Today we return to the world of the Yosenju with the final Yokai inspired monsters and the religious aspects. Since we're going to touch on the historical religious aspects of Japan I'll reveal some of the limited information about the Yosenju. Apparently, I'm lead to believe that the Yosenju are a group of ascetic monk monsters living within the realm of the Duel Monsters. As to where and what they're doing in the times of crisis, I'm not sure anyone knows. We've seen the other archetypes released in The Secret Forces, the Nekroz and the Ritual Beasts, have all become embroiled within the world war within the story.

The Yosenju haven't made an appearance within the artwork of any cards beyond their own however. Maybe they live in their own reality or realm or perhaps they're somewhere well protected and hidden. Some of their newer cards to make a reference to a specific realm in which they live but whether it's of this world of another plane remains unknown. Their two torii (gateways acting as shrine entrances) monsters (Yosenju Shinchu L and Yosenju Shinchu R) would lead me to believe it could be another realm. The reason being that torii were thought to be the entrance to the mundane, mortal realm and colorful, spiritual realm.

Luckily for a Yokai enthusiast like myself, the archetype didn't stop at Secrets of Eternity and The Secret Forces. In the next set, Crossed Souls (set for release in May) 4 new Yosen(ju) cards are slated for release. These new cards follow the same ideology of blowing cards away to the deck and hand also providing the deck with a much needed boost in protection albeit at a steep cost.

Two things I forgot to mention in the last article is that the aspect of Wind-attribute monsters is to "blow away" or return cards to the hand or deck, something that the Yosenju take much advantage of. I mean picture this, Mayosenju Daibak descends upon the battlefield and with it's roaring might and fearsome blade, a hurricane of winds sends cards flying about in all directions!

Secondly, the Yosenju follow the same mechanics of the Spirit monsters in having to leave the mortal plane to return to their own (your hand). A fascinating aspect when you consider that both the Spirit and Yosenju archetypes share similar characteristics with one another in the form of spirit/kami worship and Spiritualism in general.

A Whirlwind of Religion
While most of the Yosenju are based upon Yokai and the aspects of legendary winds, monsters, and phenomenon, there's a subtle underlying premise that's shadowed by their ceremonious and monstrous forms – the upheaval and reformation of the Japanese religious structure. It's a fascinating subject that would take forever to explain but I'll condense it down for you.

Religion has a lot to do with this theme, including the (apparently) monastic Kama Brothers we discussed last time, and the Shinchu gate Pendulum Monsters. We're now gonna reach further back in time to a younger Japan. Generally, the religion of the reigning Emperor or Shogunate was the religion practiced by all peoples of the court and states, great or common. Although there was some diversity when other religions reached the shores of Japan, it was still seen as polite and appropriate to follow the religion of those in power. Some of the religions that were common or practiced in Japan include Shintoism, Buddhism and Christianity.

The Yosenju share the aspect of Shinto religion with another theme steeped in Shinto stories and practices, the Bujin. Shinto (Kami or spirit god worship) was Japan's number one religion, and dates back as far as the 8th Century. Incorporating the worship of spirits, gods and ancestors alike, the belief is that both animate and inanimate things could be sacred and hold sacred powers. This form of reverence is known as "kami worship." This religion continued as the state belief system up until 1945. Emperor Jimmu, founder of the imperial dynasty, was said to have been the direct descendant of Amaterasu, the sun goddess and principal deity of the Shinto religion. Eventually though, Buddhism would reach Japan and a new religion would capture the minds and tongues of the people.

Both Shinto and Buddhist temples share the "torii," the gates seen at the entrance to temples and shrines. Beginning as two separate religions, Buddhism and Shintoism would eventually join together and become worshipped together. The shrines of local kami in Shinto existed long before the Japanese took up Buddhism. The shrines were more primitive, in the form of divided mounds and land structures with nothing truly concrete in structure to represent divisions. Buddhism was more structured and elaborate in the sense of construction in places and objects of worship.

When Buddhism arrived in Japan it began to spread, somewhere close to 538 AD. The influence of Buddhism permeated local cultures and the shrines adopted the idea of structures permanent to sacred spaces, a hallmark of Buddhist worship. Eventually, a mixing of these belief systems gave way to worship of both local Kami and Buddhist entities in the same temples, shrines and grounds. Temples and shrines were merged together sharing a symbiotic relationship with one another, and featured both Buddhist and Kami worship. That persisted until a law was passed in the mid-late 1800's, the separation of Kami and Buddhas law, under which some shrine-temples were forced to become strictly shrines, abandoning their temple aspects.

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Now I bring you back to present time, back to the unraveling of the Yosenju and their Kami/Buddhist relationships featured in this theme. The Yosen Training Grounds, which was fleshed out in much detail in the animated series, gives us a simple glimpse into such a place of worship. In the show, it's revealed that an altar stands at the back of the temple within the training grounds. The altar is covered in candles, and each time a counter would be placed on the card, a candle is lit on the altar.

