen Iwa-Naga instead, human lives would have been longer and enduring like the mountains.

Yukiko’s persona evolves from Konohana Sakuya to Amaterasu (the Sun Goddess) when you reach the end of her social link. At that point, there was almost nothing that was similar to Yukiko. It was then I concluded that there would most likely be very little connections between the persona’s identity to the character’s personality.

Hopefully that shed light on Yukiko’s character and explained a little bit as to why I really liked her. Thanks for reading!

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“I wanted to become completely self-sufficient. But I think I was being presumptuous. I have the inn, I have my family, I have the waitresses and the chefs… I am who I am now because I was raised by such a kind group… When I think of it that way, my problems aren’t just my own. That’s why… I’m going to stay here. By my own will.”
-Amagi Yukiko upon maxing her social link

4 Replies to “A Bird’s Cage”

  1. Good post — not only do I know that it was well thought out, it read as such.

    While I have nothing against Yukiko and like her as much as the rest of the Persona 4 cast, I did found her issue (both her main story and social link route) to be the most frustrating since in reality, it was artificial — all in her head. It wasn’t a self-worth problem, an interpersonal problem, or an acceptance problem. Even if it were mainly an initiative problem (which is more a side-effect of her true problem), it would be a touch less abject.

    Yukiko’s main problem was her inability to take in the environment around her. This detail is somewhat poked fun at a number of times in the main game and its spinoffs. Because of this, she was unable to identify the support system she had in place at the Inn, how to go about wanting to pursue her own desires rationally, and generally what options she had in front of her to actually invoke a change in her life. I believe that her fire attribution also comes into play here. The fire inside her: both to do more than her current life and her frustration at feeling [artificially] trapped. Both you and I have seen this too many times in real life as well — the soft-spoken person who bottles things up too long until it all explodes out in a fiery blaze of irrationality and short-sightedness.

    There is no doubt that Yukiko was the character who had a situation that you could most identify with, but I would also like to caution you to have your consideration clear; consider how Yukiko is like you instead of how you are like Yukiko. Typically in fandoms, people commit the fallacy of projecting themselves onto characters (out of understandable subconscious desire to be like the character they admire) instead of the other way around. All this does is over-dramatize things and make them seem even more detached from their problem. ((Sound familiar? Haha.))

    But yes, as you mentioned, Yukiko did sort things out in the end. I would disagree with the statement that she realized “the current path . . . [she was] walking on [wasn’t] entirely that bad” however. She did not solve her problem because she accepted what she was previously trying to resist. She solved it because she realized where she actually stood — amidst an inn where her “family” cared about her to the point that they already knew how she felt. She was able to reconcile her issues because she opened her eyes to what she actually had and where she actually stood in the workings of the inn. Once she finally had her bearings, that was when she was able to finally start thinking for herself and start moving forward. Her “caged” feeling before was an illusion due to not being to grasp the pacing, and thus the movement of things in her life.

    So then let’s compare her to your situation — doubtlessly, a lot of these will sound familiar. I think the biggest similarity is not being able to fully assess where you stand (both when you were first pursuing graphic design and now). This leads to a host of things such as feeling confined to a few choices, not being able to grasp progress, not being able to plan things out to progress… it leads to the sort of running in circles that you have become familiar with over the years; one day you are trying to revel in youth like an old man, the next day you are showcasing your immaturity by trying to act older / more mature. I don’t say that to be mean — I say that to demonstrate the trapped, contradictory, fruitless feeling of the scenario. And after trying so desperately in trying to latch onto any shred of seeming-progress, it is no wonder that after a while one begins to form a comfortable cage of delusions — rose tinted interpretations if you will.

    I find your interpretation of the way Yukiko solved her problem telling. It shows that you are reading both your and her situation at a little bit of a higher level than the root cause and would caution you against attempting to remedy your problem in a similar manner. As you state, “[you] still feel that [working at the store] is something that [you] wouldn’t completely mind doing.” I would just like to remind you that your ambivalence in the statement indicates that you would not be completely content doing it either and that you would almost certainly run into a similar problem if you actually pursued it. Yukiko did not settle — she made a conscious choice. You should not settle either. Do not get rail-roaded into directions of thinking— all you would be doing is perpetuating the same problem in a different way.

