When translated to English, kuwabara means 'mulberry field'. According to one explanation, there is a Chinese legend that mulberry trees are not struck by lightning. In contrast, Joya asserts that the "origin of kuwabara is not definitely known, but it has nothing to do with mulberry plants, though it means 'mulberry fields."
Back in the 9th century, there was one Japanese aristocrat called Sugawara no Michizane. Sugawara Michizane, who died bearing a heavy grudge after being trapped and exiled to Kyushu, threw his fierce anger in the form of his thunderbolts as a god of lightning. In 930, Seiryoden of the Court was struck by a large thunderbolt. The Master of Onmyo (ying-yang) told that this misfortune was the work of the vengeful spirit of Michizane. Those who trapped Michizane trembled with fear and tried to placate the curse by dedicating prayer to his vengeful ghost, thus leading to the construction of Kitano Shrine.
The land that Michizane owned was known as Kuwabara, so people thought it would be good idea to claim the land he/she is standing on is a part of Kuwabara, so that Michizane would hesitate to strike his own people. People of such an era chanted "Kuwabara, Kuwabara" when they heard the rumble of thunder as a method of reminding Michizane not to strike them. This saying often appears in literatures of the Heian period, with elements such as "Tsureduregusa", a spell to cast away thunder. The very people living in Kuwabara at that time relied on the Kuwabara spell, and the land of Kuwabara is said to have remained unharmed by lightning for that reason.
In popular culture
The phrase was used in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater where the game's antagonist, Colonel Volgin is heard saying it in mid-speech during cut-scenes in the game, however it's only when it is raining or about to that he says it. Has also been used in various Japanese animation; including Inuyasha, Urusei Yatsura and others. Mostly when something is not right or when lightning is around. It is also the last name of one of the main characters in the manga and anime Yu Yu Hakusho, Kazuma Kuwabara. This is referenced in one of his speeches, where he remarks, "A mulberry is a tree, Kuwabara is a man."
- ^ Mock Joya, Mock Joya's Things Japanese. Tokyo: The Japan Times, Ltd. (1985) p. 341