It’s been a while since I’ve embarked on a Capcom creation. When I picked up Monster Hunter: Rise, I was surprised to see how meticulously crafted the village of Kumura was.
It felt authentic, ethereal, and spiritual. I couldn’t help but appreciate that a portion of the development team was dedicated to researching and creating a lush landscape, rich with real heritage.
Then again, Capcom has a pedigree boasting titles like Okami and Devil May Cry. Both of which draw their plots from traditional folktales.
If that last paragraph sounded like Spanish to you: Okami is a lucid tale of the goddess of nature, Amaterasu, teaming up with a warrior to slay the infamous 8-headed-dragon, Orochi. Capcom took a few artistic liberties in their story-telling, but the folktale remained relatively unscathed and true-to-form.
And as you probably know, Devil May Cry was a more loose rendition of a literary classic, Dante’s Inferno.
Titles like these tell us something important: There is a group at Capcom that is quite invested in folktales and lore. That often translates to ample, ambient environments – light years away from what we experience in our day-to-day lives.
So, the question of the day:
How well does Kamura stack in terms of traditional Japanese architecture?
The short answer: The development team did a fantastic job of capturing the Japanese Sengoku period. It was a time of warring states, dated between 1467-1615.
The good answer? Stay tuned, I’ll tell you all about it.
Japan is a land ravaged by natural disasters. Earthquakes and tsunamis scar the region far and wide. As a result, the Japanese developed a very unique way of constructing their…
They developed philosophies that favored building structures that were more tuned with nature than their overseas adversaries. Pillars were erected to be looser, more fluid. Buildings were not created with nails to bind them. Stone walls were not constructed with mortar to solidify them.
This manifested itself into an architectural style that could sway with the omnipresent rattling of tectonic plates. The Japanese constructed buildings that could ebb and flow with the harsh, whimsical intent of nature itself.
Moisture was no threat to boards held together with custom cut joints and fittings. Entire homes moved in perfect harmony with the elements. Having said that, the handiwork was more expressive and brawny than many ‘more sophisticated’ hammer and nail carpentry methods.
Rooftops appeared more intricate with interlaced brackets binding them together, often stacked in tiers, and eventually becoming a symbol of local status. Columns existed, but were often only used on the exterior of a house, which led to large open rooms sanctioned off with more flexible paper partitions.
Traditionally, wooden planks in Japan were set in a manner that would mimic a naturally occurring tree. A board was either meant to face upward or splinter in a vertical fashion. A cracked board was not discarded. Instead, it was mended.
And what kept imperfect boards from tearing a whole building apart? Wooden dovetail joints and butterfly joints. Carpenters would match them into fittings, crafted much like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle, to bind naturally occurring cracks in the wood. This deterred the cracks from expanding. Small fittings cut from particularly sized blades would be hammered into interlocking pieces made from the same tool.
The extra love and care translated into durability – and easier maintenance. Many traditional Shinto shrines and samurai castles still hold today.
Thanks to Buddhist influence, wear and tear from aging is often viewed as a sign of beauty in Japan. Blemishes weren’t hidden, they were embraced. This philosophy is called “Wabi-Sabi” and it is the heart and soul of the architecture we see in Capcom’s creation, Kamura Village.
The beauty of natural aging speaks for itself as you wander the alleys of Kamura. From the patched boards on the Bunny Dango shop signs to the stones placed on the boarded roofs in the harbor, the village is bustling with personality.
Wabi-Sabi is the essence of discarding symmetry, conformity, and false ideals of invincibility. In the West, it is easy to toss out a chipped plate or ripped coat. Wabi-Sabi philosophy isn’t solely the act of mending broken items, it’s taking pride in the scars someone or something has endured.
The intermittently blemished stone pathway in Kamura means something to its citizens. The path is both weathered and wartorn, but staring down at it is a reflective experience. The people of Kamura are gently reminded of their own imperfections. The cracks that appear in the stone are symbolic of everyone’s own shortcomings.
Most importantly, staring down at the beaten path and witnessing how well it functions is a melancholy reminder that the people of Kamura are still important, despite personal flaws or past trauma.
The same theme of “with nature, not against nature” appears when selecting a location to build a settlement. Traditional Japanese villages were chosen based on naturally occurring geographical barriers.
