18

This comment claims that Sulu is not a Japanese name (technically true), but I always assumed that Gene Roddenberry intended the name to be Japanese but he was just oblivious or ignorant. It certainly seems to me that Sulu conforms more to Japanese phonology than any other language or region[ citation needed :) ].

So if we ignore the issue of the name itself, what is the actual earliest evidence that Sulu is Japanese?


Related and related

  • 9
    @ThePopMacine - Sulu is not Japanese. Sulu was born in San Francisco, so I guess that makes him a member of the Californian subgroup of the United States of American subgroup of the United Earthian subgroup of United Federation of Planets citizens. No doubt a large proportion of Sulu's ancestors emigrated from Japan generations and centuries before his time. A deleted scene from TVH had Sulu meet a little boy in San Francisco who was his ancestor therobotsvoice.com/2012/01/… – M. A. Golding Mar 7 '18 at 23:24
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Null Mar 9 '18 at 4:01
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In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country we learn that Sulu's first name is Hikaru, which is a name of Japanese origin.

  • 1
    Sulu was first named "Hikaru" in Vonda McIntyre's licensed novel "The Entropy Effect" in 1981; I seem to recall that being originally a fan-suggested name, though I might be conflating that with how Uhura got her first name. – Russell Borogove Mar 8 '18 at 2:20
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    @RussellBorogove - Before they were Hikaru and Nyota officially, Sulu and Uhura were Walter and Penda in some fans' opinions. – Gaultheria Mar 8 '18 at 3:18
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    @Gaultheria Not sure what the source of "Walter" is (the linked forum just says it was discussed), but I guess it's likely to be a nod to Walter Sisulu, who was a prominent South African anti-apartheid activist. – Simba Mar 8 '18 at 11:46
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    Harry Kim's first name is of Anglo-Saxon/Western origin. It does not indicate his ethnic origin, though. – Edmund Dantes Mar 8 '18 at 11:59
11

In the story "The Squire of Gothos", when Trelane meets DeSalle he speaks French to him and then when me meets Sulu he greets him in Japanese.

  • 1
    that's a great answer - although, it assumes Trelane is correct in his assumption. Has my upvote though. Had entirely forgotten that – NKCampbell Mar 7 '18 at 21:01
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    I don't see this in the transcript... ? – ThePopMachine Mar 7 '18 at 21:16
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    Best I can tell, all Trelane does is to bow to Sulu. And since his behavior is based on knowledge from 400 years earlier as well as since bows are not exclusive to Japan in Asia, this actually doesn't demonstrate anything more than that Sulu is of Asian descent. Therefore -1. Sorry. – ThePopMachine Mar 7 '18 at 21:33
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    Trelane calls Sulu "honourable sir", and the Japanese suffix "-san" is a term of respect that's usually translated into English as "honourable". – Gaultheria Mar 7 '18 at 22:42
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    I just watched the episode on netflix and can confirm Trelane does not address Sulu in another language. He speaks French to DeSalle and German to Jaeger, but only does an exaggerated bow to Sulu. – ApproachingDarknessFish Mar 7 '18 at 23:21
10

If you're looking for out-of-universe evidence, I recall George Takei saying in an interview that Sulu was supposed to have a Katana in "The Naked Time." But Takei requested it be changed to a European sword as he was "Japanese-American" and didn't want to portray himself as traditional Japanese.

Of course, it could just be that "Katana" was the only type of East-Asian weapon known to Roddenberry or the production crew. But I believe it is uniquely Japanese.

I think it was from the special features of the first Abrams movie when they're discussing new Sulu's ridiculous folding sword and its continuity (or lack thereof) with classic Sulu's European fencing sword from The Naked Time.

I'm trying to find a source.

EDIT: found a source, although it's not the one I originally remembered this from.

John D.F. Black came up with Sulu's "berserk" scenes without specifying the weapon to be used. Unable to decide between a samurai sword or a fencing foil, he left the choice to George Takei, who picked the latter with the thought that by the 23rd century Humanity would have developed to a point where, in terms of culture, people have moved beyond simply adhering to ways of their ethnic background.

From Memory Alpha, quoted very closely from this video. The fact that Sulu argues that culture shouldn't just depend on ethnicity leads me to believe that the actor's ethnicity was taken into consideration when conceiving the character.

I still recall a different video in which Takei explicitly draws a line between being "Japanese" and being "Japanese-American" which I think makes my case more convincingly, but I can't seem to find it.

  • I believe in an interview (perhaps the same one mentioned above), Mr Takei requested that he use the fencing foil instead. When asked if he could use one he said yes, even though he did not. He shortly thereafter enrolled in some basic training with the foil. – Michael Richardson Mar 8 '18 at 17:14
1

If I recall correctly, there was a book in which Sulu was initially assigned to the Enterprise under Kirk and he was protesting that he wanted to be assigned to a patrol ship near his home planet of Gaijin which was under some sort of raider/pirate pressure. I seem to recall it had a story line about some sort of acting group onboard and the Klingons were also involved. Gaijin is a Japanese word - though it means roughly "foreigner" which is kind of strange for a name.

  • Unfortunately, the novels are not considered canon AFAIK. And I believe IIRC that you are thinking of Shadow Lord, Laurence Yep. – JohnP Mar 8 '18 at 14:50
  • That's hilarious. – Z. Cochrane Mar 9 '18 at 3:21

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