The Role of Gensokyo

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This is a discussion regarding the Role of Gensokyo itself. This was discussed in the context of canon Gensokyo. Participants in this debate was nocameranocares, feralstrategist, and perpetual-calendar. Afterward commentary supplied by bunbunmaru-shimbun.


Please note the title. Although this is name "The Role of Gensokyo", this also deals with the dynamic of Human/Youkai relations.

In the first section regarding this discussion, it is proposed that youkai and humans cannot co-exist together, per Hieda no Akuu's writings. It is believed humans are not intended to live in the spiritual world. Intermediaries between the border of life and death, known as Hinin (lit. "non human), were to deal with spiritual matters, typically purification rites.

As the role of hinin began to be seen in a negative light, beginning in the 14th-15th centuries, spiritual belief started to plummet. This was recognized early on enough to begin creating a sanctuary to ensure both hinin and youkai's existences. By the Meiji restoration, Gensokyo was completed and sealed.

As for cooperation, some may believe that if cooperation occurs, the importance of the Hakurei Shrine Maiden diminishes. As a result, the barrier between Gensokyo and the Outside World would likely collapse. It is postulated that religious faith and practices are being used to keep the population in order.

In response, there is a discussion that Akyuu has an ulterior racial motive or general conservative bias in writing this. As Hieda no Akyuu is at least one thousand years old, she is part of an older generation of people that would likely not accept such a view. It is further pointed out that due to her ability (never forgetting everything she sees) that she has a distrust of youkai from her experiences. Another source may well be simple traditional conservative bias or basically "that's just how it is."

The third response notes that instead of the political dynamic between youkai and hinin, is that Gensokyo is a simple spiritual dumping ground as people become skeptical of spiritualty. This ended up lumping both hinin and youkai in the same boat of disbelief and must work together to exist. Each side must believe in each other to exist. One citation is noted from Keine's Article in Bohemian Archive in Japanese Red that there must be a balance (and thereby co-existence) or Gensokyo will collapse: in essense "united we stand, divided we fall."

Fourth response deals with the two previous responses. The first one deals with the response that hinin is not the driving force between the seperation of the two. It is agreed upon that it is part of a larger whole that cause youkai to exist, but carries a large weight in this role.

It is correct that Gensokyo is to contain and protect youkai[1]. However, the noted that hinin traditions may well keep complete co-existence out of reach.

With the other regarding Akyuu's beliefs and perspective (including the statement of racism), there is dialoge in Perfect Memento in Strict Sense's Monologue (pp 151-155)[2] that refutes this and that in fact, she does desire co-existence. It may be a part of her viewpoint in the past, but does not appear to be here in the present.

The final response agrees that hinin poltiics is not the sole reason that Gensokyo and the Hakurei Barrier exists, but it is its foundation. It also comes into agreement that the obsolete and forgotten come to Gensokyo.

Discussion Thread

With the exception of annotations and appropriate InterWiki links, the text is unmodified, including any typos or grammatical errors for accurate reproduction purposes. Links in the original posts are also included.

nocameranocares's Original Post

Original Author: nocameranocares

Original URL:

Specifically, what is entailed in this line from Forbidden Scollery:


Pretty creepy thought, especially considering our general assumptions about Gensokyo. Even scarier considering how this is Hieda no Akyu saying it, one of the head figures for the human village. I think this is a very interesting quote to start on and to expand from, because it kinda makes a huge statement about the underlying role that Gensokyo has in relation to humans and youkai.

But what was the original relationship between humans and youkai?

Humans and youkai are planar equivalents, meaning humans are the primary residents of the physical world, and youkai are the primary residents of the spiritual world. The original idea was that the spiritual world resided in a plane above the physical, and the only connection between the two was through very special, sacred rituals that transcended human understanding.

Primarily, rituals of LIFE, and DEATH. Basically, the ritual of a soul passing from the spiritual world into the physical, or vice versa. It was believed that humans are not meant to live in a spiritual world, that in fact, going to the spiritual world or even interacting with the spiritual world was a sign of “impurity” and that humans that dealt with those who live or died cannot interact with other humans. This was probably due to superstitions over why women who gave birth tended to get sick and die, or why those who handled dead bodies/animals tended to get sick an die. War prisoners and criminals would also fall into this role as well.