Such a ritual is practiced in many religions and acts as a symbol of offering and invitation to the spirits or kami of the shrine. Enshrining such beings, or welcoming them to the abode, is a common practice when establishing or building a new shrine to said spirits, to bring with them their blessings and power. Think of the Yosen Training Grounds as your personal ceremonial altar and for each spirit you invite to the field – each Yosenju – you're rewarded with either new cards or a boost in power.

Pendulums Are A Gateway Drug
The two spectacular pillar-like gates that act as the entrance to the sacred Yosenju grounds, Yosenju Shinchu L and Yosenju Shinchu R, have to be some of my favorite monsters simply because of their interesting design, concept, and imagery of a Japanse torii.

What's a torri you ask? Torii are the gateways to Shinto shrines. The name is a combination of the words "bird" and "perch." In fact, there's an old Spirit monster in Yu-Gi-Oh! by the name of Fushi No Torii, which was an allusion to the torii gate and the story of Amaterasu.

The torii is the gateway between the world of the humans and the world of the kami. Sometimes torii can be found at the front of graves, wells, miniature shrines or trees, and usually a small shrine is erected somewhere nearby. Torii can be erected as singular gates or as a multitude, and there are many different types of torii each named for their structural difference or the shrine in which they're erected. They include…

-Myojin Torii (the torii that Yosenju Shinchu L and Yosenju Shinchu R are most likely based upon)

-Kuroki

-Hachiman

-Kasuga

-Kashima

-Sannou

-Inari

This is only a few. There are many more we could add to the list, but we'd be here forever.

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To protect the gates themselves from malevolent forces, guardian shrines or shrine protectors may sit either in front, or on the sides of these gates. Torii would eventually become synonymous with Buddhist temples as well, because of the mixing of the two religions' places of worship.

Sometimes, generally only on Buddhist torii, you'll see two guardians on either side of these gates known as Ungyo and Agyo (the Nio Guardians). Both are fearsome and of Indian descent. While terrifying, they're not meant to scare humans, but the evil spirits that wish to cause harm. Ungyo sits on the left with his mouth closed, displaying a calm demeanor. His partner on the right is known as Agyo whose mouth is agape and fearsome. Interestingly, possibly as a nod to the Buddhist torii, Yosenju Shinchu L has its mouth clenched tight with its teeth clenching its lip just like Ungyo.

The face of the right pillar, Yosenju Shinchu R, has its mouth open with its teeth bared and fearsome just like Agyo. This placement of the two Yosenju monsters is identical to the placement of the statues at the gates with the clenched mouth, Ungyo featured on the left and the open mouthed Agyo featured on the right. It's truly fantastic.

The blue and red demon symbolism also comes to mind, but I find this argument weaker than the concept of the Buddhist deities of Ungyo and Agyo.

Same Same...But Different...
When these two pillar or gate monsters were released in the TCG, they were renamed as Yosenju Shinchu L and Yosenju Shinchu R. A shock to many, but when you break down their names in both languages you'll actually notice that the translation makes perfect sense and nothing was truly lost along the way. "Yosenju Sarenshinchuu" and "Yosenju Urenshinchuu" are very hard for someone to comprehend, especially when you haven't a clue about Japanese religious ideology. At least we know one's for the left and the other for the right...

The original kanji of the Yosenju Shinchu is this: 妖仙獣左鎌神柱 (Yosenju Shinchu L / Yosenju Sarenshinchu) and 妖仙獣右鎌神柱 (Yosenju Shinchu R / Yosenju Urenshinchu).

If you break down the original kanji used to create the original name of Yosenju Shinchu L you get something like "Yosenju Left Sickle God Pillar." Now of course this means something, and nothing. As you know from reading above, most of the Yosenju monsters are based on the sickle weasels (kamaitachi), and we know that these two pillars are the gates to the shrine and grounds of the Yosenju monsters. It would come as no surprise then that the word "sickle" would be incorporated into their names to denote that these are the gates to the sickle weasel sacred grounds.

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Much like in the English translation, the words "left" (saren) and "right" (uren) are incorporated, with the only difference being the exotic sounds of the name in the English language. So from the Japanese "Yosenju Left Sickle God Pillar" we're left with "Yosenju Shinchuu L," essentially meaning "Yosenju Sickle God Pillar Left." It's literally just telling you which is left and which is right. Nothing is missing.

When you bring Yosenju Shinchu L and Yosenju Shinchu R together, you activate the "floodgate" of Pendulum Summoning with both acting as literal gates, both visually and physically. It's pretty cool actually when you think about it, and consider how these two monsters act as the gateway to the realm of the Yosenju, allowing them to descend upon the mortal realm. Also these gates feature the main "monk" Yosenju upon their top frame (shimaki).

To Be Madder Than An Otter
We now come back to the Yokai portion of the article and to the larger, more terrifying monsters of the Yosenju theme. Another favorite of mine is the maniacally faced Yosenju Magat. It's a fearsome mustelid with an oddly long neck and a long tattered robe complete with red prayer beads.

