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Hirai Tōhō Project 1

Tōhō Project and Its Connections with Classical Aspects of Folklore and Culture of Japan
Tomoaki Hirai
IST 194
Coordinator: James Shackelford
Advisor: Joseph Sorensen

I. Introduction

Japanese pop-culture contains many connections to classical themes; one

prominent example is Tōhō Project, a series of popular computer games. Since starting as a

small privately-published game in 1996, the game became an international phenomenon

among otaku. The game, using classical Japanese folklore, represents an idealized past of

Japan transposed into the modern day. Tōhō Project’s setting and characters serve as a re-

envisioning or remixing of classical Japanese culture. Rather than simply copying old

motifs and translating them into modern works, Tōhō takes them and reframes them in an

romanticized vision for otaku fantasy.

Japanese otaku (people who obsess over a certain niche sub-culture) have become

a hot topic within the realm of cultural studies on Japan. The copious amounts of literature

published both popularly and academically in Japanese and in other languages in just the

past 10 years should be proof enough. Contemporary studies, however, focus on the
Hirai Tōhō Project 2

evolution of otaku as a product of men and women growing up in post-war Japan 1 or how

Japanese anime (animation) and manga (comics) and other otaku-related media are forms

of expression for post-modern questions on identity.2

This paper, however, will diverge from the popular analysis of otaku as a

phenomenon of postmodern society, and look into the cultural connections it retains to

classical Japanese literature and culture. The typical media that the otaku consume, manga

and anime, is rife with motifs of classic or traditional culture. From popular works like that

of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away,3 to the most obscure, classical or folkloric influences

make an appearance throughout Japanese media. Because of the vast amount of media, an

over arching analysis would only prove to be too generalized.

The extent of historical or cultural accuracy between modern culture and source

text often vary as well. Texts can only have vague relationship, such as those in Spirted

Away, to very close adaptation, such as that of the Taiga dorama. The Taiga dorama, a year

Frederick Schodt introduced this concept with Tezuka Osamu's artistic intent in his 2006 book, The Astro
Boy essays. Ronald Kelts further develops this idea with anime and otaku culture in general with
Japanamerica (2006)
Susan Napier often discusses the question of identity in a post modern world with anime as a primary
example. She covers the conflict of identity in the ever unstable present of post-modern Japanese societies,
especially with redefined roles of females and males. Her 2005 book Anime from Akira to Howl's Moving
Castle is the most comprehensive in thought.
Spirited Away (2001) took place in a fantasy setting that combined both Western and Eastern aesthetics. Its
main location was in a bath-house for various Shinto gods.
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long show aired by the Nippon Hōsō Kyoku (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) every

Sunday, features historical fiction dramas that often follows historical events closely, such

as that of the life of Hōjō Tokimune in the series of the very same name in 2001. Because

of the varied extent of relationships found within modern works, this paper will only

examine the works of Tōhō Project by ZUN (Junya Ota).

What is Tōhō Project? The series' title translates to “Eastern Style Project”,

emphasizing the Eastern cultural influences found within the game. The simplest way to

describe the game is as a vertical 2-D shoot’ em up dōjin (self-published) game. The player

controls a lone playable character, which flies around the screen, dodging enemy bullets,

while shooting down enemies. Tōhō has obtained particular interest among Japanese otaku

for its growth as a meme culture on and off the Internet.

The Japanese otaku today thrive off of a culture of memes. Memes are a unit of

culture that is replicated by others and spread. First coined by the evolutionary biologist,

Richard Dawkins, memes were an explanation used to describe the persistence and spread

of ideas within a society.4 While Dawkins was thinking of clothing styles, religion, and

Dawkins, Richards (1989). The Selfish Gene (2 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 186.
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architecture,5 the growth of the Internet and its ability to share media introduced a new

potential to use memes as entertainment. A very well known meme, for example, is the

Rickroll. A Rickroll was a popular Internet prank performed on users in 2008. A user is led

to think a link on a website leads to something exciting or rare, but actually turns out to be a

music video of Rick Astley’s hit 1980s song, “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The meme was

popular enough to make an appearance at the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.6.

While this paper will primarily focus on the actual contents of the games and its

associated canon works created by ZUN, I should mention a little bit about the fan works

for the series. While the Tōhō games are what serve as the core foundation for fans, the

popularity of Tōhō owes much of its exposure to otaku culture through fan-made media.

ZUN allowed the creation and sale of fan-works of his works since the creation of his

games. His decision opened the creative floodgates for parodies and, with it, a number of

memes associated with in-jokes to propel the series into popularity.

While the game is the original concept of Tōhō Project, the fans of the series have

taken it to incredible heights in popularity in various dōjin media. Since 2001, the number

Ibid. Pg. 352
Moore, Mathew (2008) “Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade: Rick Astley performs his own
Rickroll” Accessed February 21, 2010
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of events featuring Tōhō increased from zero to over forty in 2009; over thirty more are

already planned to take place by the end of 2010.7 The number of fans has become so great

that an entire convention for Tōhō has been created called the Hakurei Jinja Reitaisai. The

convention is named after the Shinto Reitaisai festivals, which is generally considered the

“main festival” of a shrine (the “Hakurei Jinja” being the name of the main shrine in Tōhō).

The convention serves as an annual meeting of Tōhō fans to buy and sell fan-created

comics, games, music, and other collectibles, as well as a stage for ZUN to release demo

versions of his newest game. The attendance of the convention has expanded over the years

to become a major convention that takes place in the Eastern Hall of the Tokyo

International Exhibition Center, one of the largest convention venues in Japan.

The attendance numbers have grown exponentially over six years. What started as

a convention with 114 participating sellers in 2004, or “circles”, sported 2948 circles in

2009.8 Some analysts believe that the number of attending dōjin publishers may overtake

that of Comic Market (Comiket), Japan’s largest convention for dōjin work.9 Comiket itself

Tōhō Wiki “Tōhō Chronology” Retrieved
February 20, 2010
The August Dōjinshi Database, which collects and looks at the activity of dōjin circles at popular events in
Japan has cited that the exponential growth could overtake attendance numbers for Comiket within the next 5
Hirai Tōhō Project 6

has seen an influx of Tōhō fans, most notably during Comiket 76, which took place in

August of 2009. Various notable otaku blogs around the Internet cited the increase of Tōhō

and their fans attending the event.10

Dōjinshi, written as 同 人 誌 in Japanese literally translates to “a publication of

same people.” In other words, dōjin works were small publications produced and read by

like-minded people. In the case of otaku, like-minded fans of anime and manga initially

drew, bought, and, sold original comics as otaku activities. These niche publications grew

in popularity among otaku in the 1970s.11

Starting around the mid-1980s, however, participants in Comiket began working

on parody works of commercial work instead of original work.12 Patrick Galbraith, a

commentator and scholar on otaku culture, explains that these works become popular with

the rise of harem manga and anime, such as Urusei Yatsura.13 Today, Comiket still sells

dōjinshi but most of the works are parodies on more popular works rather than original

While Comiket 76 saw unprecedented numbers of fans, many event-attendees noted that Tōhō fans were
prevalent, and particularly unruly.
Allen, Kate & Ingulsrud John E. (2009) Reading Japan Cool: Patterns of Manga Literacy and Discourse.
Lanham, MD, Lexington Books. P. 46-49
In Sayonara Zetsubō Sensei, an anime about a despairing school teacher trapped in the Shōwa period, there
is a poigniant moment describing this shift. Nozomu, the main character meets an otaku student, the two
converse on dōjinshi but their understanding of the term is radically different.
Galbraith, Patrick W. " Moe Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan Electronic Journal of
Contemporary Japanese Studies 5 (2009),
accessed February 4, 2010.
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works created to showcase an otaku’s artistic talents. Works like Tōhō and other original

creations are no longer the main focus of dōjin culture. While Tōhō is an original piece of

privately published work, the bulk of the fandom buys and sells derivative works from the


Fig. 1.1 The origins of dōjinshi and how it differs now according to Sayonara Zetsubō Sensei. ©2007 SHAFT
Galbraith notes that otaku culture in general is becoming more of a remix culture. 14

Whereas otaku initially created their own works to contribute to fandom, the focus of

creative output shifted to refocus otaku culture on parody. Otaku culture now takes a piece

Hirai, Tomoaki (2009) The-O Network. Patrick Galbraith Interview
Interviews-Patrick-Galbraith.html accessed 11/24/10
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of existing media and alters or adds to it to create a new piece of work, sometimes in

distinct parody, others as entirely new pieces of work. These changes are reflected in the

evolution of Japan’s largest dōjin sale event, Comic Market (Comiket), which started in


As a genre of popular works within otaku culture, Tōhō is no different. Various

writers, comic artists, musicians, and animators have thus taken part in creating and

distributing a smorgasbord of Tōhō products: game music remix CDs, comics, non-official

game software, a toaster, and a pilot-length animation featuring professional voice actors

from the anime industry. This has all been done without the explicit consent of the series

creator. ZUN initially welcomed other artists to remix his music and sell parody comics. He

welcomed the parody works as free publicity, especially when his popularity took off with a

flash animation done by the dōjin group IOSYS. IOSYS's promotional animation for their

musical remix CD attained a viral status as a meme that still influences Japanese otaku

culture three years after its initial release, a remarkable feat since the Internet culture moves

at an accelerated rate. However, the scale of fan-works have become so large that ZUN

expressed concern over the fact that his creation’s fan-works seems to have taken on a life
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beyond that of his own games.15

Fig. 1.2 The biggest Tōhō meme, “Marisa Stole the Precious Thing.” This flash animation was made to
promote a new album IOSYS released in 2006. There are now hundreds of copy-cat works on the Internet.
Due to the volume of fan-media associated with Tōhō, my paper hopes to focus

primarily on only the works of ZUN himself, and various projects he has co-authored in the

Tōhō universe. Even by just focusing on only his work, this paper would cover twelve of

his main games, one add-on game, three collaborative side-games, eleven printed works,

In December of 2008, ZUN expressed his concern on his blog over his fans' works when the dōjin anime
went on sale at Comiket 75. He asked his fans to only sell dōjinshi at events and stores that carry his games,
stating that fans should not forget that Tōhō is originally his game.
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and ten music CDs. By considering only ZUN’s work, the material being studied will all be

canon to the Tōhō universe. Fan works vary in perspectives and may sometimes exist in

outright moé16 fantasy. Moé itself means “budding”, or “sprouting“, but the word among

otaku has been used as “a neologism used to describe a euphoric response to fantasy

characters or representations of them.”17

As Galbraith notes, “moé characters are fantasy forms animated by fluid desires,

and as such cannot easily be divided into static categories… A pure character can be

approached as erotic, or vice versa, and the elements are rearranged in fan productions to

stimulate moé. “18 In other words, characters presented by ZUN may take on a different

character to oblige the needs of otaku.