So in order to deal with this odd transition between life and death, a social class was instated. These were the Hinin (非人, literally meaning “Not Human”). Hinin were the people that dealt with the matters of the spiritual. If women gave birth, the place where they gave birth was considered to be a gateway between the two worlds, and therefore tainted. Same as when a person died. The Hinin were responsible for purification rites to clean the purification, and then burn down the place and rebuild it to ensure that no one else would be tainted.

It’s fairly obvious, and rather expected, that the shrine maidens would be classified as hinin. But Hinin weren’t a negative term. In fact, in a sense they were also sacred people, as a societal necessity to purify the taint of the spiritual world. They were not necessarily the lowest rung in society, but rather detached from society as a whole. Conversely, during the Yayoi period, the “shamans” that dealt with impurity were often female leaders of clans. The biggest and well known example would be Queen Himiko, recorded by China as “Queen of Wa, friendly to Wei”, who was kept hidden behind the doors of her palace, tended by 1000 female servants. Later on, the Emperor would take a similar role by declaring ancestry to Amaterasu, thus making him completely sacred and once again, detached from society as a gateway between the spiritual and physical.

In a sense then, Youkai were also examples of these people that traveled between the two realms. Some youkai were people that had become tainted and thus no longer human, some youkai were viewed as responsible for deaths and births. Sometimes youkai were actually originally hinin that became demonized as time went on. Kappa were probably originally the hinin that lived alongside riverbanks away from society, and parents would tell children the story of kappa to prevent them from going near the tainted area. Similar for tengu even, demons that surrounded the mountains where Monks and Hermits (other hinin, basically) lived. White Wolf Tengu, which were based off the Chinese Tengu counterparts, might have originally been war prisoners that were relocated to hinin in the mountain territories. In a sense, youkai and hinin were once again, planar equivalents.

But as time passed, and the population grew and civilization came to be stronger, the view of hinin began to change. They would be viewed upon as negative and as only filthy, not sacred. A clear sign that the society was no longer concerned with the spiritual world, and that in fact youkai and hinin would lose their meaning and importance in society and would be in fact, eliminated. Earliest records of this would probably start at about the 14th and 15th centuries…

around the same time Yukari Yakumo canonically presents the Youkai Expansion Project. It wouldn’t be until 1885, during the Meiji restoration, that the Hakurei Border would be fully set, thus detaching Gensokyo from reality.

Gensokyo was created to ensure that the role of the hinin, and thus the status of youkai, remained solid.

But hey! Youkai are safe from disappearing from existence now, right? There’s no need for this chasm between humans and youkai to exist, and the first steps for people should be to unite the two to prevent warfare, right?


If humans were to think that youkai were not impure, then the definition of sacred and normal would become obselete. Then, once again, the role and faith in the hinin would vanish. ”Hinin” like the shrine maiden that’s maintaining the Hakurei Barrier.

The more humans believe that youkai and humans can co-exist, the less important youkai exterminations would be. Eventually there would be no desire or need of a shrine maiden. The Hakurei tradition could either be forcefully ousted through societal rebellion, or simply just deteriorate over time due to forgotten values. And if the Hakurei falls, there’s not much keeping Gensokyo out of the real world, and things continue to spiral downwards.

Which is why the human village was so concerned when Akyu held a discussion between Miko, Marisa, Byakuren, and Kanako. Which is why Reimu continues to be so careful regarding Kosuzu and Mamizou. Which is why Hieda no Akyu’s documents contain blatant lies to paint youkai and youkai infested areas as places to avoid as much as possible. Which is why it is so dangerous to have foreign religions once again influence the general populace.

