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  • Writer's pictureRobin Prout

The Origin of Gyroids

Updated: Apr 8, 2022

It is common knowledge that Nintendo is a Japanese video game company, but what might be less known is the Japanese culture and history they use in their games. In the game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Nintendo includes some characters based off of haniwa and tanukis.

Standing female haniwa

The word haniwa means “circle of clay” or "clay ring". Haniwa are hollow, clay figures that were used in early Japan. These were “buried with the deceased interred in kofun (tumuli) tombs throughout the Yamato Period of ancient Japan” according to Mark Cartwright of worldhistory.org. There were no written artifacts that explain what purpose the haniwa served, although some historians have their own theories. Haniwa were placed around the the edges of the grave location. Some people thought they were meant to protect the tomb. Dr. Yoko Hsueh Shirai states, “the ritual specialists were probably arranged on the tomb to re-enact funerary ceremonies seeking to protect the deceased from harm in the supernatural world, while warriors likely stood guard against enemies… haniwa may have been intended to be seen by the un-living, perhaps demons or vengeful ghosts” (Smarthistory.org). Since there was no information from that time period found that explains what haniwa were for, no theory has been proven to be a fact, although protecting the tomb is a common thought amongst historians.


Haniwa figures come in many different forms and shapes. It is unknown if any type of form represented something or had a specific meaning. Cartwright describes the different forms haniwa are found in, "[Haniwa] represent a wide range of figurines of people and animals." Cartwright includes that there are, "representations of houses, fishing boats, and trading ships." Some haniwa are very detailed while others are not. Haniwa that represented people or warriors usually were made with care and intent when it came to represting specific features.


House-shaped haniwa
Monkey haniwa
Warrior haniwa








Lloid, animalcrossing.fandom.com

It’s unclear why Nintendo used the name “gyroid” instead of haniwa, but the cute figures are used all over the game Animal Crossing: New Horizons and appear in some other games as well. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the player is able to dig up gyriods as a whole or as fragments. These are cute figurines that sing and dance when you place them in your home or around the island. There is also a character named Lloid who appears as a more tradition looking haniwa.


Haniwa figure
Birdie's Clay haniwa

This is a haniwa I made recently. I loved how this looked and thought it would be a nice peice to have. I plan on making some others that look similar and ones that have different forms. Coming soon, I will have some finished gyroid peices as well. The picture is of 2 different gyriods from Animal Crossing: New Horizons, one named Babbliod and the other Bendoid. These gyroids are unfinished and haven't been through the bisque firing yet. I don't typically make pottery that is just for display like these figurines, so taking the time to make these new friends has been quite fun for me.


Birdie's Clay gyroids, Babbloid (left) Bendoid (right)
Bendoid from Animal Crossing











Another fun aspect that Nintendo uses in their games from Japanese culture is the tanuki. Tanukis are Japanese Racoon Dogs which are popular amongst Japanese folklore stories. Catie Leary from treehugger.com informs that, “The version of tanuki often referred to in Japanese folklore is a mystical creature known as bake-danuki, which can be literally translated as ‘monster raccoon dog.’” Leary explains the role of tanukis in folklore as “ a recurring figure in folk tales throughout Japanese history, usually appearing as a trickster, shapeshifter, or a sign of good luck.” In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, characters like Tom Nook are based off tanukis, but the theme of magical good luck occurs in Nintendo’s other games as well.


Tanukis, Zanna Holstova/Shutterstock
Tom Nook, fandom.com



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