Why do Power Rangers, originally a Japanese kids TV content franchise, give a self-introduction every time they go into battle, and why do villains just patiently wait for them to finish? The Power Ranger series in Japan are the same deal. There is in fact an interesting historical/cultural background to their absurd behaviors – in the lives of Japanese samurais 400 to 800 years ago.

Show host Kyota Ko solves the mystery in one quick podcast.

Self-introductions before battle has a 800 year history

Hello world, you are listening to the Metro-classic Japanese, bringing you a podcast today to solve a big mystery behind the Power Ranger franchise. Why do they introduce themselves to the enemy as they morph every time and why do their enemies wait patiently for them to finish their self introductions?

There is actually a cultural reason to this and this practice actually dates back at least 800 years. It was commonly done among samurai warriors.

And this may be very counterintuitive, but in fact there was a practical reason samurais gave a long self-introduction in war, and there was a practical reason the opponent waited for his counterpart to finish his introduction. I want you to know how this bizarre Japanese culture came about. My name is Kyota Ko.

As many of you may know, Power Rangers are originally a Japanese TV series for kids, and in Japan, it’s been on air since 1975. Every year, its production company Toei launches a new batch of Power Rangers with costumes in different themes like dinosaurs, cars, ninja, wizards and even trains – things kids would like. So Japan has had 44 individual Power Ranger shows over a course of 45 years. 

So for 45 years, every Sunday morning, Power Rangers have been introducing themselves to their enemies individually, and doing the math, that’s a total of about 11,220 self-introductions villains listened attentively to AKA 11,220 opportunities the villains decided not to take advantage of by attacking mid-introduction. 

So why does this happen? Let’s take a look at the film production company Toei. Toei has been around for almost 70 years, and they got their starts making black and white samurai films in the 1950s. And in those samurai films, it was common for the protagonist to introduce himself at the top of his lungs right before battle. And the audience remembered the introduction scene really well, so we can assume that Toei thought it would be wise to replicate the success in their Power Rangers TV series. And as a matter of fact, if you go to a local park in an afternoon here in Japan, you’ll easily find kids playing their favorite Power Ranger role, shouting out their hero’s names before trying to throw acrobatic kicks and punches in the air. 

But it wasn’t that Toei invented this ritual. Giving a self-introduction before battle was actually common sense among samurai warriors during wartimes. So here’s why.

Samurais introduced themselves to claim bonuses

At a time when hundreds of feudal samurai lords ruled bits and pieces of Japan by means of military power for some 600 years between the 10th century and the 16th century, they would go on war campaigns with dozens of their samurai subordinates and thousands of their soldiers. These soldiers at the bottom of the hierarchy were mostly peasants. 

Now all these men got paid wages, but they also got bonuses when they did a good job at battle. By doing a good job, we are talking about defeating enemy soldiers and samurai leaders. 

Now this will sound quite gruesome but whenever a soldier killed an enemy soldier, he would chop the head off of the dead enemy’s body to bring it back and show it to a superior after battle. The amount of bonus he would get depended on the number of heads he brought back. It’s said that some skilled warriors killed so many enemy soldiers that they could not carry around so many heads. So instead they cut off the ears or noses of the dead enemies and brought them back in a pouch. 

So soldiers literally brought back evidence of their hard work, but when they managed to kill an enemy samurai leader, things got a bit more complicated. During battle, it’s pretty obvious who’s a samurai and who’s not, Samurais would often be on horseback and they’d be wearing expensive-looking armors. Everyone else is likely to be a peasant. 

So enemy samurais during battle were in a sense, like a sack of gold. Not exactly because of course they’re not going to get killed easily. They’re surrounded by their own soldiers and getting in front of them meant you had to win over several dozens of soldiers. But there was a way to increase your chances of fighting a samurai. Self-introduction. 

If you were an aspiring samurai yourself, you would shout out something like “Hey there samurai on horse back! I am so-and-so of so-and-so family of whatever region. I am a fierce warrior who has cut the throat of the great samurai so-and-so of so-and-so family in the legendary battle of bla bla bla. If you have the guts to face me off, come down from your horse and fight with me. Who are you?” 

So by explaining your profile like this, you are putting a bounty on your head. Yes, it’s risky to make an announcement like that because you could be targeted by dozens of enemy soldiers all at once, but the point here is that you are inviting the opponent samurai to a one-on-one. 

If you’re a samurai and you get invited like this, it’s kinda flattering, but let’s say you didn’t want to do a one-on-one. If you fail to decline elegantly, imagine what your subordinates would think of you. Our boss is a coward. He’s making us soldiers fight an opponent he wouldn’t himself. And he’s expecting us to kill that guy? No thanks. That’s what they would think. 

So declining these invitations hurt the morale of your staff. So especially if your rank in your army was similar to the rank of the opponent who just introduced himself, you had to accept the invitation to a one-on-one. And when this happened, it was considered disrespectful for anyone else to help or disturb. Intervening would have caused damage to your own good name – you’d be labeled a man with no manners, and also damage to the team mate or boss you help – your team mate would be labeled a weakling who deserves to be laughed at for being helped out inof a one-on-one. 

Face was more important than life in the world of samurais. They would rather die than live in embarrassment. So all your team mates and the opponent’s team mates would let you guys fight until death. 

So if you were invited to a one-on-one, your fate was to either win the fight, live and get yourself a bonus and a morale boost for your team, or lose the fight, die, and give the opponent a bonus along with a big morale boost. One-on-ones were an efficient way to pick off leaders of the enemy. Self-introductions were a means to initiate it and it was reserved only for those who were super-confident with their swords and spears, therefore introductions before battle probably came to be thought as something heroes do.

Self-introductions during battle made morale boost

There was another important reason samurais shouted out their names during battle. Actually, if you won the one-on-one, you would be holding the dead opponent’s head, and at this moment, you would shout out your name again, for example “I, Kyota Ko of so-and-so family have beheaded So-and-so!” And then your team mates would cheer and the enemy force’s morale would decline. 

But it was really important to make sure everyone heard your name and what you accomplished just now, because after the battle, soldiers would come back to their fort or castle to show people in accounting the enemy heads they had collected. 

Now heads are heavy. They weigh at least 5 kg each. So there is a limit to how many heads you can bring back. So if you’re a skilled samurai who can win over enemy samurais one-on-one, you would announce that you succeeded so that many of your peers can hear, and then bring back just the ear or nose of the samurai you defeated, and have a few of your team mates testify for your claim in front of the accounting people that the body part in your hand was that of a well-known samurai. 

And because your bounty would have introduced himself too before you took his life, you and your team mates could report the name of that samurai and the accounting people could figure out how much of a bonus this bounty should be worth. 

Besides, you could be stabbed in your back in all the confusion during battle by a soldier on your side, who wants to steal the bounty you earned.

Although that was an extreme case, it is said that it was pretty common for soldiers to take away an enemy head a fellow soldier had earned, but lost, because he got killed later. Some who found a helmet of an enemy samurai would put it onto the head of a nobody, and claim it was the head of an enemy samurai who he had defeated. Samurais wouldn’t do this because they don’t believe in cheating.

So again, giving a big and loud self-introduction before battle had several practical reasons during the time of samurais. And it was done only by the most honorable samurais who would not run or hide from their enemies. So I think it’s in the Japanese cultural DNA for us to feel excitement when we see Power Rangers, characters in One Piece, Naruto or Sailor Moon shout out their names right before fighting their enemies. 

But then Power Rangers would usually fight the enemy 5 on one so whether they can be considered honorable samurais is up for debate. But anyway, I hope you enjoyed this episode. それでは、またお会いしましょう。