Youkai and humans cannot be together. Once again, the idea of purity and spirituality is used as a political tool to keep people in power and people in check. And the mirrors are quite visible in Gensokyo. Youkai as those that rule Gensokyo vs. humans that serve as the minority. Reimu Hakurei, the shrine maiden that acts as the direct envoy between most youkai-human relationships. Hieda no Akyu, the unofficial chief of the human village, is hidden within the large Hieda Manor, tended to by female servants and bears a very close resemblance to Queen Himiko. When Akyu makes a note in Perfect Memento in Strict Sense about humans and youkai co-existing, I don’t think she was referring to humans and youkai in peace. Rather, she’s talking about a future where youkai do not need to cling to murderous or malicious natures in order to keep a social order, but rather when the human society no longer needs to have their social place affirmed by fear and the Gensokyo Chronicles.

feralstrategist said


There is also the possibility that Akyu is full of crap. OP stated that her documents are full of untrue statements (I’d have said wild suppositions, but blatant lies works even better), so I’m really only thinking of a different reasoning behind them. Less philosophy, more propaganda. Based on her rebirth cycle, not only is she from over a thousand years ago, but the last time she would have been alive was before Gensokyo even existed. Now, the actual mechanics of Gensokyo’s existence and humans and youkai coexisting aren’t exactly clear beyond a few statements of dubious veracity, so this is essentially also wild supposition, but just hear me out. What if Akyu is just a racist jerk?

Think about real people. We have a hard time getting along with people just because they go to a different church and eat different food from us, or because they have darker skin, or a thousand other superficial reasons; imagine how much more complicated the relationship would be with an entirely different species. Particularly when that species is, on most accounts, both physically and mentally superior to your own. Any group having something that your own group does not is a fertile breeding ground for resentment.

Which is to say nothing of her effective age and the way that could shape her opinions. Once again, look to real-world examples. Our own elderly are notorious for their backwards opinions on many social topics, to the point where saying someone is “from a different time” is a joke. It has become a rather widely accepted truth that the best way to have social change is to wait for the old generation to die off. It is entirely possible that the Child of Miare has become a consistent reminder of old thoughts, rather than one of the last people that remembers the way things really work. Particularly when she predates Gensokyo, and has no way of knowing how things work there.

Finally, we need look no further than her ability. She is literally unable to forget anything she sees, though how much of that is retained from generation to generation is unclear. Even so, it is stated that she remembers things connected to the Gensokyo Chronicles, which no doubt have a lot to do with the tense nature of human/youkai relations. It is possible that her own ability makes it impossible to trust youkai, since she would remember almost every betrayal, murder, attack, etc. In that case, it would be hard to expect her not to have a deep-seated distrust of them. It’s actually quite possible that she forgets the instances of human against human things like that, since those are hardly unique to Gensokyo and therefore might fall outside the bounds of the Chronicles and her memory.

Of course, it could be less explicit racism and simply tradition and the status quo. Her job is to remember how things were in the past, so it makes sense that she could have internalized those traditions and beliefs. On top of that, it could be rational fear that keeps her from wanting the species to get along. When what is at stake is the existence of the place you live, continued hostility might seem a small price to pay to guarantee its continuation. Especially when there could be grains of the old mindset fueling that fear and distrust.

Now, I’m not saying that OP is wrong. This is just an alternate hypothesis, based mostly on the content of books like Perfect Memento in Strict Sense, and my own knowledge of the way people work. It’s entirely possible that we’re both completely off the mark. After all, logic is a rare commodity in Gensokyo.

perpetual-calendar said


How about a middle ground, then.

Both points are interesting outlooks on the same premises, and do not necessarily exclude each other altogether. I’d like to add a bit to it all with some considerations.

The hinin theory is extremely fascinating, but for the sake of lending itself credibility, it puts heavy emphasis on those species of youkai that were derived from a human source. That makes sense, of course. It is also extremely limiting and becomes much weaker when you remember that youkai are pretty much rooted into any phenomena that was explained through superstition rather than scientifical thought. From the tsukumogami, symbolizing discarded items - the hinin of the immaterial world, if you may, which would put them closest to the hinin interpretation - to youkai like Letty, a yuki onna, connected to deaths caused by snowstorms, or Rumia (fear of the dark), and so on and so on. The hinin theory is part of a much greater whole, therefore, rather than being the driving force behind it all.

