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Touhou and Japanese culture

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The Touhou Project series has various interesting links to Japanese culture like mythology, traditions, and religion. It usually uses Japanese folklore and some traditions in storylines, and uses religion and mythology in characters. There are even a lot more links to Japanese culture, and they all come together creatively, making the series more traditional than modern itself.

The first Touhou game in the series was made by Jun’ya Ota in 1996 and the series continued as vertical scrolling danmaku shooting games. The games have a huge amount of characters, most being female. They also consist of very good plots and are known especially for their music. They involve a particular aspect of Japanese culture ranging from folklore, religion, and historical in the recent games, especially from Mountain of Faith.

Behind the stories

There are multiple ways Touhou can be related to Japanese culture — one way is the connection of its games and Japanese traditions. Some of the games' stories are built up on some Japanese traditions. For instance, Perfect Cherry Blossom’s story is where a group of girls tries to restore spring after it was stolen in order to fully bloom a youkai cherry blossom tree for a flower viewing event. The youkai tree was named after an ancient Buddhist poet who often sung of his love of cherry blossoms and his desire to die beneath the flowers. In the Heian period, the Imperial household’s poets, singers, etc. gathered and celebrated under the cherry blossom trees. The story of Perfect Cherry Blossom is inspired by the Japanese tradition of enjoying the beauty of flowers.

In another game, Imperishable Night, the story is based on the celebration of the full moon in Japan. The story is when a group of girls sense something is wrong with the moon. They investigate to find out who stole the real moon and to restore the real moon to ensure a full moon on the night of the tsukimi festival. "Tsukimi" means moon viewing in Japanese and is a celebration of the full moon that takes place at the 15th day of the Mid-Autumn Moon month (Chuushuu no meigetsu, 中秋の名月) on the traditional Japanese lunar calendar; however, this day normally falls in September of the modern solar calendar.

The entirety of Imperishable Night is inspired by a Japanese legend known as the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter about a princess, Kaguya-hime, from the capital of the moon, who was found in glowing bamboo by a bamboo cutter named Taketori no Okina. Kaguya’s theme in Imperishable Night, “Taketori Hishou”, is based on this background; she also references the 5 impossible tasks with her spellcards. Kaguya Houraisan’s back story is very similar to Kaguya-hime. Imperishable Night also involves “tsuki no usagi”, which is Japanese for moon rabbits that pound mochi on the moon, and in other stories pound elixirs of life. References to this is the Hourai Elixir spoken as an elixir of life by the moon rabbits.


In the Touhou series, there is a variety of Japanese legendary creatures called "youkai". Youkai is a term used mostly in Japanese folklore for creatures, but it can also be a term used for anything that is a supernatural being or legend and what not from any culture.

There are many types of youkai with different features and abilities. In the Touhou series, some youkai are classified with their own races, while the other ones are simply called Youkai. The Touhou series also has a class of youkai called exceptional youkai; these youkai enjoy speaking to humans, are stronger than average youkai, and usually look humanoid in appearance.

One of the examples of youkai in the Touhou series is Nue Houjuu, who is based of the nue in Japanese folklore. A nue in Japanese folklore is described with the head of a monkey, tail of a snake, body of a raccoon dog, and feet of a tiger; nue are also able to transform into a dark cloud. Another youkai-based Touhou character is Kogasa Tatara, who is based on Karakasa. Karakasa is an umbrella youkai, usually with one eye and a long tongue. Her surname is based of a traditional Japanese iron smelting method, which brought on the tale of the Ippon Datara, which is another youkai that resembles Karakasa. Ghost youkai and possessed objects like Karakasa are said to belong to the lower one of the six realms in Buddhist belief. Kogasa says “Urameshiya”, a phrase said by such creatures that belong to a lower realm as an expression of envy towards humans. Another youkai in Touhou is Ran Yakumo, who is based on the kitsune which, used in Japanese folklore, is a type of youkai that is very bright and clever and has a number of tails based on their age.


Touhou is also inspired by the legend and religion of Japan. References to Shinto and Buddhism can be found in Touhou like a lot of popular culture in Japan Shinto is referenced. Shinto is the ancient native faith of Japan and Japanese people.

Some examples of Shinto in Touhou are the Hakurei Shrine, a small Shinto shrine, and the Moriya Shrine; the latter of which was designed as the Suwa Grand Shrine, one of the oldest shrines in the Shinto religion, of course also in Japan. There are also shrine maidens or miko, such as Reimu Hakurei and Sanae Kochiya, who are altar girls in the Shinto religion.

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