The focus on Tōhō for the paper itself comes from its strong influence from

classical Japan. The same as how most otaku today parodies and remix existing media,

Tōhō draws its source material from classical folklore and recreates an otaku’s fantasy

vision of traditional Japanese culture. The stories are set during present times in an

unspecified location of Japan, but the characters and stories themselves draw heavily from

Galbraith, Patrick (2009)
Galbraith, 2009
Hirai Tōhō Project 11

classical writings, history, and folklore. The protagonist of the series is Hakurei Reimu, a

miko (shrine maiden) for the Hakurei Shrine, which is the main starting point of the games.

While the shrine and its miko are purported to originate from the human world, the bulk of

the cast and setting surrounding the shrine originate from a fantasyland called Gensōkyō,19

which reads in English as the “Land of Illusion.” The cast of characters present in the game

range from Japanese style ghosts, to oni (ogres), to kappa (water sprite demons). Even the

titles of the games often sound like a Buddhist sutra title rather than a video game; the

second game in the series is titled, “Tōhō Fūmaroku ~ The Story of Eastern Wonderland.”

Before moving on to the analysis of Tōhō, however, it would be best to describe

the games in a little bit more detail.

The game sports an inordinate number of women on the cast, over 100. Only two

males make a canon appearance in the series: one of which is a turtle, the other, a merchant.

The game for the most part ignores males. Starting with the games released for the

Windows operating systems in 2002 the loading screen says, “Girls do their best and are

now preparing so please watch warmly until it is ready (sic).” The only male to appear so

Hirai Tōhō Project 12

far in the series was Reimu's pet turtle, Genjii.20

Fig. 1.3 This picture depicts almost every character from the first eight games. Only two males are present.
Since classical times, women seem to have served as the mystical or magical core

of power in Japanese society. Some scholars cite that women may have served as

shamanistic rulers or mediums that communed with the gods. 21 Furthermore, women are

often depicted as ghosts or demons, such as the snake woman that chases a monk in the

Tales of Times Now Past in folklore. Later on, as Japanese ukiyo-e became popular, many

works featuring image of supernatural women are found, such as a woman with a fox's

shadow. The supernatural women persist into the modern era in the form of the magical

girl. The magical girl has become a staple character in Japanese popular culture in various

玄爺 – as the name implies. He is a mysterious old turtle that has gained the ability to speak and fly.
Lu, David Japan a Documentary History (2005) Pg. 11-13
Hirai Tōhō Project 13

forms, such as miko, transforming bishōjo (pretty girls), and even, in a sense, robots.22

The game itself is a “danmaku”23 vertical scrolling shooter. Danmaku or curtain

fire, is a genre of shooting games that feature a literal wall of bullets. English speaking fans

often call Tōhō and other similar games as “bullet hells.” As mentioned previously, the

player plays the game by navigating a playable character on a playing field while shooting

at enemies. Minor aspects of the game play differ throughout the various games in the

series, but the core of the game stays the same in most games. The controls for the game are

simple: arrow keys or a joystick to control the sprite character on the screen, one button to

shoot, and a second button to release a bomb attack. The game, however as the term “bullet

hell” implies, is quite challenging. The game features enemy attacks that create a hail

enemy bullets that give only millimeters of leeway between life and death.

The enemy bullets, while often difficult to navigate through, are very elaborate and

sometimes serve as part of an enemy's characteristics. The bullet patterns boss characters

unleash can be as much a physical manifestation of character. A mischievous ice fairy

While miko hold the easiest spiritual connection to Japan's classical times, magic has persisted as character
trait for girls. For transformation, Sailor Moon is a popular example of a magical girl. For robots, the concept
of superhuman or supernatural feats accomplished by girls are justified in fantasy science, such as All Purpose
Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku.
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might attack with a barrage of mini icicles going in random directions, while a umbrella

ghost may instead fire shots that travel in a circular pattern, or fall towards the bottom of

the screen like rain.

Fig. 1.4 Most of what is on this screen is lethal to the touch.

The game's creator, ZUN, initially started making the games as a way to showcase

his musical compositions, as well as creating a game that satisfied his own tastes. Since the
Hirai Tōhō Project 15

game is made as ZUN's pet project, the game is a one-man show. Programming, art, and

music are all created by ZUN. Only a few other people work with him on the creation of

most of his games and, usually at most, only as play testers.

Ultimately, this paper will argue that Japanese classical culture has been remixed

with popular culture to find new perspectives on the old. The idea of adaptation is not new,

however, as Rashōmon and In a Grove by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke shows.24 Through ZUN's

adaptation and remixing of Japanese folklore and history, otaku have further remixed it into

a new form of entertainment they find ideal. By examining ZUN's Tōhō works, the first

step in the adaptation and remixing process of Japan’s past comes to light.

II. Folklore parallels

Tōhō Project features a countless number of folktale elements within its world.

The influences range from monsters and demons that make an appearance, to entire plots of

games. The games feature a certain fantastic element. These conventions – where the spirits

of the dead take possession of flowers and bloom,25 or when a celestial force causes

“Rashōmon” and “In a Grove” were adapted from two stories found in Tales of Times Now Past.
Akutagawa's story was further developed by Kurosawa Akira in a film titled Rashōmon.
ZUN (2005) Tōhō Kaeizuka ~ Phantasmagoria of Flower View
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earthquakes that devastate the land26 – seem right out of a fairy-tale. In fact, the entire basis

of some Tōhō games are embedded in Japanese folklore.

The basic story of Tōhō follows a simple concept. A shrine priestess restores a

supernatural irregularity to keep the human world from being invaded by otherworldly

entities. The motif of a monk or priest defeating evil spirits is often present in many

fairytales found throughout Japanese culture. Perhaps this is because many of the earliest

stories found in Japanese literature are Buddhist parables and Shinto creation myths.

The magical quality of women in Japanese history originates from its earliest days.

As early as the third century, the Japanese placed importance on female spiritual mediums.

A record left behind by the Wei Dynasty known as the History of Wei shows details about

the people of Wa. The account shows that the early Japanese had a single ruler known as

Himiko. Lu suggests that the fact the people of Japan relied on a female ruler suggests a

widespread belief in shamanism. That belief is reinforced by the implements of divinations

that were excavated.27 The emphasis on female shamanism disappears over time, but their

presence is still strong in the form of miko that staff the Shinto shrines today.

ZUN (2008) Tōhō Hisōten ~ Scarlet Weather Rhapsody
Lu (2005) Pg. 11-13
Hirai Tōhō Project 17

While women are rare as magical saviors, they do still make an appearance in a

number of folktales. In “The Laughter of Oni”, the nun makes a short appearance as the

deus ex machina of the story.28 The nun, however, does not play as large a role as monks or

priests in other stories. In another story, “How a monk of the Dōjōji in the province of Kii

copied the Lotus Sutra and brought salvation to serpents”, 29 the old monk plays a central

role in exorcising the vengeful serpent by using the Lotus Sutra. The nun in “The Laughter

of Oni” only gives advice to the mother and daughter in contrast, but she is still a

supernatural being. Not only is the mysterious nun a holy person, but the way in which she

appears is supernatural. The troubled mother finds the temple with the nun, but she

disappears in the morning along with the temple after the mother falls asleep.30

In Tōhō, the nature of magical women persists in the form of yōkai31 as well as

with humans who possess magical powers such as Reimu. Tōhō features a large cast of

monsters and demons, many of them based on Japanese yōkai. ZUN incorporated many

supernatural characters, ranging from minor yōkai such as kasaobake to major ones like

Kawai, Hayao (1996) The Japanese Psyche: Major Motifs in the Fairy Tales of Japan. Pg. 200-202
Ury, Marian. (1993) Tales of Times Now Past Sixty-Two Stories from a Medieval Japanese Collection Pg.
93- 96
Kawai Pg. 200
Hirai Tōhō Project 18

karasu tengu.

Yōkai, or Japanese demons and monsters, have been a facet in Japanese culture

since its medieval ages. They were considered to be serious study up until modern times. In

the Edo period the vibrant publishing industry started its efforts to record and keep track of

yōkai in Japan through printed matter, but their belief in them were real enough that they

were included along with other real animals in encyclopedias.32 The “science” of studying

yōkai, however, tapered off. The yōkai of the past were no longer considered real and were

unable to coexist with modern science. Comic artist and yōkai researcher Mizuki Shigeru

shows this by fashioning his encyclopedic compendiums of yōkai as a past history that ends

with the Meiji era.33

While the interest in yōkai persists into the modern era, their focus has shifted from

study to nostalgia and romanticism. For otaku, yōkai can then become a target to fetishize.