Ultimately, sacrality was just a possible aspect of it, along with the definitely negative side represented by youkai like the kappa, or even the oni. Youkai themselves, for the most part, are definitely negative in nature, so if anything, it would be the hinin’s negative aspects that get sheltered in Gensokyo, barring the Shrine Maiden.

The point of Gensokyo is to house all supernatural phenomena that was endangered by their rationalization, or in other words, to safeguard the spiritual realm itself, rather than just their dwellers, that has been cast away from the Outside with the passage of time and advancement of science.

Also, I think that Keine’s article in BAiJR gives a lot of useful information on the matter, since it seems to suggest that co-existence might be possible, although it is ambiguous enough on the subject (and Aya isn’t much reliable either). One might argue about Keine’s credibility, based on Akyuu’s statement that her history is inferior to that of the Miare… which might simply be out of her bias, since any claims to the opposite would undermine the validity of the Miare’s history.

Let us not forget that Keine, when her hakutaku blood takes over during the full moon, automatically gains knowledge of all of Gensokyo’s history. Compare this with Akyuu having to collect said information everytime she reincarnates, and it’ll become easy to see which one of the two might be the more reliable source.



First off, I’m very thankful to both of you for writing this much and giving me something to think about.

Second off, I think both points are very viable and should be looked at a bit more. I also want to add some specific key points about youkai and how they probably view humans. The main point of this essay was about Youkai/Human relationships, despite the title being named the Role of Gensokyo (hindsight reveals that this was just really poor forethought on my hand).

I’ll start with Ryo’s topic and specifically about how the hinin theory is not the driving force behind Gensokyo’s separation. Yes, the Hinin theory certainly isn’t the whole explanation of youkai, your explanation of the tsukumogami is one of the key examples. But it’s not just a small part of it, either. While youkai as a whole are about explaining the unknown parts of the world, the biggest focus for people was explaining life and death. And even if the youkai in question didn’t specifically deal with life or death, the rites or rituals used to dispel them were still largely performed by the hinin. So in this case even youkai that weren’t exactly from hinin still involved the hinin. Youkai were certainly BORN for the fucntion of explaining phenomena, but the Japanese applied this at a societal level is a fairly important part as well. It takes the idea of youkai from a superstitious and religious into a very serious and heavily applied political aspect as well.

Gensokyo’s sole desire is to protect and sanction youkai. But the hinin issue remains to be a large underside to the entirety of Gensokyo, and even more so when the question about how humans and youkai will continue to live together. Why will humans and youkai continue fighting? Why is Gensokyo still a deceptively cruel world? The answer lies within the tradition of hinin and maintaining that order.

Now onto feralstrategist, who makes the careful note of how Akyuu is indeed very distrusting and racist. I’m glad you did mention this, as I forgot to add that Akyuu’s entire history is propaganda. The original Kojiki that she wrote was not accurate history, but rather a metaphor of the Yamato and Yamatai clan’s battles juxtaposed with local and national religious beliefs for the sole purple of making sure that the Emperor was seen as an undeniable figure of authority as the descendant of the gods. Akyuu as a whole does not deal with philosophy or history less than it is cold hard political debates. Which is a very valid point, and brings a transition into something I wanted to note after writing this. But at the same time, I don’t think her racism is as strong as we’d expect. Just from reading the paralogue from PMiSS, it’s hard to imagine that someone that has such deeply rooted distrust and hatred of the youkai would be able to write so optimistically about peace between humans and youkai. I think Akyuu’s racism is definitely a factor for how and why she writes articles in the Chronicles, but it’s not something that influential.



[[Aah bless you for yet another reminder of something fundamental I forgot to take into account - the matter of the propagandistic nature of Kojiki’s origins, which ties in with how pretty much most such historical chronicles involved varying degrees of the same “tweaks” aimed towards that goal (even the Nihon Shoki, which would be considered the more accurate of the two earlier texts, with its prolonged reign dates and whatnot) and, most importantly, Akyuu’s role.

