Fire Nation Origins – What does canon show us?
The misconception that the Fire Nation is mainly based on Japan, and that Fire Nation Japanese elements make up the majority of the Fire Nation culture, has been around for a while. Since I get asked about this topic several times a week, I have decided to make this a feature. Please note that this post is not about what you do in you fanfic or fanart, which is your own choice, but about what we see in the show.
We are going to take a closer look at the Fire Nation’s language, clothing and armor, geography, political system, architecture, food, hairstyles, names, festivals, traditions, weapons and last, but not least, real world parallels.
Note: I am not an armor expert, if I am using the wrong terminology, please let me know, I am happy to correct it.
On first glance Fire Nation armor does look influenced by Japanese Samurai armor. Said style, though, does not originate in Japan, but in China’s Tang Dynasty.
Let us compare the two styles of armor against the Fire Nation armor.
First: Features that both styles share (blue).
Both styles feature scary face masks, helmet flaps, shoulder guards, wide thigh guards and arm guards.
Now, what differs:
Fire Nation armor elements taken solely from Samurai armor (green):
Some of the soldiers wear helmets with horn-like decorations. This style element is taken from Samurai armor.
Fire Nation armor elements taken solely from Tang Dynasty armor (pink):
The high collar, the pentagonal chest armor, style of the knee-high boots, the leg armor and the triangular front armor/guard are all style elements taken from Tang armor.
Note how Tang armor, like Zuko’s armor, has the chest outline and a three piece waist/thigh guard, with a pointed/triangular-ish front. Also note how the Tang shoes feature the same upturned toe we see on Fire Nation shoes and then please compare that against the Samurai shoes on the right hand lower corner, which feature a style never seen in ATLA.
Conclusion: In direct comparison, (1 vs. 5) it becomes clear that Fire Nation armor features more elements borrowed from Tang Dynasty armor than from Samurai armor.
I am aware that the creators, at one point had planned to make the Fire Nation more Japanese, but if you take a look at what we actually see in the show, it becomes clear that they changed their mind. People do that. (See Toph and Azula NOT being boys)
Why does Tang Dynasty armor look so similar to Samurai armor:
The Tang Dynasty 618 to 907 CE is widely considered to be the most glorious, prosperous and influential time in the history of Imperial China. It’s influence stretched far and long, through trade via the Silk Road and across the ocean to Korea and Japan and can still be seen today. (See above). Many aspects of Korean and Japanese tradition -from clothes to art- originated in the fashions and style of that dynasty.
Image sources: One, two, three, four, five