As the modern Japanese otaku recreates history and Japan in an idyllic mode, yōkai are then

recreated as harmless beings that contain aspects of moé. Gensōkyō is then recreated as a

romanticized vision of Japan.

Ibid Pg. 42-44
Ibid Pg. 182
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Azuma Hiroki, a Japanese philosopher, would describe the world of Gensōkyō as an

“Edo Merchant Culture ideal.”34 Azuma describes the Edo period motif used in the setting

for the anime, Saber Marionette J as “a form of fiction constructed in an effort to escape

the impact of Americanization.”35 Otaku, according to Azuma, romanticize the Edo period

as a time before the effects of industrialization changed the identity of Japan for the worse.

In Saber Marionette J, the setting of the anime is an idealized world of cloned men living

in a space colony with its insides modeled after Edo period aesthetics. The nostalgic

embodiement of what is “Japan” is overlayed with future technology and ideals. The

“marionettes” are a fleet of humanoid robot women created as companions to the men (a

spaceship malfunction left only six men and no women to repopulate 300 years earlier).

These marionnetes dress in costumes that are reminiscient of traditional Japanese garb, but

are also sexually alluring and not quite traditional. The work captures everything

conveneint about Edo culture with all the comforts of modern society. In Tōhō’s case, the

yōkai that also originated from this era are also the target of this romanticized vision.

Combined with Japanese otaku’s emphasis on moé, Tōhō takes this idealized vision

Azuma, Hiroki (2009), Otaku A Database Animal Pg. 22-23
Ibid Pg. 22
Hirai Tōhō Project 20

of its past to create its cast and story lines. This is why the overabundance of female

characters comes as no big surprise for its fans. In Tōhō, even the most feared of deities and

demons become cute. Their destructive power is undisputed, but their fearsome depiction is

replaced by an aura of moé. For example in Seirensen, the extra stage boss Hōjō Nue is
Hirai Tōhō Project 21

Fig. 2.1 Reimu faces off against a kasaobake, or an umbrella demon. The demon is hardly scary; instead she
is rather cute and playful.
based on the fearsome nue, a bringer of misfortune and illness.36 While a Nue is

customarily a monster composed of the head of a monkey, legs of a tiger, the body of a

raccoon dog, and snake as a tale, most of this has been changed for the purpose of moé.

While she claims herself to be a nue, she does not look so fearsome (though her attacks

show she is quite dangerous). Just the same for other characters, may the yōkai be a fairy or

Yoda H. & Alt M. (2008) Yōkai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide pg. 42
Hirai Tōhō Project 22

the judge of the dead, all the characters in Tōhō all exude a sense of Moé in some way to

reduce their otherwise fearsome nature, usually through their dialogue and character

designs. No matter how fearsome the lord of the demon world may be, she seems much less

threatening with smiling light-blue eyes and long-white hair done up in a cute ponytail.

Moreover, even the gods featured within Tōhō could be considered yōkai as well.

In Seirensen, Reimu believes Hijiri Byakuren to be a reawakened yōkai. Byakuren, a

former Buddhist nun37 says to Reimu: “I have come to the conclusion that gods and

Buddhas are nothing more than yōkai. Whether they are exorcised as yōkai or deified as

gods, that is left up for humans to decide.”38 This statement is familiar within the study of

Japanese folklore. Foster cites that many yōkai gained cult following and raised up to a

state of god-hood in the Edo period.39 The lack of distinction from gods and yōkai is “fuzzy

one at best”, and Foster explains that a revered god in one place may be feared as a yōkai in

another place, all depending on their actions and whether they are worshipped or not.40

Ironically, for all the magical and supernatural friends Reimu has, her primary

Byakuren is said to be the elder sister of Myōren, a monk whose travels are recorded in Shigisan Engi. She
feared death and extended her life through the help of yōkai.
ZUN (2009) Tōho Seirensen – Stage 6
Foster, Michael Dylan (2009) Pandemonium and Parade Pg. 14
Ibid Pg. 15
Hirai Tōhō Project 23

directive as a shrine priestess is to vanquish yōkai. In many of the games her first instinct

with many of the characters she meets is to defeat them. She sees any power that stands

against her as a yōkai threat. Thus, before Byakyren lectures Reimu on the difference

between yōkai and gods, Reimu already fought against gods and other celestial beings as

enemies. What's more, the games often time end with Reimu befriending many of the

former enemies she meets during the game. While Byakuren spelled out the concept clearly,

what she says is nothing new to the Tōhō world.

As for religious influence, Buddhism and Shintoism is strongly ingrained in

Japanese culture. These religions continue to subconsciously persist as a large influence on

Japanese modern culture today. In particular, Buddhist and Shinto practices are often found

as stock settings or concepts in many manga and anime, even in the most non-religious of

situations.41 In Tōhō, the subtext is more than subtle.

Shikieiki Yamaxanadu is considered a character based on King Yama, the judge of

the dead. Her origin comes from the Ōjō Yōshu, completed in 985 by the scholarly monk

Countless Japanese manga and anime feature religious characters as protagonists. There are many instances
where miko play as the protagonist of story lines. A noteworthy example is the Hiiragi sisters from Lucky
Star. While the comic itself has no real religious subtext, the sisters are supposedly the daughters of the
Washinomiya shrine in Saitama. They work part time as miko for festivals, which led to an influx of otaku
pilgrimages to the real shrine.
Hirai Tōhō Project 24

Genshin.42 This was the starting point for Jōdō Buddhism to Japan; this document was the

first to introduce a concept of “Hell” to Japanese Buddhist culture. Presiding where each

soul will go after their death is King Yama, the lord of the underworld and judge of souls.

Shikieiki’s given title43 is “Yamaxanadu.” While it is written in katakana the name

translates to “The Yama of Paradise.”44 The Yama’s job, while lampooned as bureaucratic in

nature by ZUN, is similar to the original rendition of judgment shown in the Ōjō Yōshu.

Depending on the actions of the souls, the soul may go to a higher realm or to hell

depending on the judgment of the Yama.45

Shikieiki herself extols Buddhist wisdom throughout the game. As the final boss of

the game, she lectures the denizens of Gensōkyō over their salvation and on the irregularity

of the flowers. She cites that the occurrence is natural, and that it is an event that happens

every sixty years. For Buddhist law, sixty years is exactly one cycle. ZUN used 1945 as the

starting point for the last reset of the cycle (the end of World War II).

Furthermore, the “Hell” described in Ōjō Yōshu is then confirmed as a world that

exists within the world setting for Tōhō. The spirits that invade Gensōkyō and the setting of

Lu Pg. 121-124
ZUN (2006) The Perfect Memento in Strict Sense Pg. 108
Ibid. Pg. 109
Ibid. Pg. 109
Hirai Tōhō Project 25

Jireiden in Tōhō Jireiden all take place in the underworld where the Yama send their dead.

Their description is further solidified throughout The Perfect Memento, which gives a

further explanation on the world setting from the perspective of Hieda no Akyū.46 The

book, written by ZUN, describes the political structure of the Yama and also gives a

detailed account of the various locales, including places such as the Sanzu River,47 which is

located on the outskirts of Gensōkyō.

Akyū herself is a nod to the earliest forms of Japanese literature. She signs off at

the end of her introduction to her book, “The Ninth Are Maiden, Hieda no Akyū.”48 Her

signature solidifies her connection with Hieda no Are, the complier of the Kojiki. Her

records, while not as poetic as the Kojiki, she is considered to be the official historian for

the history of Gensōkyō “to ensure the human’s ability to live in safety.”49

From the seventh game on, ZUN increasingly concentrated on using folklore and

literary elements within his games. While the first half of the series featured stereotypically

Asian characters such as other miko, the overwhelming number of characters that appear in

the PC98 era seem more Western. Kōmakyō, as the first Windows-era game retains many of

稗田 阿求
三途の河 – The “River Styx” in Japanese mythology. Ibid Pg. 142
Ibid. Pg. 5
Ibid. Pg. 4
Hirai Tōhō Project 26

these elements. The Asian influence becomes prevalent starting the next game in Yōyōmu

and its emphasis on cherry blossoms as a sign for Spring. Reimu and the other heroines

reach the netherworld to take back Spring by following a literal stream of cherry blossoms

that to them was not a literary sign of spring, but a literal one.

The influence from traditional culture, however, is tinged with the romanticized

view otaku hold on Japanese folklore and tradition; in the eighth game, the mix of

aesthetics can be made out clearly. Eiyashō contains a large amount of folk-culture

imbedded within the framework of the game. ZUN notes in Eiyashō’s music commentary

that the game particularly emphasized the past in this installment. While the game itself

was paying a great deal of homage to its preceding incarnations,50 the game also pays a

great deal of homage to one of the oldest folk story known in Japan: The Tale of the

Bamboo Cutter.51

The game features a number of plot points that play heavily from the folktale. The

final boss of the game is Houraisan Kaguya, the very same Kaguya from the folktale. The

Eiyashō featured a number of musical pieces and situations that were reminiscent of ZUN’s older works
from the PC98 games. The fourth stage had players face off against Marisa or Reimu (depending who the
player was playing as), their theme music was modeled after their original themes from the second and fourth
games respectively. The situation was also reminiscent of Reimu and Marisa’s encounter with each other in
the fourth game before encountering the final boss.
McCullough Helen C. (1999) Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology. Pg. 27-28
Hirai Tōhō Project 27

story was changed to fit better with Tōhō’s story, but the basics remain the same. In ZUN’s

version of the story, Kaguya was initially exiled to the Earth from the moon after asking

Yagokoro Eirin to create a forbidden drug that grants immortality. She was later forgiven

for her crimes and asked to return to the moon after causing havoc on Earth. One of the

emissaries from the moon that came to reclaim her was Eirin. She and Eirin murdered the

other emissaries and chose to hide themselves on Earth rather than return. Kaguya leaves

the bamboo cutter the elixir of immortality as a bribe, but it is then stolen by Fujiwara No

Mokō. Mokō took the elixir of immortality out of her embittered feelings over her father’s

misfortune.52 She then wandered the world until settling down in the bamboo forest in

Gensōkyō which was ironically also where Kaguya and Eirin had gone to hide. The two

women had both consumed the elixir of immortality and have since bowed to constantly

kill each other every day.53

ZUN’s retelling of the folktale could be considered a remix of the original. The

basic story is kept, but it is changed and parodied for a desired world setting. ZUN’s

Bamboo Cutter cast is an idyllic collection of characters made for the otaku audience.

