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  3. Raijin

Raijin

Raijin (雷神) is the Japanese god of thunder, lightning, and storms. Often appearing alongside his brother, Fujin, the god of the wind, Raijin brings vital rains and leaves a wake of chaos and destruction.

Raijin (雷神) is the Japanese god of storms, a chaotic being born of death who brings the world vital rains as well as chaos and destruction. He flies across the sky on dark clouds and throws lightning onto unsuspecting denizens below.

A popular kami (a type of god or spirit in the Shinto religion) despite his connection to death and destruction, Raijin is represented in Shinto and Buddhist imagery, as well as in folk belief and popular art.

Etymology

Raijin is represented in Kanji as 雷神, a combination of (kaminari), meaning “thunder,” and (kami), meaning “god” or “spirit.” Thus, he is simply the Thunder God. Other names are Kaminari-sama (雷様, “Lord Thunder”), Raiden-sama (雷電様, “Lord Thunder and Lightning”), Narukami (鳴る神, “The Resounding God”) and Yakusa no ikazuchi no kami (厄災の雷の神, “God of Storms and Disaster”).

Attributes

Raijin is the master of thunder and lightning, controlling the power of storms. He rains down death and destruction on the world below. His connection to Yomi, the Land of the Dead, is part of his being, made clear through his horrific appearance. With a terrifying, toothy smile, severe eyebrows, and lean, muscular appearance, he dresses in simple pants and has wily, unconquered hair.

His expression is almost always angry or gleefully destructive, like a hungry demon. Despite this, he is often depicted with a traditional Buddhist halo, a common motif around figures that are holy or divine. This halo surrounds all of Raijin, rather than just his head, and is marked by plates covered in various Buddhist, Daoist, and Shinto religious imagery.

He also appears with a drum, with which he creates thunder. He is always in the company of Fujin, the god of winds; his son, Raitaro; and occasionally the thunder beast, Raiju.

Raijin is the bringer of rain, a boon to farmers. When drought came to Japan, it was said that Raijin was either slacking off or imprisoned, as depicted in one kabuki play.

He is also the protector of temples and shrines. In Shinto and Buddhism, Raijin is a warrior-protector who brings both destruction and life, illustrating how the two are deeply connected. It is said that Raijin’s lightning, when it struck a crop, would produce a bountiful yield.

Raijin is more a trickster than a malevolent figure. Stories depict him as being unwilling to listen to priests, monks, or even the Emperor of Japan, yet he is very much answerable to other deities and to the revered Buddhist figures known as bodhisattva, who are on the path to enlightenment and Buddhahood.

While there is much art featuring Raijin, his most famous depiction is at Sanjusangen-do, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, where statues of Raijin and Fujin guard the entrance. These statues are considered some of the most beloved works in Japanese art.

In stories told even today, Raijin is said to kidnap and gobble up children who do not hide their belly buttons. This story may stem from Raijin’s origins in Yomi, where his birth was unnatural. The denizens of Yomi hold great envy and hatred toward natural-born humans, whose belly buttons may serve as a reminder of Raijin’s birth in the land of the dead.

Family

Raijin is the son of Izanami and Izanagi, the progenitors of the Japanese gods. Born after his mother Izanami died, Raijin himself is a being of death. He is brother to many gods, including Amaterasu, Susanoo, and Tsukuyomi. His son, Raitaro, is also a thunder god.

Mythology

Raijin appears in many parts of Japanese folklore.

Appearance in Myth and Legend

Raijin was born of Izanami’s rotting corpse after she descended to Yomi, the Land of Darkness and Death. When her husband Izanagi fled from her back to the world of the living, Izanami ordered Raijin to pursue him, and thus Raijin came into the world bringing death and destruction with him.

Another story describes Raijin as a mischief-maker and being of destruction, causing the emperor to order Sugaru the God-Catcher to imprison Raijin. Sugaru first petitioned Raijin in the name of the emperor to give himself over willingly, to which Raijin responded with laughter. Sugaru then invoked Kannon, the Buddha of Compassion, which compelled Raijin to let Sugaru take him to the emperor. Under the control of Sugaru and the emperor, Raijin was forced to halt his destructive ways and bring only rain and bounty to Japan—at least for a time.

In some popular medieval stories about the failed Mongol invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281, Raijin and Fujin were responsible for the typhoons that sank the Mongol ships and prevented invasion.

Other Mythology

Raijin and Fujin are always depicted together, thus making the two deities deeply connected.

Raijin is potentially related to Leigong, a Chinese god of thunder, and his various forms; as well as to Parjanya, a Hindu god of rain, thunder, and lightning. Raijin also fulfills a similar role and temperament to El (also called YHWH), a Semitic storm deity worshiped by the Hebrews. Finally, Raijin exhibits similarities to the Norse Thor, Greek Zeus, and Celtic Taranis.

Pop Culture

Raijin often makes cameo appearances throughout popular culture, including:

  • In the manga/anime InuYasha, supernatural creatures (yokai) that look like Raijin and Fujin appear several times in large crowds. Separately, two characters called the Thunder Brothers don't look like Raijin and Fujin but seem to have their abilities.

  • In the anime movie Pom Poko, Raijin and Fujin illusions are created to scare off the occupants of the Tama Hills developments, who are more entertained than scared.

  • In the manga series Naruto, Raijin and Fujin are known as the Legendary Stupid Brothers, a pair of criminal ninja.

  • Raiden, god of thunder in the Mortal Kombat video game, has powers based on those of Raijin.

  • Raijin and Fujin appear as lackeys of the character Seifer in the video game Final Fantasy VIII.

  • Raijin’s name of Raiden is the basis of the character Raiden in the Metal Gear Solid video game series*.*

  • In the UltraMan media series, the characters of Raijin and Fujin are based on their divine counterparts.

References

Bibliography

  1. Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.

  2. Ono, Sokyo. Shinto: The Kami Way. Translated by William Woodard. Rutland: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1962.

Citation

About the Author

Gregory Wright is a writer and historian with an M.A. in East Asian Studies from the University of Texas at Austin.