In essence, a Yamajiro castle is an entire settlement built on a steep slope. Its purpose is to hinder enemy movement. The infamous towering Ishigaki walls were nothing more than stacked stones accentuating hillside slopes. Their ridges were held in place by a hidden layer of smaller stones – perfect for adding stability and permitting natural drainage for rainfall.
Kamura is especially defensive because it’s an island, offering a naturally occurring moat for its inhabitants – an equally popular fortification.
This makes it a special hybrid of a Mizujiro (island castle) and a Yamajiro (mountain castle) perfectly fortified for the rampages that occur twice a century within the story.
The entire village of Kamura is prepared for the worst, from the surrounding wooden stake palisade outlining the perimeter to the stone Ishigaki walls upholding the large central smithing house.
Since forging weapons is the most prominent role in defending the city, the villagers of Kamura reserve their highest and most impressive building for manufacturing. In the Yamajiro layout, we call this the castle’s Tenshu.
A Tenshu is the heart of the city. It is the most well-defended area and its infrastructure is armed to the teeth to protect its citizens from Bullfango and Magnamalo alike.
Capcom did a wonderful job creating Kamura village. It takes more than smooth combat sequencing to get a gamer truly involved in a game revolving around methodical combat. The setting plays just as large a role. Luckily for us, our humble village is oozing with strength and bushido valor.
In case you haven’t looked, the hub is held up by a handful of naturally occurring sakura trees. It doesn’t get any more “one with nature” or “Wabi-Sabi” than that.
The game takes place during cherry blossom season, which speaks entire volumes of symbolism. Sure, cherry blossoms may have become a Japanese trope, but the context here is flavorful enough to open up a summertime food cart. The intoxicating presence of blossoms tells us more than a hundred hours of cutscenes could dare to dream.
In the earliest days of Japanese history, people climbed high into the mountains on intrepid spring pilgrimages, hoping to witness the blooming of sakura trees. Shinto shrines were built around particularly well-aged sakura trees as a tribute to a bountiful harvest.
In the Kamura quest hub, a dense yellow rope with decorative tassels is woven around the bark of our central Sakura, lining up perfectly with Shinto shrines of Japanese tradition. These ropes were used to draw out the Kami spirits of ancestors and other deities to a physical form – In this case, the tree. It was said to help these Kami communicate with the living.
As time passed, people began to bring Sakura branches down to inhabited areas so that everyone would be able to celebrate the blooming cherry blossoms.
Kamura’s surroundings are completely devoid of sakura trees. They were either sought out or transported from someplace afar. The scarcity of these trees is one of the most calculated environmental design features in Monster Hunter: Rise.
So, what’s the point of highlighting botany here?
The ritual of hanami, as it went on to be named, is a celebration of spring renewal. The blossoms signal the start of a fresh calendar year in Japan. Although, hanami’s roots run deeper than that. Cherry blossoms only remain in bloom for roughly two weeks. This celebration of rebirth comes with a ritual of reflecting on the fragility and transience of life itself.
Traditionally, the season of cherry blossoms was primarily cherished by samurai. The ritual helped alleviate fears of imminent death and replaced that fear with the strength of Bushido honor.
In our latest installment of Monster Hunter, the rampage may be in-bloom; but, in the grand scheme of things, it is only a small blemish on the century. Kamura will endure. Kamura will prevail. Kamura will bear her scars with pride.
Minka houses were the style that farmers, merchants, and artisans would inhabit. Let’s take a look at our Minka in Monster Hunter: Rise.
At the crest of each structure lies a large painted ōmune beam. The ōmune is the main ridge of a rooftop, it protrudes upward from the remainder of the roof and provides support for the underlying Taruki rafters.
(The Taruki aren’t visible anywhere in Kamura village, unfortunately. Here’s a visual source of everything I reference in this section. See if you can spot all the features missing in Kamura!)
The ōmune in Kamura are all uniform in shape, featuring a pattern of highs and lows which help highlight the use of custom chisel-like blades being hammered into wooden beams to create rivets. These ōmune also appear in a form that resembles an udatsu firewall. These didn’t do much to prevent fire, but they served well to keep a fire from spreading. Udatsu were generally placed on the outermost section of a roof to protect it, though. We’ll chalk it up as one of Capcom’s creative liberties.