Now, this monster looks like it could be related to the weasel-like Yosenju, but I'm gonna err on the side of caution. The river otter Kawauso is another mustelid Yokai that's almost as famous as the weasels. YES, the river otter. Unlike the rest of the weasel-like monsters in the Yosenju theme, Yosenju Magat's neck and tail are exceedingly long, seen both in its artwork and on its inscription upon the shimaki – the top frame – of Yosenju Shinchu L.

The otter as a Yokai is very strange, and is said to enjoy alcohol. It has the ability to shape shift, it's playful and mischievous, but at the same time absolutely deadly. Male and female Kawauso alike would transform into beautiful women, luring men into a false sense of security and then transforming back into their otter forms, laughing at their victim. And those are the nice ones. Some were said to just eat you outright after they lured you close enough.

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As far as the name of this monster is concerned, Magatsusenran is a strange combination of words that translates to something akin to "Malevolent Storm of Misfortune." I don't quite grasp the concept of the name of this monster.

Monk Yokai are quite common and include the cyclopian Aobozu, the Blue Monk who lures children away; and the Mikoshi-Nyudo, whose neck and form are said to grow taller the more you look at it unless you shout, "I can see over you!" Both of these Yokai are reported to be carnivorous. Yosenju Magat could essentially be anything, but the red prayer beads are a hint that this monster could be monk related. In its red clawed hands its also carries a sickle, and in fact its robes show a blue pattern that look like the sickle in its hand, and or outstretched claws. This is seriously the most terrifying of all Yu-Gi-Oh! monsters I've seen to date, with that scary grin and strange articulation to its body.

Between The Omen And The Exorcist
The next of the large Yosenju is Yosenju Misak. I don't think I've seen or heard anyone remark accurately as to what this monster is supposed to be an homage to. Originally it was fanlated as Yosenju Yamamisaki, but of course it's never that simple as the Kanji that made up the name of this monster contained the characters for some pretty strange words.

Misaki is another example of an umbrella word similar to Yokai with different attributes accredited to it. One is that they're the aspect of the divine spirits that appear within the realm of mortals. They have the role of acting as spiritual guides, or assistants of fate. Consider them like a form of spiritual animal that denotes great events about to take place, or even as the envoys of kami or gods like how the fox – the Kitsune – is the servant and envoy of the goddess Inari. They're an envoy, familiar-like in nature.

Another aspect of the misaki is spiritual possession; they were thought to be harbingers of calamity, disease, illness, possession and plague. When a human dies a horrible death, their essence or spirit was said to potentially float on through the world of the mortals and cause all sorts of problems. Some misaki can grant blessings and some will apply curses. They could even possess the bodies of the living. One famous example is that of "Fox Possession," a belief that was only dispelled within the last couple of hundred years.

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They're naked to the living eye and like an airborne illness, the misaki travel through the wind and the air and people afflicted by the misaki's curses were said to have been afflicted with "misaki-wind." There were believed to be different types of misaki, including the "Mountain Misaki" or the "Yama Misaki," and misaki could supposedly change between different types depending on where they resided. I'm sure THIS sounds familiar by now.

The movement and the ways in which the misaki act alone is already beginning to sound like the Wind-attribute Yosenju Misak. Its art shows the obliteration of a wooden structure and the ground and wind Cracking and whirling around it. Its form is even like that of the aforementioned harbingers.

Beating A Dead Horsemen
Mayosenju Daibak's name is a conglomeration of many words equating to something along the lines of "Great Sword Beast of Calamity," or "Great Wind" in simpler terms. The only thing I could find close to explaining the etymology and imagery is something called a "taiba kaze" which varies from region to region. In one account, it's a malevolent magical wind that descends upon victims and kills them.

Taiba Kaze also goes by the name of "tsutsumiuma fu," a phenomenon feared by horsemen wherein a whirlwind will kick up in front of the horse, startling it, followed by wind entering through the horse's nostrils and ears, causing the horse's mane to stand on end. The end result panics, deafens, and smothers the animal to death. Interestingly, Mayosenju Daibak looks nothing like a horse, but more like the gigantic personification of the kamaitachi and its whirlwind.

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Truthfully, Mayosenju Daiabak looks like a gigantic weasel akin to the rest of the Yosenju. This monster is also the most disastrous, as made evident by its complete destruction of the Yosen Training Grounds in its artwork. It's the force of nature – disaster incarnate as the name states – at it's most explosive, and with the added mechanic of being a Pendulum monster, it'll continue to rampage onto the field over and over again, blowing cards away each time.

Information and imagery on the "Taiba Kaze" is scarce, so take it with a grain of salt. However, with the little information supplied to us through Konami about the calamitous nature of the Yosenju and the art of future Yosen cards, all the ends seem to tie together nicely.

There you have it, the Yosenju demystified! (Mostly.) The next time we'll see the Yosenju won't be until May. We'll also see the revival of the forgotten Yang Zing monsters as well, which I'm really excited to write about. See you then!

-Franco Ferrara