The Shinto Religion in Japan
Japan, just like most countries in the world, have multiple religions. However, a large percentage of the Japanese population believe in a religion called Shintoism. This particular religion is ethnic to Japan and has been a strong influence on the development of Japanese culture. Until now, there are ancient religious rituals and practices that are still practiced by modern-day believers.
Probably one of the oldest religions in the country, Shintoism was first recorded in the 8th century. During this time, there were no specific names to collectively call all rituals and beliefs. With this said, Shintoism probably existed for hundreds of years prior the 8th century. In this religion, devotees believe and worship a long list of gods called Kami. Each kami has a special role and purpose. There are gods for harvest, for health, for war, and so on. There are also gods that are believed to bring fertility, health, and even love.
In the Shinto religion, these kami are divine spirits that take the form of rocks, trees, animals, and so on. It is believed in Shintoism that these gods and people create a special relationship and work harmoniously to achieve peace and prosperity.
In Japan, the Shinto religion still has a variety of categories. One of which is the most common, known as the Shrine Shinto. They are usually attached to Buddhist temples. Another is the Imperial Household Shinto which are rituals which are exclusive to the Royal Family. Another is the Sect Shinto which is established under a locally organized religious community. Lastly, there is the koshinto which is the ancient Shinto. This is believed to be its prehistoric and primitive form.
Raijin: The God of Lightning
Under the Shinto religion, there are many gods. Each god has its own purpose, and its own realm to protect. Some gods are for prosperity, luck, and peace. Others are for war, anger, and more. There are also some gods which are for harvests, rain, and more. But one of the most popular Shinto gods is Raijin, the god of lightning, thunder, and storms.
Raijin is often depicted as a demon-like god that beat drums to wield thunder. His image is often used to induce fear, especially in children. There is a popular folklore in ancient Japanese that Raijin is best known for eating the navels off of young children. During a storm or when there is thunder, parents often tell their children to hide their bellybuttons to protect themselves from the coming of Raijin.
Some believe that it is not Raijin but Raiju that eat the bellybuttons off of children. Raiju is a white and blue wolf or a wolf wrapped in lightning that accompanies the thunder god. This creature, according to the myths, is normally lightly tempered but can become agitated during thunderstorms. During this time, the creature finds human navels and finds comfort in it for sleeping.
The god Raijin did not only exist in the Shinto religion, he also existed in ancient Japanese mythology. The word Raijin was derived from the words “rain” meaning thunder and “kami” which means god. Just like other gods, Raijin comes with a multitude of names and identities. He is known as Yakusa no ikazuchi no kami which means “eight, thunder, spirit”. Another one of his names is Kaminari-Sama or “thunder master”. He is also known as Raiden-Sama or “thunder and lightning master”. Lastly, he is also known as Narukami or “thundering spirit”.
According to myths, Raijin was created by none other than the godly pair that created the Islands of Japan, Izanami, and Izanagi. He is believed to be the eldest of all the Shinto gods, due to the fact that he came directly from the principal godly creators. According to the myths, Raijin was born after Izanami died from the birth of the fire god.
Her death has sent Izanami to the underworld, for which her husband Izanagi followed. However, they have an intense disagreement and Izanagi was seen fleeing the underworld leaving the love of his life behind. To appease her angry husband, Izanami has created to chase Izanagi and bring him back to her.
What is Oni in Shinto Religion?
In Japanese mythology, the word oni is often used to depict a demon. These spirits are usually ogre-like creatures that have horns. Most gods, because of their highly violent nature, are confused with oni. However, in Japanese religion and mythology, there is always a thin line between good and evil gods. Oni is a different story altogether, these are creatures whose sole purpose is to create disaster and destruction.
Although gods are believed to have the need to be appeased, Japanese gods have very impressive powers. These powers can also be quite beneficial for humans and can help them in their daily lives. This is why despite the violent nature or image of a Japanese god they are often held in very high regard.
Who are Raijin and Fujin?
Fujin is believed to be the Japanese god of the wind and is the brother of the thunder god Raijin. He is often portrayed as a demon-like spirit with a red head and green skin. He is often seen carrying a bag of wind on his shoulders. According to myths, the two brothers are often dueling to known who will be the true king of the skies. When they do so, they often make thunderstorms. The stronger these thunderstorms are the more intense their fight will be.
