Return to Curiosities of Lotus Asia or Fiction by ZUN


Yukari Yakumo, a youkai with great influence in Genoskyo. It's even rumored that over a thousand years ago she created the barrier with the human world and sealed the shrine maidens in Gensokyo, but will the hidden name behind her power finally be ... !?

What is the secret
behind the name of the youkai who controls Gensokyo, "Yakumo" ... !?

The moment you'd think those towering summer cumulonimbus clouds would open up with a pouring rain shower, they'd steal away all of the day's muggy summer warmth. Moonlight filtered in the window, obscured by rain.

Reimu and Marisa had been in the shop all day, but a sudden evening shower prevented them from going home, so they stayed on for dinner.

"Yukari's been acting odd lately."

"It's not like she hasn't always acted weird, you know."

"Why don't you two try eating what's in your mouth before you start talking?"

I'd been planning on eating alone tonight, so there wasn't a lot of food. I don't eat very much to begin with. Dinner for me is really just a bit of vegetables and some sake. Of course, a half-youkai like myself doesn't really need to eat much to live; it's more for pleasure. If the sake is delicious, that's enough to last me through the night.

But that won't do for Reimu and Marisa; if they don't keep eating, they'll get weak and eventually run down. A lot of foods high in salt content make great drink chasers and good snacks. Some rice and something salty would probably perk them right back up for a while.

"Yukari, eh? ... you mean that youkai, Yakumo Yukari?"

I really don't like her. I make my living by collecting things from the outside world, so I really do owe her a lot, since she keeps Gensokyo and the outside world separate, but whenever she's around it feels like something's looking right through me, and I can't think straight.

"Yukari's actually been helping me train lately. It's really weird."

"Training Reimu ... ? A youkai? That's odd, a youkai training a youkai hunter ... She has to be plotting something. What are you going to do about it, Reimu?"

"It doesn't matter if she's up to something, since I've been training."

"Well, if you say so ... "

No matter how you look at it, that just means you're doing exactly what Yukari wants you to do.

Gensokyo is the place it is because of Yukari's ability to control borders. Her power is what separates Gensokyo from the outside world. There really aren't any youkai in Gensokyo who could go against her will. Needless to say, a human probably wouldn't stand a chance.

" ... Yukari ... Yakumo, huh. Since she probably chose the name 'Yakumo' herself, I guess you have no choice but to bend to her will."

Dinner was finished, so we sat outside and gazed up at the moon while sipping sake. The nightfall had erased all traces of the day's heat, so it was a crisp summer evening. It was the best kind of night for watching the moon, but Reimu and Marisa had already taken all the sitting space in front of the entrance, so I stood behind them and enjoyed my sake.

"Oh, I was drying some clothes at the shrine before I left. I wonder if they'll be all right, since we had that storm."

"Of course they aren't. It was raining so hard we couldn't go home before."

"Yeah, I'll probably have to wash them again ... By the way, Mr. Rinnosuke, about what we were talking about earlier ... What do you mean, I'm just bending to Yukari's will?"

"Well, the name Yukari Yakumo says it all, doesn't it?"

I have the ability to tell what something's name is just by looking at it. So, maybe I go on a little too much about names, thanks to that.

You can generally divide the names things have into two categories. There are names that describe a thing's characteristics, and names that determine its characteristics. The former are names that generally describe something's shape, color, or other external attributes, and are typically used for tools and the like. Most tools and natural objects are named in this fashion.

The latter type of names are usually given to those things whose nature hasn't yet been determined, or to those things that the namer wishes to especially distinguish from other things. The names of people and the personal names youkai take on fall into this category, as well as the names of most commodity products. These are the names that have the most power over a thing. Since a person's name has a great effect on the sort of personality they develop, parents generally give their children names that hold various meanings - they don't just pick names that sound nice when you say them.

"The 'Yukari' in Yukari Yakumo's name means violet, and violet is the outer-most color in the rainbow. In fact, when a dragon flies through the sky, the pair of rainbows it leaves behind appear to be an identical set, but in fact, the outermost color of both is violet."

"Well, sure, sometimes when rainbows appear, you can see two if you look closely ... but I can never quite make out the colors are laid out."