At both ends of each ōmune are hand-carved dragons, delicately carved as a symbol to ward off large monsters.
Below that we can see a Chidori-Hafu. A Chidori-Hafu is a small triangular end panel tucked in between layers of roofing. These are an important element to sustaining the extravagant styles of tiered roofing seen so often in traditional Japanese architecture.
Developers take note! The Chidori-Hafu should be enough to prevent stability patch updates on buildings of the future…
Roofs were often made with thatched susuki grass, commonly known as Chinese Silver Grass, or miscanthus reeds.
Susuki grass is a universal material. Aside from filling gaps in villager roofs, miscanthus was often used for feeding livestock, making dolls for children, and creating paper. The sprouts often stand between 3-8 feet tall. Each reed is topped with an extravagant feathery plume that delicately moves to the cadence of the wind. Japanese villagers often keep patches of susuki grass in their yards. Much like the cherry-blossom bloom in spring, susuki blooms signal the coming of autumn.
Sure enough, in Kamura village, we’ve got a few patches growing in our yard. A modest amount, perfect for patching up leaks or feeding a Palico buddy or two. Also, the roof of our very own home is thatched with the reeds of susuki grass.
The other buildings appear to use monster scales, which adds an element of fantasy to the village while paying homage to the other common roofing material: Cypress bark.
Throughout the remainder of the structure, we see a few other authentic features such as eaves over the doors (Hisashi), Latticed windows (Kōshi Mado), and a ventilation space beneath the flooring to help reduce humidity and prevent flooding.
A few lively decorative additions are tucked snug into the scene to fasten everything together.
Throughout Kamura, the Shrine ruins, and training grounds we see a handful of mossy Tōrō lamps, personifying the Buddhist Gōdai elements. These lamps are still seen throughout Japan today.
We also see a few statues nestled around the buddy board and some paper lanterns decorated to appease the whimsical bunny kami near Bunny Dango stalls. Little details like this remind us the Japanese viewed monsters in a much softer connotation than their rivals in the West. Stories of Yokai were often viewed as fun children’s tales. For example, rabbit-based monsters were often symbols of cleverness and self-devotion. They also traditionally signify springtime, although that isn’t any concept foreign to the West.
Finally, Hamon’s workstation is decorated with horns and other trophies from the beasts he treasured most. It adds the impression that he’s a seasoned veteran of his craft, and likely a seasoned hunter.
Kamura bears her grizzled appearance with the pride of forthcoming longevity. Her scars are the muse of her poets. Her eroded paths are a humble reflection of the gallant warriors who protect her. She is the embodiment of the sheer power of Wabi-Sabi
In a game whose signature loop is to harvest monster parts, traditional Japanese architecture fits like a handcrafted Barioth vambrace. The essence of Kamura meshes extraordinarily well with the hunter/gatherer lifestyle we practice in-game. Returning from hunts benefits the citizens of Kamura, and you can almost feel the impact of your hunts for yourself.
The idea that Hamon can craft elegant pieces of armor from the scales of a Rathian becomes infinitely more believable once we see entire roofs garnished with them. The idea that Iori can tame wild animals feels more convincing after traversing through a well-weathered town that harbors no nails.
These people are in perfect harmony with the mountain they inhabit.
In any other village, I’m not sure I could feel safe enough to fall asleep on the eve of a fated rampage. I bet Hinoa wouldn’t feel comfortable enough to fatten herself up on Bunny Dango while issuing village quests.
We can all rest easy. Kamura has taken the fruits of the land and transformed itself into a haven – one that could only be fabricated by the hands of skilled craftsmen with generations of ingenuity to call upon.
The citizens of Kamura do not cower at the sight of a fierce Palamute, they embrace it. Some day Iori will grow old and wise, and he’ll pass his craft down to a new generation.
Likewise, the Sengoku period hits its mark with absolute perfection: a few hundred years earlier and the people of Kamura would be flustered, unprepared, and running circles in a state of hysteria. A few hundred years in the future and the treasured Tenshu at the center of the city would be a feudal lord’s headquarters for terrorizing citizens with extortion and war crime charges.
The architecture in Monster Hunter: Rise is undoubtedly traditional Japanese; and, honestly, it wouldn’t work any other way.
Thank you for reading!