In recent years, Japanese culture has found its way into the mainstream western comic industry through Marvel and DC. Marvel has done an excellent job of presenting the nuances of the Japanese way of life in characters such as Silver Samurai and Sunfire. And much of this influence is attributed to the work of Chris Claremont and Frank Miller in the 1980s, with their revamp of Wolverine into a failed samurai looking to reclaim his honour.
Wolverine’s connection to Japan is essential to understanding who he is, and his appreciation for the country has manifested through the women he’s loved. One of Logan’s greatest loves was Itsu, a character who shaped a significant portion of his life.
A chance at honour
Wolverine first met Itsu when he was travelling through Japan on orders of his master Ogun. Logan had been sent to Itsu’s village at Jasmine Falls to further his combat training. Soon, they fell in love and Wolverine looked to Itsu as a way of making up for his violent past.
On realising that she was pregnant, Itsu and Wolverine celebrated with the villagers. To prove himself worthy of being a father, Wolverine went up into the mountains to battle with the local ninja clan. When an accident led to Wolverine popping his claws and killing one of the ninjas, he was disgraced in the eyes of the village.
Wanting to say goodbye to Itsu before he left, Logan returned to their home, only to find her murdered. Grief-stricken, Logan left Japan and it wasn’t until years later that he realised that his and Itsu’s child had survived. The boy, Daken, was cut from his mother’s womb by the mysterious Romulus and survived because he’d inherited his father’s healing factor.
Romulus brainwashed Daken into believing Wolverine had killed Itsu, which led to him seeking revenge in the modern day. Even when Daken accepted that his father wasn’t responsible, Wolverine’s failure to protect Itsu caused a rift between them.
Living on through memory
Itsu’s memory has played an important role in the lives of her husband and son. Logan carried a tremendous amount of guilt over what happened to her, while Daken often mused on what his life might have been like if she’d survived.
In Rick Remender’s X-Force run, Wolverine and Daken both contemplate what could have been if Itsu had lived and they had the chance to be a happy family. It’s juxtaposed with them fighting brutally, and as much as Wolverine wanted to love his son, he realised he was beyond redemption. The fight culminated with him drowning his offspring and hoping that Daken would finally be able to see his mother.
Wolverine’s relationship with Itsu can be described as a metaphor for his bond with Japan. He came to the Land of the Rising Sun to better himself, to find peace. And for a while, Wolverine found it. But inevitably, the happiness was taken away from him and the only thing that could heal his emotional scars was to be away from the country.
Ultimately, Wolverine will always return to Japan because it’s the place of his greatest triumphs and failures.