Together, they are the fearsome gods of the weather. Basically, the combination of the brothers Raijin and Fujin is not always good news for the Japanese. They are believed to be responsible for all the bad weather in the country. They play such an important role for the ancient Japanese people that there are temples and sculptures of both Raijin and Fujin anywhere in Japan. Maybe because Japan experiences a number of very bad weather.
Some of the writings also relate them to Kura-Okami who is the god of rain and snow, which is usually most powerful during the winter months of December to February. This particular deity is also believed to be one of the eldest Shinto gods and their brother. Kuraokami was born at the same time Raijin and Fujin were born, as they are among the several deities that were created after the death of Izanami.
The thunder god in Japanese History
Thunder is often connoted to fear and disaster. In certain areas around Japan, there are superstitions where during thunderstorms there must be a ritual done which involves the striking of split bamboo to exorcise bad spirits from the rice fields. This is a form of protection against any disasters related to lighting and thunder. Often, Raijin is not seen as a protector but an angry spirit with enormous powers that must be appeased. If not, he could become violent and disaster can strike at any time.
In history though, the presence of lightning and thunder can be associated with rain. This is why most rice farmers need to appease Raijin to either give them rain during a drought or not overflow their fields during a storm. They also believed that lightning can fertilize a rice plant and every time there is lightning there will be a bounty.
Raijin in modern local Culture
There are a number of forms of media that depict Fujin and Raijin. Because they are highly regarded in Shinto religion, their popularity soars. In the ancient times, there are a number of sculptures dedicated to them. There are ancient pieces of artwork, paintings, and more. There is even a Kabuki play entitled the God of Thunder that depicts the life and story of Raijin.
In the modern age, they are still quite popular. There are comic book and anime characters that are adapted from their origin story. There is also modern artwork that provides a different perspective of the two gods, giving them a fresh look. There are photo contests even that support the development of these kinds of artwork. They are also often depicted as characters in games such as Final Fantasy, and more.
Raijin’s Equivalent in Other Countries
In other religions, mythology, and history Raijin has different forms. In other countries, he is also known by different names. Interestingly, they are quite similar in many ways.
Indra, Hindu God of Thunder
Indra is a god of many things, but one thing is for sure – he has powers and authority similar to other god-kings. Indra is a Vedic deity of Hinduism and is believed to be known as the king of the first heaven – a place similar to Greek mythology’s Mount Olympus.
In many scripts and artworks, Indra is often seen wielding a thunderbolt which is known as Vajra and is often seen riding a white elephant named Airavata. This particular god is believed to be a guardian deity of Buddhism and his primary role is to protect Buddhist teachers and believers. According to Buddhist texts, it was Indra that urged Buddha to teach humanity after the latter has achieved enlightenment.
Lei Gong, Chinese God of Thunder
In the Chinese Mythology, there is more than one thunder god. Thunder has its own kingdom in their heavens, which governs an entire battalion of deities and spirits. In their world, there are thunder emperors, thunder kings, marshals of thunder, thunder generals, and lords of thunder. However, there are Heaven’s Thunder, Earth’s Thunder, and Man’s Thunder as well. In the Chinese mythology, there are more than a hundred spirits that play roles in the wielding and protection of thunder.
Lei Gong came from traditional Chinese religious traditions, dating from thousands of years back. Just like Raijin, Lei Gong is often depicted with a drum and a mallet used to produce thunder, similar to a blacksmith wielding a sword. He is believed to ride a chariot to look for and punish humans who use their knowledge of Taoism for doing bad deeds.
Thor, Norse God of Thunder
What is eerily similar to most thunder gods is the presence of a mallet which they use to wield thunder. Thor is well-known to carry an ancient hammer that only he has the ability to carry – Mjolnir. In the Norse mythology, Thor is often associated with lightning, storms, and thunder. He is also believed to be a protector of mankind.
Depictions of this thunder god are very common in countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and England. There are rune stones that depict his power, his life, and his hammer. Up until now, the popularity of this Norse god is propagated through media because of a comic adaptation of a character with the same name and back story.
Zeus, Greek God of Thunder
He is known in ancient Greek mythology to be the God of the Sky, Lightning, and Thunder. He is also the god-king that ruled over what is known as Mount Olympus. He is well-respected by all the other gods and humans. He is believed to carry out the law, order, and justice. So respected is he that he is also considered as an “allfather”, where gods who are not born to him still address him as Father.
Just like other thunder gods, a common depiction of Zeus is him wielding a lightning bolt. However, he is not often seen using a hammer or a mallet to do so. Often times, the Greeks depict him as standing with a thunderbolt raised in his hand.