When rainbows form, they often form in pairs: an inner rainbow that you can see easily at a glance, and an outer rainbow that's considerably dimmer. A lot of people don't seem to know the arrangement of the colors in each rainbow.

From bottom to top, the colors of the inner rainbow go violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red, but the outer rainbow goes from red to violet in the same fashion - in other words, it's reversed. So, if you put the two rainbows together, from bottom to top the colors progress from violet to red, and then from red back to violet. The border between the rainbow and the sky is certainly colored violet.

"So, just going by that, her name obviously is a reference to borders, right? But, that's not all. Her other name, Yakumo ... if you take it literally, it refers to the kind of clouds that pile up on themselves in many layers."

"What do you mean, if you just take it literally?"

"Well, the word 'yakumo' isn't used by itself very much. However, it's used quite extensively in the divine land of Izumo. In her case, it's quite likely she's taken it from the verse:

  八雲立つ 出雲八重垣 妻籠みに 八重垣作る その八重垣を
  Yakumo tatsu Izumo yaegaki tsumagomi ni yaegaki tsukuru sono yaegaki wo

"What's with that poem?"

"It's a poem that was composed by his divinity, Susano-o. They say it's the first Japanese poem ever written. Surprising, no?"

"Huh, you always picture Susano-o as someone really rough-spoken. Odd to think he wrote poetry. But, what does it mean?"

"The contents are fairly simple: 'In the land of Izumo, covered by beautiful, heavy clouds, I've built a great fenced mansion to let my wife, Princess Kushinada, live a hidden, peaceful life.'"

" ... so, it just means, he built a house? Why bother with a poem about something like that."

"Well, it's because it's the first Japanese poem. The way he repeats the word "yaegaki" over and over really brings out his merry spirit at having finished that house, don't you think?"

"I dunno, seems kinda dumb to me."

Well, what about a shrine maiden calling what the gods do dumb ... ?

"Getting to the point, aside from the primary meaning of borders, Yukari Yakumo's name also has the hidden meaning of 'A strong fortress to keep the gods trapped inside'. Now, if you substitute shrine maidens for the gods, it's obviously Gensokyo. Yukari will never let the shrine maidens escape from Gensokyo."

Reimu didn't say a word. She probably had a lot to think about.

It's nice enough to sit in silence and drink sake, but you only get so much out of it, so I decided to renew the conversation along a different topic.

"Oh, and speaking of that particular verse, you can see yet another side to it if you say it out loud."

"Yakumo tatsu ... uuuuh, what was it again? I forget." When Marisa said this, I recited it once more.

"Isn't the sense of rhythm from the repetition of the word 'yaegari' nice? And it follows pretty well with the "ya" from the very first word, yakumo."

"Ya, ya, ya ... yeah, it's almost too much ya. I wonder why he did it that way?"

"Of course, there's a meaning behind it. In fact, it's the same as the original meaning of the word eight."

"Really? So, what does it mean?"

"Why, the splendid 'night' that always hides itself from the great Amaterasu."

The wind had gotten rather cold. As the ground that had been soaked earlier that evening dried, it probably caused the wind to pick up. I sipped on my sake. It didn't cool me down too much, but it did speedily give rise to a new line of thought. After all, if you look at the world the same all the time, you won't get any ideas more profound than what's in the realm of common sense.

"The number eight is actually very closely related to the night. Can't you read both characters 'ya'?"

"Sure, but at that rate, fried meat (yakiniku) is the same thing, too. Anyway, you normally read it 'yoru'. But, isn't that just a coincidence?"

"Well, you might think so, if it was just the kanji for night and eight. But, what's interesting is that those two words are almost the same in other languages, too."

"Really? I don't know much about other languages."

"In English, it's 'eight' and 'night', in Latin it's 'oct' and 'noct', in German it's 'acht' and 'nacht' ... and in a lot of other languages, eight and night sound very similar. Are those all coincidences?"

"Hmm, well, I don't know much about countries outside of Gensokyo. So, why are words for night and eight so similar?"

"There are a few explanations, but unfortunately no-one has a definitive answer."

"What the hell? You can't just bring it up and leave it a mystery."

"It's not that simple. To begin with, the etymology is probably different for each language."

Marisa didn't seem satisfied with that answer, so I promised I'd look into it some more.