Kaguya assigned several impossible tasks to her suitors in order to avoid getting married to them. In some
renditions of the story some of the suitors die or lose all of their fortune by pursuing these tasks.
This is a synthesis of the character introductions of Eirin, Kaguya, and Mokō.
Hirai Tōhō Project 28

While there is no doubt that Kaguya and the others are dangerous (the vow to kill each

other constantly is rather intimidating, no matter how pointless the affair may be), they

exhibit a sense of attractive moé. Eirin is depicted as an affective doctor that decides to help

the people and yōkai of Gensōkyō54 and Mokō, being a former human, acts more as a

reticent guide to the bamboo forest for humans.55 Eirin’s motherly nature and Mokō’s shy

but good heart serves as an attractive draw to otaku. Kaguya is depicted as the reclusive

mistress of the house, but fans jokingly call her a hikikomori or NEET (Not in

Employment, Education, or Training).56

The main story behind Eiyashō starts off from when Eirin steals the moon in order

to block another group of emissaries from coming down to Earth to collect their pet, a

moon rabbit named Reisen Udongein Inaba. Eirin and Kaguya could easily kill the

emissaries, but they chose to take a less lethal approach by sealing the Earth from the moon

by not allowing it to become fully full. By doing this, the denizens of the moon could not

travel down to the Earth to reclaim Reisen, and Kaguya would not have to shed any blood

ZUN (2006) Perfect Memento Pg. 128
Ibid. Pg. 134
Hikikomori are modern day social recluses in Japan, they are given a negative connotation and considered a
social problem in Japan along with NEETs.
Hirai Tōhō Project 29

to protect her pet rabbit from capture57.

The story behind Eiyashō pays homage to the original story of a moon emissary

coming to reclaim one of its own kind. The stories behind both Reisen and Kaguya are

essentially a retelling of the old tale with a twist. In the end Reisen and Kaguya remain on

the earth to enjoy their peaceful life away from the moon. The outcome poses no change to

the world setting of Gensōkyō and preserves them as a permanent fixture in Gensōkyō.

Folklore and classic culture influences the setting and characters within Tōhō.

Their connections to religious and superstitious beliefs, such as yōkai, are not exact copies

of their original forms. ZUN creates Gensōkyō as a land that romanticizes the past and is

populated by idyllic characters that embody moé while retaining some vestige of their

original forms. In the next section, I will discuss how these characters play into the

overarching “story line” within Tōhō.

III. The Apparent Lack of a Grand Narrative.

The main Tōhō Project series spans over twelve installments, but each one is self-

contained and does not require any specialized knowledge from previous games to play.

Synthesis of Kaguya, Eirin, Reisen
Hirai Tōhō Project 30

While the series does allude to earlier games and the playable characters within the game

are often taken from earlier installments, the bulk of the story and dialogue takes place

entirely by itself regardless of earlier events. The culmination of all the parts of these

stories fail to create any kind of ongoing story, but instead sells its audience fragments of

concepts that players would enjoy.

The stories contained within Tōhō follow Azuma's concept of the loss of the

“grand narrative.” Azuma writes that Japanese culture no longer cares for the grand

narrative, or an overarching story in their media consumption.58 While previous

conventions of literature dictated that smaller parts of a story culminated into a larger whole

with greater meaning, Azuma illustrates that the post-modern society of Japan consume bits

and pieces of ideas and collects them as a database of similar media.59 In other words,

Otaku today consume pieces of a narrative, but now do so without a Grand Narrative in

mind; instead, the culmination of narratives become a sort of database where entertainment

is derived through comparison of similar models.

One of the most apparent examples of this database-style consumption is through

Azuma (2009), Pg.26-29
Ibid. Pg. 30-33
Hirai Tōhō Project 31

moé. Moé, or stimulation from moé-elements, rely on the loss of the grand narrative. With

no grand narrative to attract readers to texts, otaku substitute moé characteristics or

character archetypes to derive pleasure.60 Everything from character types to physical

attributes become the elements of moé. Cat-ears, shyness, glasses, and even homicidal

tendencies become a fixture for otaku to draw a sense of euphoria.

As one of the biggest examples of this trend, the popular anime series The

Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi can offer an easy introduction to this concept. The two

season anime series features no plot development and no character growth. The actual story

was so inconsequential to the show, that the first season was initially run out of order with

the “first episode” introducing the show in medias res. After the anime ended, very little

had changed within the characters. Fans of the series however bought into the characters

and their associated merchandise. The various moé-elements such as a character partaking

in cosplay or having a character with an aloof and all-knowing nature, drove fans to buy,

not just the anime series, but figurines, games, comics, novels, fan-guides, and a mountain

of dōjinshi. The greatest testament to this phenomenon, and perhaps a tongue-in-cheek

move done by the series' producers, was airing eight nearly identical episodes with only

Azuma (2009) Pg. 39-52
Hirai Tōhō Project 32

small changes made to character costume designs or dialogue; while fans complained, they

still bought the DVDs.61

Otaku of today no longer watch or read a story for its narrative. They instead

derive a sense of pure affective love from characters and their actions. The context of a

character becomes moot as fans derive entertainment and pleasure from key moé features

where they would traditionally derive from a narrative.62 While it is impossible to say that a

narrative is entirely discarded from any story, otaku consume the media for “moé

elements”, and not the story.

Tōhō is no different, the series contains many aspects that are typical in moé

culture. Aside from the sheer volume of dōjinshi, the characters contained within the series

present a typical moé set. Maids, miko, and the youthful female form in general are often

found in manga and anime today, and could be counted as staple characters for fans. There

are two characters with nekomimi (cat ears), 10 with wings, two miko, three witches, and so

on, so forth. Even further, fans obsess over some of the most trivial aspects of characters,

61 - According to sources, DVD
sales for this series have consistently been at the top of sales charts.
Azuma (2009) Pg. 39
Hirai Tōhō Project 33

such as Reimu's armpits.63 In Reimu’s case, the allure of her armpits could be in relation to

the concept of zettai-ryouiki, a form of eroticism and allure from showing only a small

amount of bare flesh on a character, usually with the exposure of the thighs between a short

skirt and high stockings. Japanese otaku have claimed that the smaller amount of flesh, the

more enticing.64 These physical characteristics combine with quirks within the characters

such as strange catch phrases, clumsiness, or sheer stupidity to create various characters

fans develop affection for. They are celebrated not for their part in a story, but their

existence as a character.

The characters never grow, neither physically nor mentally. While character

designs are revised periodically throughout the various iterations of the game, the

characters do not physically age or develop save for a very few instances. Most of the

characters are non-human creatures that are hundreds of years old and are either immortal

or near immortal. Those that are human seldom change, and while time passes, no specific

age is ever mentioned for human characters.65 The characters are thus locked in their roles.

Reimu's costumes since the sixth game has featured detached sleeves that expose a section of her upper arm
and arm pits. The resulting fan following for her armpits were so great one of her theme songs was entitled
"わき巫女れいむ” or “Arm Pit Shrine Maiden Reimu.”
Galbraith, Patrick (2009) The Otaku Encyclopedia P. 241 絶対領域
Reimu and Marisa are human girl who look to be in their late-teens. While their clothing has changed
throughout the years, they seem to have not aged at all for the past decade.
Hirai Tōhō Project 34

For example, Cirno, the ice fairy, is typecast as a weak idiot. In her first

appearance as the boss character for the second level of the sixth game (Koumakyō),66 she

claims she is “a formidable enemy” to Reimu, but she is slighted:

Cirno: Hey, will you act a little surprised? You got a big formidable foe in front of you.

Reimu: A target? Well I’ll be.67

She reappears as a sub-boss for the first level in the game after that (Yōyōmu) with

no dialogue. She then reappears as a playable character in the ninth game (Kaeizuka) and

also plays the opponent role in the first or second levels. Despite being a fairly strong for a

fairy, Cirno's only motive in the ninth game is causing mischief: while a sudden full

blooming of all flowers (regardless of what season they should be blooming in) causes

Gensōkyō to fall into chaos, Cirno joins the other fairies in a frenzy. Her story mostly

concentrates on finding interesting flowers to freeze with her ice powers. Reimu goes as far

as greeting her by saying, “(o)h, it's the idiot.”