    As you assert, Yukiko has a lot of similarity to your situation and I agree. She is also smart and rational once the pieces for her finally “snap into place”. I think that you and her can be similar in this regard too. I apologize if sections of my comment were a little too sensitive for public posting, but I tried to keep to the things you mentioned. Like I said, you did an excellent job at the content of your post and I wanted to provide a comprehensive response to all the points of thought presented. Do read through this multiple times if you have to since it is dense like all my writing. I’m curious to hear your thoughts (either here or in private). We’re all on your side.

    1. It’s been three months since this post and your comment. While I can not simply excuse the delay of replying back for any reason, I feel that I must first open with how I received this.

      As you understand better than most, I can take a while to make a proper response and it inevitably becomes a terrible fault of mine. It felt moreso than usual with this comment as it struck home harder than it usually does. In fact right now, I feel as though I’m still not ready to reply. I wanted to see if I can sort out my mind before replying. As a result, I ended up in a cycle where I would forget about the comment, remember, try to sort out my thoughts, and then forget again only to repeat the cycle once more.

      With each time I’ve remembered about my post and your comment, I began to introspect more and more. I started to question myself (especially with what I want). Although it was foggy to start out with, it’s slowly beginning to clear a little bit (however it still continues to linger). Unfortunately I don’t have Persona glasses to see past the fog so I will have to feel my way out.

      It has been a full year since we took over the store and it doesn’t even feel like it has been that long already. It’s rather alarming and almost startling that a year has already passed. What’s even more frightening is I feel as though I haven’t made that much of a progress as a person in that year. I am confident, however, that I have at least begun to finally understand myself a bit more better.

      After re-evaluating my post and my thought process, it is evident that I myself had tried almost too hard to project myself onto Yukiko. At first, I wanted to refute that I knew better than to project myself into a fictional character and I had not gotten to that point where I would fall into that hole. While I do feel that the wording can be interpreted either way, I found that was not the point and I noticed how much I was trying to justify everything (even to myself).

      In a sense, I definitely found myself in a delusion where I too felt caged and trapped in this world. I can’t say with certainty now, however I like to think that I’ve eradicated this illusion. I had come to realize that most of my insecurities and frustration stemmed from the confusion and fear of the future. After everything that had happened so far, I was unable to grasp what was going on and ended up rejecting it sub-consciously. It grew worse when I found the environment to be less than tolerable to what I would prefer to be around.

      You mentioned in the second to last paragraph that I should proceed with caution as I made it seem as though I still had mixed feelings. I will have to say that it still holds true today. This is why I couldn’t answer properly back then. Perhaps even now I can’t answer with an assertive statement, but I know for sure that this isn’t something I want to be doing all my life. I won’t settle. The temptations of settling are everywhere as my mother often tries to tell me that she and my father will take care of everything; however the issue at point is that I want to do something myself. What’s the point of having a “future” if it’s not something that you made yourself? If anything, if I were to continue this line of work, then I will have to convince myself that it is what I want. I just need time to explore other options prior to making a solid decision and that’s what I’m waiting on now. As I’ve told you though (and I’m certain you already know), there’s already a lot of waiting that I need to do. It’s still frustrating to have to wait for so many things, but I know it will be worth it in the long run.

      I think with the recent opportunity to finally be away from the store for more than a couple of days, I’ve been able to open my mind up once more. Now I can finally tackle this comment with a bit more ease (though I will admit I was distracted several times while writing this comment).

      Thank you, Nightmaren, for sticking by my side. I know I make mistakes and I will most likely continue to do so in the future. It’s very selfish of me to ask, but I hope that you will continue to aid me as I walk this journey. A new chapter is coming and I need all the help I can get. Thanks again.

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