"Anyway, we can speculate about why it is in Japanese, at least. The 'ya', or eight, in words like 'yakumo', 'yaegari', and 'yaorozu no kami' doesn't literally mean the number eight, but a very large number of something ... Now, I hope you'll notice that whenever it's used that way, it's pronounced 'ya'."

"Let's see, a great number of hills is 'yasaka', when cherry blossoms pile up it's 'yaezakura', the great many-headed demon Yamata no Orochi ... Hm, it really is pronounced 'ya' whenever it means 'many'."

"All of these words are very old words that existed before we started to use kanji for writing. You don't say that you have 'eight' of something in modern Japanese if you want to say that you have a lot."

"Yeah, it'd be a huge pain to have to eat for eight."

"Anyway, my point is that the only reason this word for many, 'ya', was written with the character for eight is because eight was a big number."

"Eight is a big number? Aren't there lots of bigger numbers?"

"Well, it's true nine is the biggest number in the ones column, but eight and nine are both big numbers. However, nine, read 'kyuu', is linked to the 'kyuu' in 'eikyuu', or eternity, so it's been linked to the infinite for a long time. After all, if there are a lot of something, there's still a finite amount, so it's obviously less than infinity. That's why eight, the number one less than nine, was given the pronunciation 'ya', I believe."

"Hmm. So, you mean the character for eight wasn't always read 'ya'? What's its connection to the night, then?"

"Well, it's the word for 'night' that was originally pronounced 'ya', not eight. Anything that was incredibly high in number was linked to the night."

And that's not all - the Japanese names for numbers hide many more secrets like this.

"I wonder why the word for a great number of things was the same as the word for the night?"

"To answer that, all you need to do is gaze up at the sky on a moonlit night like this. Isn't it obvious why the word for the night came to mean 'a great many'?"

The clouds that had given us a sudden squall earlier in the evening had completely vanished. In their place, the skies of Gensokyo were filled with a countless number of stars. Forgetting my sake, I gazed up at the starry sky. The silvery river that flowed through the sky was more than enough to crush any reckless challengers who thought they could count every star within it.

In comparison, the sun floated high in the daytime sky without peer. It's only natural, then that the great Amaterasu, that is, the sun, would be worshipped as the greatest god.

A vast number of stars twinkled in the sky, more than you could count. Their faint light made them seem like they had to hide themselves from the sun. All across the world, the night sky expressed how tiny humans must have felt in comparison to the sun, as well as the pain the youkai felt under the sun.

"Anyway, I think it'll be okay even if Yukari's planning something, so I guess I just have to train."

"Hm, maybe so. It will be good for you to get more powerful by training, and besides ... "

There was no way to stand up to Yukari, nor was there any reason to do so.

"Yep. Anyway, I'd probably better go back to the shrine and figure out a new training regimen."

"But before that, you'd better rewash that laundry you put out. That storm probably did a number on it."

"Oh, man ... "

"Evening storms are an important part of summer. If the skies were clear all day, putting out your laundry in the evening and leaving the house is just careless."

"Well, the laundry was already wet, so what's the harm in a little rain?"

"Mm, maybe you're right."

"Now, now, if that's how you take care of them, your clothes will fall to pieces some day. I suppose with all your danmaku battles they're not fated to live long to begin with, but that means you should at least take proper care of them when doing laundry. It's important to take good care of your possessions."

"Alright. I won't leave the shrine until they're all dry tomorrow. I bet they'll dry up in a flash under the summer sun."

"If you fall asleep, it's just as bad as if you leave."

The number for one can be pronounced hito, or hitotsu. When you count 1, 2, 3 as "hi, fu, mi", one is "hi". Needless to say, that's the same "hi" as the word for day - in other words, the sun. The Japanese counting systems starts out with the sun, and goes on to the wind (fuu), the water (mizu), the earth and the sky, connecting everything through to the night. Counting through to nine, the Japanese number system includes everything in nature.

Even just a single number has so many deep meanings to it. So, needless to say, a name that incorporates numbers can easily hide very deep meanings, so it's not surprising someone like a strong youkai would do so. It's a huge mistake to think numbers are only simple counting words. If that's what you think, you'd better look at the world around you a little harder. You might start seeing a great number of carefully hidden secrets.

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