While the true intelligence of Cirno is debated,68 she never grows beyond her

東方紅魔卿 – Embodiment of Scarlet Devil (2002) The game was released after a four year hiatus after
The term for “formidable foe” in Japanese (強敵 - Kyōteki) sounds a lot like “a target” (標的 - hyōteki)
In Kaeizuka, Cirno reveals that she is aware of what is actually going on with the flowers, but is merely
enjoying the moment rather than working to resolve the supernatural event. The fact that she is a playable
character itself establishes her as a stronger than average fairy. While the in-joke regarding her is dismissing
her as an idiot, some fans claim that she is only playing the role of fool.
Hirai Tōhō Project 35

element within the games. She remained as a first or second level boss that is defeated with

minimal difficulty, even in the game's harder difficulty settings. She remained mischievous

and “stupid” to the end. In the final stage of her story, Cirno is lectured by Shikieiki

Yamaxanadu,69 one of the judges in the underworld, at an endless graveyard. Cirno is told

she has over-stepped her boundaries in power and must realize her place in life. Shikieiki

explains that Cirno must learn her place in order to be sure of her salvation when it comes

time for her ultimate judgment.

Cirno reflected on the meaning behind death; after her final battle, she sits next to

a lake full of lotus flowers to try and grasp death and what will become of her when she

dies. She ultimately concluded that life is too short to worry and goes on to enjoy the

blooming flowers while she still can. The ending in the third-person notes: “If flowers

bloom as they please, so should fairies live as they please. She ultimately could not quite

understand what natural death was.” Further along, the ending notes that Cirno stopped

contemplating death when she fathomed the scary idea of going to hell upon her death.

四季映姫・ヤマザナドゥ – She is also known as the “Supreme Judge of Paradise.” As the ultimate
authority on judging the fate of the dead in Genōkyō, she descends from the other world to check on her
subordinates work, only to find the region in chaos.
Hirai Tōhō Project 36

Later, when Shikieiki visits Cirno70 to see if she has learned her lesson, Cirno

responds, “(n)ope, I didn't understand at all.” She returns to becoming the first or second

level boss, and is once again the “idiot” she was initially labeled.

The only case in which a character drastically changes in shape and form is

Reimu's ability to fly. During the first game (Reiíden),71 her powers are so weak that her

own attacks could accidently kill her. The second game (Fūmaroku) allows her flight, but

only through the help of Genjii, her turtle familiar. Reimu only gains the ability for unaided

flight in the sixth game. Since then, Reimu has not developed in power. What she lacks in

growth, she makes up for in gifted ability; the story line in Tōhō compensates the lack of

growth in characters with the mass of power and ability the characters possess from the


Reimu's lazy character is made apparent with her attitude towards training. In the

prologue to Fūmaroku, Reimu is said to be training in the mountains to raise her spiritual

powers. She decides to stop training when she suddenly gets the urge to sleep in a

Kaeizuka allows the final boss Shikieiki to become a playable character for the story mode once all other
characters are beat in story mode. She had previously lectured the cast on life and death in their respective
story archs and proceeds to check into the cast to examine if they had learned their lesson.
東方靈異伝 – The Highly Responsive to Prayers (1996) The game plays more like Arkanoid than a
shooting game. Reimu must use her sacred baton and prayer slips to guide a yin-yang ball to hit enemies
instead of attacking directly. Reimu cannot touch the yin-yang ball directly, lest she be crushed to death by it.
Hirai Tōhō Project 37

comfortable bed. She returns to the shrine to find it infested with various demons. Her only

complaint at that point is that she “can’t get any restful sleep.” She chooses to vanquish the

demons with the power she recently acquired through training. The prologue continues by

explaining Reimu’s “training in the mountains” were nothing more than an opportunity for

her to hunt for autumn foods that grow in the mountains.72

Because of her unwillingness to train, the character remains unchanged. In fact,

Reimu only acts out of pressing circumstances. To illustrate, the chart below describes why

Reimu decides to act in each of the twelve games’ prologues.

Tōhō Reiíden Reimu sets out for revenge on the evil forces that destroyed her shrine.
Tōhō Fūmaroku Reimu sets out to defeat the demons that have invaded her shrine, keeping her from restful
Tōhō Yumejikū Reimu joins a contest to compete in a contest where her wishes will come true.
Tōhō Gensōkyō Reimu sets out to defeat the demons that have invaded her shrine
Tōhō Kaikidan Reimu sets out for the demon realm to investigate a steady stream of monsters that have
been appearing in Gensōkyō.
Tōhō Koumakyō Reimu sets out to find the source of a deep red mist that blocked out the sun before it
reaches human civilization.
Tōhō Yōyōmu Reimu sets out to find Spring, which has yet to come, despite it being May.
Tōhō Eiyashō Reimu is roped into retrieving the stolen full moon by Yakumo Yukari.73
Tōhō Kaeizuka Reimu sets out to find out the cause of a sudden full blooming of flowers, regardless of
Tōhō Fūjinroku Reimu sets out to defend her shrine from closure (due to a lack of patronage) by another
god on top of the mountain.

ZUN (1997) Fūmaroku story introduction text
八雲 紫 – A powerful demon that serves as the final extra-stage boss in Yōyōmu. She becomes a friend of
Reimu and the other heroines from the game after her defeat.
Hirai Tōhō Project 38

Tōhō Jireiden Reimu sets out to defeat the evil spirits that came forth from a geyser that suddenly shot
Tōhō Seirensen Scenario A: Reimu chases after what looks like a treasure ship in the sky.
Scenario B: Reimu chases after a ship that is probably flown by monsters.
Most of the time, Reimu sets out to defeat evil, but only because the situation

comes to her. While she aims to restore the natural balance of the world in most games, she

does so out of resignation. For example in Eiyashō, while setting out to find those

responsible for stealing the full moon is a noble cause, she does so because the demon she

had defeated during the previous game wanted to enlist her help.74 As described above,

Reimu often sets out because her shrine is invaded (in four games). 75 While she does go out

to settle disturbances, she seldom preemptively attacks. The disturbances Reimu sets out to

fix are often already in progress and affecting the denizens of Genōkyō.76

While the somewhat shallow characterizations of characters provide little in terms

of developing an over-arching “grand narrative” within the fictional world of Gensōkyō, the

lack of a building story makes the creation of subsequent games easier and character

recycling possible. Since there is no growth in the characters or the overall world (except

for the addition of new characters), old and new characters can easily be reintroduced into

Prologue to Eiyashō.
The first, second, fourth, and tenth games
The third and twelfth games are the only games where Gensōkyō is not in any perceived danger.
Hirai Tōhō Project 39

the context of the new games as either allies or enemies.

For some characters, due to their flexibility and lack of development, enemies in

previous games could be the heroines in the next. The greatest example, but not the only

one, is Reimu's rival and friend, Marisa.77 Marisa was introduced in the second game of the

series as a lackey to Mima.78 She reappears as a playable character from the third game79

and returns once again throughout the rest of the series. Other characters, such as Mima

appeared in almost every game80 for the PC98 generation81 as either an enemy and/or as a

playable character (though she disappears from the sixth game on). For Windows, Kaeizuka

has the largest selection of reused characters compared to other games; out of the sixteen

playable characters, twelve of them are characters from previous games.

While there are some changes in characters and sometimes genuinely surprising

ones, such as when Yukari chooses to ally herself with Reimu, the world of Gensōkyō

remains in a state of equilibrium. Instead of plot development, the niche characteristics of

霧雨・魔理沙 – Her given name strangely sounds Western and is a witch. She can be seen as the direct
opposite of Reimu. She has consistently been an alternate playable character since the third game of the
魅魔 – Her name roughly translated to “charming demon” or “charming (evil) spirit.” She is in fact, a
ghost that Reimu meets in the first game and becomes a constant nuisance to her in the following 4 games.
東方夢時空 – The Phantasmagoria of Dim. Dream (1997)
Mima did not make an appearance in the fourth game.
The first five games in Tōhō Project were made for the PC98 operating system. After a four-year hiatus,
ZUN released the sixth game for the Windows operating systems. Since then, the game has been released for
the Windows operating system.
Hirai Tōhō Project 40

the characters become the driving force behind Tōhō and its profitable base of fan works.

The use of moé to recycle the image and the characters remaining in stasis are a likely

reason why Tōhō Project is so popular today. The lack of growth or progression in plot,

however, could be seen as something nothing new in terms of story telling in Japan.

IV. Plot Structure in Relation to Classical Folktales

Curiously enough, the lack of a story, as described in the previous section is not

unique to modern Japanese media. As a nation that was strongly affected by Buddhism

since the seventh century, the concept of nothingness is a major theme within the Japanese

psyche. Rajyashree Pandey believes that the Japanese’s ability to embody the postmodern is

taken from the very roots of its Buddhist culture, not from the traditional belief that post

modernism is bred through “a symptom of late-capitalism.”82 Pandey explains that “Japan’s

deconstructive tradition” which is a product of Zen Buddhism was in place before the West

had such a concept.83 Thus, the lack of a progression in the Grand Narrative, is not so much

a characteristic of post-modern Japanese society, but could be described as a characteristic

MacWilliams, Mark, W. Japanese Visual Culture “Medieval Genealogies of Manga and Anime Horror”
(2008) Pg. 219
Ibid. Pg. 219
Hirai Tōhō Project 41

of Japanese society persisting since earlier times.

Kawai Hayao described this emphasis on “nothingness” through the telling of “The

Bush Warbler's House.” Kawai illustrated the progression of a story with a parabolic curve

pointed downwards.84 In this curve, the story featured a protagonist entering a non-daily

space by encountering a supernatural event or character, and then eventually returned back

to the daily space where nothing had happened.