Remembering that her character is closely tied to Kojiki by virtue of her first incarnation having been the key factor in its compilation, we obtain a rather clear vision of the reasoning behind Akyuu’s behavior, as her work is still rooted in her original role. Who is she performing propaganda for, therefore? My bet lies on Yukari Yakumo, as paradoxal that may seem, and the Hakurei line itself, who have the Hieda line act as their intermediator among the humans, just like the Kojiki, in a sense, did by relating the matters of gods in a form perusable by human hands.

Now, on to the bigger matter of Gensokyo’s role, I think I can safely say that we agree to the fact that, while the hinin theory does not constitute the entirety of the reasoning behind the barrier’s existence, it can tie in to part of its base groundwork. That being the case, we have to remember that, faltering spirituality and belief notwithstanding, hinin and those associated with the spiritual world certainly didn’t disappear - there was merely a process of change, as there had always been to begin with. My point being, the role of intermediation didn’t disappear as hinin began to be perceived as merely negative (and as an aside, including all priesthood and shamanic practice into the hinin category would likely be a misleading generalization, especially considering the heavy political role of religious/spiritual institutions, which you did mention indeed).

The existence of Gensokyo hardly seems to hint at the necessity of preserving the miko - or hinin - institution, for instance - if anything it seems that the Hakurei line’s role is to ensure that a place for youkai to flee to keeps existing. It could be argued that it is the other way around, like you said, and that everything is an element fueling the persisting existence of the miko’s role, but that would be a misinterpretation of Yukari’s intentions with her Project.

So, what I am getting to is this: the hinin theory can be correct, but only if you flip it - what is being preserved is not the role of the people connected to the “other side”, but the other side itself and anything that is more or less connected to it. By virtue of this, it becomes possible for there to exist miko both inside and outside the barrier, for instance, unless the Outside World is bereft of such a religious institution already, in Touhou’s canon (shrines and whatnot are confirmed to exist, whereas their preserved function, if I recall correctly, is not). The Outside World hasn’t made without the hinin themselves, but with spirituality altogether. It is no wonder that more and more different religions keep pouring in, if one thinks that they are losing their place in the world to other creeds, or perhaps something else altogether.

Also, let’s not forget the continuous flux of items falling through the Barrier (people aside): it might be argued that they are merely falling there by chance, but Curiosities of Lotus Asia, ever full of useful information as it is, confirms in one chapter that the disappearance of paper in the Outside is causing an excess of its presence within Gensokyo[3].

What the above does is confirming a simple - definite, I’d venture to say - fact: that Gensokyo exists for the express purpose of welcoming the obsolete and/or forgotten, that which the world of humans no more has a use for, be it the role played by a group of humans themselves… or simple paper. Curiosities of Lotus Asia does in fact provice a whole lot of information that gives us a much more solid view of Gensokyo’s role and its peculiar functions, and helps clearing up some facts, so I’d suggest for everyone to give it a read - since it’s also an interesting read in its own regard.

Afterward Commentary

As an afterward, and possibly breaking the fourth wall, it is noted that the population of Gensokyo is increasing lately.[4]It can be proposed that this likely a result of a backlash against the emptiness of modern life. People are perhaps concluding that there has to be more to life than wealth, possessions, and self-serving needs. As a result, perhaps increasing amounts of people are abandoning Outside World life.

People want A Real Life Gensokyo.

-- Aya Shameimaru


  1. Sounds familiar? Secure Contain Protect. Perhaps the SCP Foundation may have a hand in the current state of things.
  2. Perfect Memento in Strict Sense's Monologue (pp 151-155) Remarks include "The days where humans live in terror of youkai or desperately exterminate them have passed, and the world has become a place where youkai come to the human village to play and humans are invited into the houses of devils." and her desire to " ... help create new relationships between humans and youkai."
  3. Curiosities of Lotus Asia, Chapter 17, pp. 116-123 - “The main cause would be paper becoming much more accessible. The price of paper in Gensokyo has just dropped sharply. Seems a great quantity of paper is dropping in from the outside world.”
  4. Perfect Momento in Strict Sense, Hakurei Shrine, p.137 - "... It is said that the human beings who don't want to return outside have increased in number lately. In that case, they are made to live in the human village."

See also