Fig. 4.1 Kawai’s format used in Tōhō’s story structure

In “The Bush Warbler's House”, a woodcutter entered the non-daily space by

encountering a mansion he had never seen before in the forest. He met a beautiful maiden

Kawai, (1982) Pg. 20-22
Hirai Tōhō Project 42

at the mansion that asked him to house sit, but before leaving she made him promise that he

would not peek into the next room over. The man eventually lost his resolve and peeked

into the next room, unwittingly killing the maiden's daughters. When the beautiful maiden

returned home, she was stricken with grief; she revealed her true form to him, a bush

warbler, and flew away to leave the woodcutter in the middle of a clearing with no mansion

in sight.

The tale ends with the woodcutter returning to the daily space, safely, without any

punishment for his actions. Japanese tales often feature this motif, and is specific to Japan.85

In the end nothing has happened. The protagonist gained no riches (the potential wife flies

away), and he is left wondering if the mansion was even real or not. Kawai later reiterates

this point by nothing that “(n)othing happens. (Peace or safety is buji in Japanese, which

means literally 'no-thing.') We are forced to realize the strong function of nothingness in

Japanese consciousness.”86

Tōhō Project's stories follow a similar pattern in terms of story development. As

the characters do not grow, the stories only serve to spawn more characters. Change seldom

Ibid. Pg. 12
Ibid. Pg. 56
Hirai Tōhō Project 43

comes to Gensōkyō except for the change in seasons. In most cases, while the repertoire of

characters and locations grow in the world of Tōhō, there is a sense of nothing-ness in

terms of change. Many of the plots ultimately follow a similar flow to Kawai’s parabolic

curb in terms of story progression.

It should be noted though, however, that while nothing ultimately happens, Tōhō

Project does not follow Kawai’s description of the disappearing woman. Kawai’s model is

built in contrast to Western structures of fairytales that involve a man entering the non-daily

space to retrieve riches and marriage from it. The situation the protagonist encounters is

framed in a separate universe, one that cannot be returned to. Once the non-daily wife is

shamed, she disappears;87 in another fable, called “The Laughter of Oni”, a mother enters

the non-daily space to save her daughter from the clutches of an oni (an ogre) and the story

ends with how it started, a mother and daughter are reunited and continue to live on

together.88 The mother and daughter gains nothing but the reestablishment of their daily

space; they gain no riches, and there is no prince in shining armor that swoops them away

to a life of luxury. They are only asked at the end to build a small stone pagoda in reverence

Ibid. Pg. 22-24
Ibid. 199-202 “TheLaughter of Oni”
Hirai Tōhō Project 44

to their savior (the supernatural nun that helped the mother rescue her daughter) once a year

since then, which is more a metaphorical gain in spirituality rather than tangible riches.

While Reimu seems to be a magnet to supernatural situations, she ultimately enters

into the non-daily space and leaves with nothing world shattering happening, similar to

Kawai’s structure. Even when the heroines defeat a Shinto god, very little changes.89

However, it is undeniable that nothing changes. Much like how the mother and daughter are

asked to construct stone pagodas in “The Laughter of Oni”, there are spiritual additions, or

in this case, a larger cast of characters and the further detailing of locations in and around


To be more specific, this chapter will explain the story behind a selection of works

from the Tōhō universe. The games to be considered are, again, the twelve main games in

the series as well as the three side-story games and the written and drawn comics and short

stories written by ZUN.

The early games are the most vague in terms of story and are the easiest to see a

lack of growth. The first game, while it starts out with Reimu's intent to get revenge on her

Tōhō Fūjinroku – after the heroines defeat the god of the shrine, Reimu invites the goddess at the shrine to
a party. The Hakurei Shrine maintains its superiority in Gensōkyō while the rival Moriya Shrine becomes an
accessory to the world setting’s landscape. The demons do not oust the new gods either, and a sense of
balance is established where all characters live in harmony.
Hirai Tōhō Project 45

ruined shrine, shows no ultimate resolution or victory. Reimu ventures into the makai or

jigoku (the “demon world” and “hell” respectively) based on the player's preference and the

game ends with a wordless animation implying whatever evil is sealed. The monsters,

however, are not sealed away at all, for one of the bosses from the jigoku route, Mima,

reappears in the next two games and the fifth game. The setting of jigoku itself makes a

reappearance in a later game, showing that despite being "sealed", the border between

Gensōkyō and the supernatural realm remains permeable. Makai also becomes a destination

in other future games.

Ultimately, in Mima’s case, no matter what she does, she remains the same. Mima is

defeated as the second boss in Reiíden, she reappears in the next game as the game’s evil

mastermind behind Fūmaroku. Despite her defeat in the first two games, she once again

reappears as a normal playable character in the third game and fifth game as a mischievous

demon. In all cases she follows Kawai’s model. As a villain she gains a great amount of

magical power, but is reduced to a minimal threat once defeated by Reimu. In Yumejikū, she

temporarily gains greater power, but the ending specifically states that her mischief was
Hirai Tōhō Project 46

eventually quelled as well. In her final appearance in the Kaikidan, she is a normal player

character that only reestablishes the status quo in Gensōkyō.

In Yumejikū, nine playable characters compete against each other in story mode to

have their wishes fulfilled. Okazaki Yumemi fulfills the player’s wishes, but their wishes

are ultimately odd or inconsequential. Reimu asks for something to help her do chores

around the shrine, only to receive a robot maid that only does a fair job. Marisa asks for a

powerful weapon, but in the end is unable to operate it. Mima attempts to gain a vast

amount of power again, but only asks for the moon to be full all the time so that she may

draw power from it. The moon’s irregularity is said to have been fixed with some trouble a

few months later, nullifying the prize; Mima herself squandered her chance at power by not

using any of it while she did have it.

The final boss of Yumejikū, Yumemi, also shows the ultimate case of futility and

non-change. Yumemi came to Gensōkyō from a world based in physical science as a

researcher trying to prove the existence of magic. She ultimately succeeds in proving its

existence through the battle data she garners from the player. At first glance, there is great

change for her; she has been able to prove the existence of magic in her home world.
Hirai Tōhō Project 47

Ultimately, her research is laughed out of her world; she comes crying back to Gensōkyō to

find more conclusive evidence.

This pattern persists from PC98 games and into the Windows era. Each game

enters the non-daily space in the prologue. The heroines find a disturbance out of the

ordinary and resolve to either right the wrong or explore it. Through a series of

serendipitous meetings, the heroines find out the source of this disturbance and a sense of

balance is restored by the end, whether naturally or by force.

In Yōyōmu the heroines investigate a never-ending winter; its conclusion only

serves to only add more depth into the world without changing any pre-existing world

setting. It turns out Spring was stolen away by a ghost princess, Saigyōji Yuyuko. Yuyuko

planned to resurrect a corpse that had been sealed away under a yōkai cherry tree in the

netherworld she lived in. She had stolen Spring to feed to the tree to allow it to bloom, but

she fails because the body, unknown to her, was her very own. Yuyuko’s success would

have unleashed a powerful cherry tree that led people to suicide as well as Yuyuko’s own
Hirai Tōhō Project 48

“death.” She amicably agrees to return Spring90 and the natural order of the world is


Later, Yuyuko tells the heroine that a yōkai friend of hers helped her by weakening a

spiritual barrier allowing her to absorb Spring from Gensōkyō. As the game’s extra stage,

the heroines are asked to go to Yakumo Yukari and ask her to fix the barrier to its original

state. The heroine manages to relay that message to Yukari and she agrees to fix the barrier,

but she first challenges the heroine to a battle. The battle with Yukari ends amicably, and

the yōkai is not vanquished. She professes that she had planned to fix the spiritual barrier

regardless of the heroine’s wishes anyway. In the very next game, those very same

characters, Yuyuko and Yukari, become playable characters and heroines.

In Eiyashō, the full moon is stolen, depriving the yōkai of Gensōkyō its power, but

the disturbance is once again pointless in the end. The yōkai decide to track down the

culprit with the aid of Reimu and a number of other humans. They track down the culprit,

Kaguya and retrieve the full moon. Stopping Kaguya’s plan, however, did not cause the

emissaries that had planned to come to pick up Reisen touch down on the ground. The

ZUN (2005) Bohemian Archive in Japanese Red (pg. 30-31)
Hirai Tōhō Project 49

magical barrier around Gensōkyō prevented outside intruders from entering in the first

place, and so Kaguya returned the moon without a fuss after being defeated.

Just the same, after retrieving the moon, Kaguya asks the heroines to vanquish

Fujiwara no Mokō. When the player meets Mokō, she explains that she cannot die as she

had consumed a drug that gave her immortality over a millennia ago. Kaguya had sent

assassins to Mokō regardless of her immortality, just to annoy her. The moon would have

been returned safely without intervention, and Mokō, while defeated by the heroines,

remains at large; the entire plot of Eiyashō ultimately turned out to be a pointless affair.

The floral disturbance in Kaeizuka is a rare case when the disturbance was a natural

occurrence of Buddhist law, because of this, the plot of Kaeizuka was once again a

collection of reactions from the heroines that were inconsequential to the situation. Despite

the fourteen heroines that travel out to observe the strange case of floral bloom, none of

them are at fault for the disturbance. The game’s final boss is only a Buddhist deity that

came to investigate the backlog of souls being ferried into the netherworld from Gensōkyō.

Meanwhile, many of the characters in Kaeizuka are wandering around Gensōkyō with no

particular goal in mind. Only seven of the characters want to find out why the flowers are
Hirai Tōhō Project 50

blooming, and of them, only three of them are actually worried about it. In contrast, six of

the playable characters are only out to enjoy the scenery, along with the four others that are

investigating the cause of the bloom. The sudden over-bloom of flowers was part of a

natural cycle and solved itself once the backlogs of souls were ferried into the netherworld.

Kaeizuka’s extra add-on game also added another story for the fall of that same year.

In Bunkachō,91 Shameimaru Aya harangues the denizens of Gensōkyō and photographs their

attacks. The game features no story and at the end of it, the player only achieves a sense of

accomplishment. While the game is considered “cannon” to the series, its omission would

not hamper the game play of any future game. Why do former enemies suddenly become

allies? While they are enemies in one game, their new position as ally in another should

come as a surprise. In Tōhō’s case, the change comes due to their relative motives within


While players see them as enemies or allies, the character motivations generally stay

the same. In the PC98 games, Mima makes a reoccurring appearance in the games as both

an enemy and heroine. While she is a playable character and heroine, her story consists of

東方 文花手帖 – Shoot the Bullet was an add on game to Kaeizuka. The game features a tengu newspaper
reporter’s journey around Gensōkyō to collect photographs for her newspaper.
Hirai Tōhō Project 51

her attempt to gain power or to assert her megalomaniac personality as the “god of the

human world.”92 Similarly, while Yukari is an enemy in Yōyōmu, her motives to attack the

heroine are to punish trespassers that trounced her demon familiars. She acts in the interest

of Gensōkyō in later games, whether to take back the full moon in Eiyashō or to drive out

an invading celestial force in Hisōten. She is considered a sort of “puppet master” and it is

never clear whether her benevolence is sincere or hiding some kind of personal agenda.93 In

the end the characters remain the same. Any sort of perceived “change” or development in a

character is actually due to a different angle the character is framed in.

Outside of his computer games, ZUN also published a series of comic books and

short stories with the help of other artists. His stories follow the same sense of story telling

that his games follow and are almost entirely inconsequential to the games.

In Silent Sinners in Blue, a 21 chapter comic series, the denizens of Gensōkyō travel

to the moon while Yukari plots out a second invasion of the moon 94. While Yukari is the

ultimate perpetrator behind plotting everyone’s adventure, the other characters decide to go

ZUN (1998)Tōhō Kaikiden Final Stage
The entire storyline of Silent Sinners in Blue was instigated and orchestrated by Yukari’s mind games with
both the denizens of Gensōkyō and the moon. Only Yuyuko saw through the clever plan.
Yukari tried to invade the moon several decades before the initial Tōhō game. Her motives for why she did
this is unknown. All that is known about the invasion was that it failed.
Hirai Tōhō Project 52

to the moon under Yukari's suggestion. After Yukari's plan is seemingly foiled by the

Lunarian empire, all the characters return to Gensōkyō unharmed. By several layers of

deception, Yukari had actually won the invasion by acting like she had lost, but in reality

had succeeded in smuggling out a bottle of sake. The series ends with Yukari sharing the

sake with her friends in Gensōkyō before the Lunarians can come back down to reclaim

what's theirs.

The story of Silent Sinners in Blue does not affect the stories contained within the

games, nor do they have require the reader to play a particular game before reading. While

the adventure takes the heroines to the moon and back, they return to the earth empty

handed. Yuyuko steals the sake and brings it back to Yukari and the others, but the ultimate

victory resulted in nothing but bragging rights for Yukari.

The world Tōhō builds is ever growing, but static. Like a jigsaw puzzle without

edges, each game creates its own section of the puzzlewhich can be pieced together to

create a larger picture. The portrait has the opportunity to constantly spread out, but what’s

already laid out on the portrait remains static. In reality, Tōhō Project’s games and

publications can be enjoyed in any order, and entire games can be omitted without any loss
Hirai Tōhō Project 53

to the quality of game play. Many fans do not own the first five games in the series due to

its rarity or simply a lack of interest.95 For people who have just started playing, users on

the popular video-sharing website, Nico Nico Douga, have posted various videos

explaining memes and back-stories for the various games. These videos go into detail over

character introductions and show viewers everything from the very basics (how is the game

played?) to the most obscure (what happens when Mokō is caved?).96 Thus, even if players

ignored certain games or played the games out of order, each story can be consumed by


Seeing that Tōhō Project allows its players and readers to consume bits and pieces

without penalizing overall enjoyment, they follow Kawai's principles of a story structure

emphasizing a sort of zero sum. This emphasis on “nothingness” is similar to religious

principles pulled from Buddhism. With nearly 70% of the Japanese population believing in

Buddhism97, the influence of religion is prevalent within its media from classical times.

Amusement Makers, the former publishers for the PC98 Tōhō games, no longer publishes the old games,
making them nearly impossible to find by legal means. The current webpage for Amusement Makers does not
acknowledge any sort of relation to Tōhō Project.
96 or
CIA World Fact Book, “Japan” January, 25,2010
Hirai Tōhō Project 54

This aspect of “mu” or nothingness is just one of the many principles that are often found

within Japanese high and low culture; Tōhō is no different.

V. Musical Influence and Description

While the visual properties play an important role in Tōhō, the music should not be

forgotten. ZUN composes his own music for the game and leaves his author’s commentary

in the game’s music box. The music, while not quite traditional, reserves a taste of the

traditional. This odd mix is perhaps one of the most notable facets of Tōhō’s remixing of the

traditional into the modern.

His Window’s era games all have a recurring title theme that sounds somewhat

Japanese. He comments on Kōmakyō’s title theme, “Since it is Tōhō, I made it to sound

Japanese. Well, really, the game itself isn’t really traditionally Japanese in any way.” In the

game after that, he comments on Yōyōmu’s theme that he continued from his last work to

make the theme song traditional-sounding once again. This time around he also

incorporates an ending theme inspired from the children’s song, “Sakura Sakura.”

The eighth game, with the greatest amount of folk-culture imbedded within the
Hirai Tōhō Project 55

framework of the game, has the most amount of traditional music involved. The game

features the similarly traditional sounding opening and ending music, but what stands out in

particular is the music played during the fifth stage. The piece, entitled “Tsunderera Cage ~

Kagome Kagome”, draws its influence from the folk-song “Kagome Kagome” which is

used in a children’s game.

As previously noted about Eiyashō, this game seems to remix the most amounts of

the folklore and culture into a modern setting to recreate the old into the idealized new. The

title “Tsundere Cage” is an example of exactly that. Kagome Kagome is a children’s game

similar to “Ring around the rosey.” A group of children surround one child and sing the

song while the child in the middle covers his or her eyes. The child in the middle must

detect who is behind them when the song ends. “Kagome” translates to the “caged eyes” the

child in the middle has. The “cage” mentioned in the game’s song title is probably

referencing the cage that covers the eyes. Tsunderera, on the other hand most likely

references a combination of tsundere and Cinderella.

Tsundere is a common characteristic found in otaku media. Galbraith describes a

tsundere character as an “icy-hot” character98, or a character that acts cold at first, but

Galbraith (2009)
Hirai Tōhō Project 56

gradually warms up to show affection later. This character-type is often cited as a moé

characteristic. The combination of tsundere and Cinderella then becomes a sort of a

“princess” character that wants to be affectionate but is unsure of how show such affection.

Combined with the Kagome Kagome cage, the “Tsunderera Cage” suddenly denotes a

scampish princess locked in a cage. The song lends to the level’s boss, Reisen, who is a

moon rabbit that Kaguya and Eirin are trying to keep from being taken back to the moon.

In “Tsunderera Cage’s” case, the original folksong is taken and remixed. It is

given a whole new level of meaning by the new form, but still retains the essence of the

original song to keep it grounded in its original score. He draws from music to express the

scene or atmosphere he wishes to convet.

ZUN best describes his strange mix of Japanese and Western influences, however,

in his theme song for Reimu in Kaeizuka. “The fact that (her theme) can’t be entirely

Japanese in style is Tōhō style.”

VI. Foreign Influences

The ability to remix culture not only augments reality to fit a fantasy that otaku

wish to live in, but also serves to allow anything convenient to slip in. As Azuma described
Hirai Tōhō Project 57

the “Edo Merchant Culture” in the world of Saber Marionette J, the traditional fantasy

world, despite being a retreat from the industrialized West features ultramodern

technologies.99 Similarly, Tōhō features the foreign within the traditional to create a further

idealized view of Japan for otaku: a world where yōkai can use an iPod.100 Thus, it is

impossible for Tōhō, despite its name, to be considered entirely Japanese.

Despite all the Japanese cultural influences found in Tōhō Project, it is impossible

to escape the fact that Tōhō draws heavily from Western influences as well. ZUN never

denies the fact that Japan today had changed from its medieval times and works in many

Western or modern concepts into his work to create a synthesized world with a touch of

both the modern and Western within the classic Japanese setting.

As a reflection to the Japanese consciousness, the world setting is an idealized

location that is both ambiguous in time and identity. As Azuma described previously, this

world is representative of the ideal national-nostalgia otaku wish to see. In respect to

Western influences, since the world of Tōhō derives its existence from an idealized mixture

of the past and present, thus the setting is distinctly Japanese, but from a time that is now

Azuma (2009) P.22
ZUN & Asai G. (2004) Elfic Magazine Tōhō Kōrindō ~ Curiousities of Lotus Asia Chapter 2 Pg. 133
Hirai Tōhō Project 58

past with the addition of ideas and concepts that, in reality, are out of place.

For example, the scenery of Tōhō is a mixture of both the traditional and the

Western. While Gensōkyō is predominantly Japanese, the land has some out of place

locales. The Scarlet Devil Mansion featured in Kōmakyō is a western mansion located on

the side of a lake in Gensōkyō. There are a total of two Western mansions in Gensōkyō, and

a number more are featured elsewhere in the games. Reimu and the others travel to another

mansion in an earlier game where they meet Kazami Yuka and in another palace they meet

the lord of makai.101 In Yumejikū, while not a mansion, the final battle takes place in a

cross-dimensional ship that looks anything but Asian. These non-traditional spaces are

literally from out of this world in Yumejikū, and far removed from Japan otherwise, but still

exist within the world of Gensōkyō.

The reason behind the appearances of these out of place settings in Gensōkyō is

explained in Perfect Memento in a Strict Sense. Humans with the help of Yukari created the

Hakurei barrier the demon.102 The barrier was built to attract and shelter yōkai from the

increasingly scientific world. Its attraction was strong enough to call a number of non-

Kaikidan – The final boss is Shinki, who claims she is the creator and goddess of makai
Perfect Memento Pg. 51
Hirai Tōhō Project 59

Japanese monsters to mix in with the rest. Thus, the Scarlet Devil Mansion appears in

Gensōkyō. While the vampires and their servants in Kōmakyō are the most well known

Western style characters in the series, the games feature a large number of characters at

least ambiguous in their origin, especially in the earlier games.

While the Window’s era games offer a great deal more of character back story and

cultural reference, the PC98 era games have much more sparse information. The first two

games do not even have any details about their character save for their spoken dialogue and

their names. Many of these characters appear in Western clothing or have a Western name,

making their origin vague, even when their origin may seem Japanese at first glance.

Many of the characters are given Western names. Several of the characters have no

kanji reading for their names, such as Alice Margatroid, the magician, and Letty Whiterock,

the yuki-onna. Their names, written in katakana, show that they are foreign beings. In

Alice's case, she is a magician from makai and is entirely a foreign entity. She is not an

original denizen of Gensōkyō. Similarly the Prismriver Sisters are clearly from a foreign

land. The three poltergeists and their mysterious fourth sister disappeared along with their
Hirai Tōhō Project 60

mansion from some place in Europe and reappeared in Gensōkyō103.

Letty, however, is an anomaly. Her name is not Japanese, but her classification as a

yōkai is a yuki-onna, a ghost that is traditionally Japanese. The mix shows that even the

characters inspired by Japanese folklore can contain a number of Western influences.

Officially, Letty exhibits no characteristics that make her particularly Western than her

name. Another similar character is Marisa.

In Marisa's case, her name is written in kanji, but her name sounds vaguely

Western. While “Kirisame” sounds distinctly Japanese, her given name “Marisa” can be

read either way. In a way, her name is like that of Naomi's from Tanizaki Junichirō:

“written with three Chinese characters… written in Roman letters, it could be a Western

name.”104 Furthermore, she has been depicted as a black witch with a steepled hat for the

entirety of the series thus far. Despite her lifestyle though, her familial ties to the Kirisame-

ya grounds her origin to Gensōkyō.

Considering Marisa's clothing, her Western clothes are not a unique instance of a

mix of cultures. The clothing featured in Tōhō is dated, reminiscent of the Meiji-era when

The Prismriver Sisters' character introductions from Yōyōmu. The fourth sister has never appeared in
game and her true identity is not known.
Junichirō Tanizaki Naomi 1985 Pg. 5
Hirai Tōhō Project 61

traditional Japanese aesthetics and Western aesthetics commingled within the rapidly

modernizing society, somewhat like that of a ukiyo-e painting of men and women dressed

in Western clothing. Whether the clothing seems Western or Asian in nature, the clothes

evoke a time that's at least a century ago. ZUN also has been noted for his character designs

that often feature some kind of hat or ribbon that decorates each character's head.105 All

combined, characters wear an ethnically confused mix and match outfit where a button-up

white blouse and black skirt can be complemented by a tokin and a pair of geta.

The Meiji aesthetics are most likely the result of the time line of Gensōkyō. The

Hakurei Barrier sealed Gensōkyō and established the separate world from the human world

in 1885.106 The sixty-year cycle then fits the years 1945 and 2005, as described earlier and

would also help explain why the Westernization of Gensōkyō stopped when it did. If the

creation of a separate world is to shelter the yōkai from an increasingly scientific world,

then the creation of the barrier could be seen as an attempt by the people of Meiji to

preserve the old.

The Touhou Wiki has even dedicated a page listing characters that do not have hats. Out of the 114
characters listed, only eight of them have no hats.
Although unconfirmed, the start date of 1885 is what is noted on the Japanese Tōhō Wiki fan-site.
Hirai Tōhō Project 62

Fig. 6.1 Shameimaru Aya the Tengu news reporter that sports a strange mix of fashion inspirations
from both the traditional and modern.
The isolated world of Gensōkyō is temporally located ideally at the cutoff point

where yōkai went from becoming a real field of study, to the study of folk culture. As the

fashion of Western sciences became popular, the Japanese moved to adapt their study of the

supernatural to Western methods. While the supernatural persisted for the layperson to

understand the new concepts brought in by Western technologies, the yōkai were

increasingly “associated with a space of the rural and past, and accordingly, nostalgia.” 107

Foster Pg. 114
Hirai Tōhō Project 63

Gensōkyō’s continued existence in a separate dimension cites the evolution of the

romanticism held by the people of Japan. Whereas many of the yōkai are described to have

been blood thirsty, their roles have, since times of old, become much more domesticated.

Akyū notes the change in how yōkai and humans interact. At the end of her book she writes

a monologue. In it she notes these changes:

The humans that originally feared the yōkai, or those humans that wished to
exterminate the yōkai have disappeared. Now the world is changing to become
one where yōkai come visit the human village and where a human is invited to a
demon’s abode. This edition of Gensōkyō Chronicles is the first one of its kind
since the formation of the new Gensōkyō. Nowadays, humans are seldom eaten by

While the Gensōkyō Chronicles were originally a guide for humans to survive in

the supernatural lands of Gensōkyō, Akyū admits that the book has taken on a far more

different role. The entries, while still showing the yōkai as a threat, are more a character

introduction rather than a proper survival handbook.109 The cultural change in yōkai is what

the audience of Tōhō is looking for. Instead of the fearsome or grotesque fiends of the

night, the fans of Tōhō look for something both more affectionate and accepting of

Perfect Memento Pg. 152
Though it is important to remember, the book is a companion book to the fandom. A true copy of the
Gensōkyō Chronicles would most likely not sell very well to fans.
Hirai Tōhō Project 64


While Yukari is said to still commit act of kami-kakushi110 on people from outside

of Gensōkyō,111 she never presents herself as a malicious being, nor does she appear to do

anything malicious. While she is classified as a dangerous yōkai, she spends most of her

time sleeping in the day, and for that matter, sleeping all of winter as well. 112 Despite this,

she teams up with Reimu out of mutual concern for Gensōkyō in Eiyashō and fights against

Tenshi Hinanai in Hisōten113 to protect the integrity of Gensōkyō.

The yōkai and humans of Gensōkyō live on an idealized plane where nostalgia

reigns, but with just enough new age thought that it is not too alien for the intended

audience. While the yōkai feel it is an idealized locale for their safety from the scientific

world outside, its consumers – the otaku players of the Tōhō games – gensōkyō and the

yōkai inhabitants are the idealized entity of their view on Japan. They are mostly harmless,

to their admirers and display many elements of moé that otaku find appealing in characters.

The otaku can take comfort in knowing that, no matter how powerful or fearsome a

神隠し - Refers to instances where people disappear for mysterious reasons. The wording notes that the
missing person is “spirited away” by Gods.
Yukari’s ability to manipulate the boundaries of reality apparently gives her the power to freely pass
through the Hakurei Barrier.
Perfect Memento Pg. 48
This was a game developed by a different group from Shanghai Alice, but ZUN still had a hand in it’s
Hirai Tōhō Project 65

character in Tōhō may be, they would not be harmed.

VII. Conclusion

Tōhō Project reflects the aesthetics and tastes of the otaku of today. While it is set

in a world that is distinctly from the past it is not entirely that of a previous era. The

combination of moé and folklore created a new vision of classical Japan. The world of

Gensōkyō is modern in its presentation and allure, but it simultaneously evokes a nostalgic


The folkloric elements of Tōhō, while initially from classical roots, are

reenvisioned to support the romanticized view of Japan that otaku wish to hold. The world

of Gensōkyō is filled with yōkai and other powerfully magical beings. The setting and

stories contain elements of folklore and traditional culture, but they are all remixed and

recreated to suit the tastes of otaku.

The characters within Tōhō are static. They do not mature, nor do they change

their surroundings. Their lack of change can be attributed to both a lack of interest among

otaku who favor the consumption of moé characteristics over the consumption of a “grand

narrative” and a general trend towards the zero-sum aesthetic the Japanese developed
Hirai Tōhō Project 66

through Buddhist influences. Either way, characters in Tōhō only serve to expand a static

world that fuels and satiates an otaku’s desire for a romanticized fantasy land that is frozen

in time.

While the world is frozen in place, Gensōkyō and its inhabitants are not accurate

representations of the old Japan. It is, instead, a vision created by otaku that may be

idealistic as much as it is nostalgic. As the music shows its inability to be quite “all

Japanese”, the mixture of modern and foreign influences molds the world of Tōhō Project

into an idealized vision of what otaku wish to see in classical Japan. The magical world of

Tōhō allows not only the co-existence of fearsome yōkai and humans, but of foreign entities

of poltergeists and vampires as well. While Gensōkyō is a nostalgic land at first glance, it is

filled with out of place things that grounds the setting in both the past, and present.

The creation of Tōhō Project’s world is only possible through the idealized vision

otaku look for in their fantasies. Thus, while traditional folklore remains in the minds of the

modern Japanese otaku, their idealized view of it differs from whatever it originally was.

Tōhō serves as the fantasy world of what Japan could have been and can still be for otaku

of today.