So now it's Day 6 of Yōkai Week, and I've run out of the Five Elements of Chinese Philosophy.
that's obvious," you may be saying, "we were wondering why in the world
you made such a big deal about the five elements when you knew you had a
week's worth of entries to do. That was a pretty bone-headed decision."
now, no need to be hurtful. I can just switch over to the Five Elements
of Japanese Philosophy, which conveniently have two different elements.
"Why didn't you just do that in the first place?"
Good question. Actually, that would mean that today's element would be air (風) or nothingness (空).
"Hey, nothingness, that sounds pretty scary. What a great concept for Halloween!"
I do have projected conversations with myself quite a bit, but it's
nothing to worry about. But you're right, nothingness is an extremely
terrifying concept. Too terrifying for me to cover, in fact, without a
bit more religious education. Though some insight can be gained from
people like Miyamoto Musashi or a high-ranking Zen monk like the one in Lone Wolf and Cub,
it only really reinforces the fact that I am nowhere near capable of
understanding it myself, let alone possessing the capacity to explain it
to you, accompanied by witty comments and interesting pictures.
think instead I'll just combine the remaining two elements, air, and
use the alternate reading of nothingness for sky or heaven, and how
about the additional element of electricity, for all you Pokemon fans
So yes, while this is
more of a legendary creature than a yōkai, and I hesitate to lump in
sacred things with the "spook" nature of yōkai, I'm already grasping
quite a bit, so I'll cut you a break and get on with the profile.
Let's talk about Raijū,(雷獣), the thunder beast.
Right away you may be reminded of the Japanese chimera yōkai, the Nue.
You wouldn't be the only one. In fact, when the Nue began descending
over the Imperial Palace in a storm-cloud, causing sickness to befall
the Emperor, everyone initially thought that the culprit was Raijū.
But, as they and you will soon find out, there are many differences
between the Nue and Raijū, most notably that Raijū is not out to make
you terribly, terribly sick. Besides, since he's not a yōkai, and comes
from what is known as a very good and revered place, he wouldn't fall
prey to the feelings of onryō against the Emperor. But can Raijū cause
you great inconvenience and inflict illness upon you? Oh, yes. In
fact, since you and I are not the Emperor, we are more at risk to
experience a painful fate at the hands of Raijū than Nue. So I'll tell
you all about Raijū, and how to avoid being lightning'd to death.
the Nue, Raijū appear to be an amalgamous creature comprised of various
other creatures. However, Raijū are much smaller than Nue, and seem to
resemble more closely to various woodland animals, like badgers,
raccoons, and foxes. It seems that Raijū differ in appearance in
accordance with where they are spotted, leading one to believe that
Raijū tend to adapt to their location. Where I grew up, Raijū are said
to resemble a small grey wolf, with long legs and a tail and pointed
head like an enchanted fox. They also possess claws like those of a
bird of prey. Other accounts describe it more as resembling a monkey or
large cat, or having a tawny or reddish colouring.
differ from your average woodland creature, however, in that it travels
around via storm-cloud and his barks come out as booming thunder. He
also has a constant crackling coat of lightning surrounding his fur.
claws are also significant (many Raijū have claws like raptor birds,
but some are said to be positively crab-like). As I'm sure you're
aware, during a lightning storm, it's actually worse to hide under a
tree. Lightning strikes trees more often, as evidenced by the ragged
marks left on trees that have been hit. This is because Raijū prefers
to jump around on trees, and those striations are the marks from his
the most telling difference between the Nue yōkai and Raijū stems from
its origins. As kitsune are the messengers of the Shinto god Inari,
Raijū serve the storm god Raijin, or Raiden (雷神/雷電).
of course, the reason so many strong characters (and also that guy from
MGS) are named Raiden and have lightning-based attributes stems from
the kami Raijin/Raiden, who controls storms, thunder, and lightning.
actually looks like this. Raijin is one of the earliest kami, and you
can tell him in art by his cloud transportation and a ring of drums
floating behind him. Often, he appears in a pair with Fūjin (風神), the
kami of wind.
And sometimes he just completely destroys notable and beloved landmarks throughout Japan.
while yōkai and demons and monsters and ghosts roam freely throughout
Japan and visciously attack humans, kami don't do that, right?
technically, that isn't their intention. But nature is uncontrollable,
which is why it is so revered. But no, for the most part, kami have no
real desire to wreak havoc on humans, there are enough other things
wandering around causing mischief.
He means no
harm, but, just as they are partial to clawing up trees, they also find
great comfort in sleeping in human belly buttons. It's weird, but what
else do you expect from a thunder beast?
But Raijin understands,
and if he sees a Raijū nestling into somebody's stomach, he's going to
reprimand it and get it out of there...
...by hurling lightning at the unwitting person Raijū is laying on.
of this, in Japan, people will most likely warn you to make sure you
sleep on your stomach during storms, so Raijū won't crawl into your
belly and get you electrocuted. I was also told, as a child, that when
you had an upset stomach, you should sleep with your middle fingers in
your belly button. According to some mountain ascetic, the fingers each
correspond to a different function of the body, and the middle finger
relates to the stomach. If you keep your middle fingers in your belly
button while you sleep, it will cut the pathway for indigestion and/or
Raijū to enter, and help calm an upset stomach. It's awkward, but it
always worked when I had a stomach ache.
Let's see some other depictions of Raijū.
From Devil Summoner.
In GeGeGe no Kitarō and on Mizuki Road.
A modern-day Obake Karuta.
that's Raijū the Thunder Beast, as seen from ancient times until
today. Raijū aren't yōkai, and I guess, unless you start getting
lightning bolts thrown at you, they aren't very scary. But it's almost
Halloween, so I guess I'll show you something about Raijū that is rather
terrifying. If you have a weak stomach, put your middle fingers in
your navel and look away now.
Another thing that Raijū have in
common with yōkai, particularly the Nue and the Kappa and other such
famous creatures, is that they are so prevalent that they are often
captured and observed, and then, of course, stuffed or mummified and put
on display in museums that deal with this sort of thing. Enjoy some
creepy old pictures of mummified Raijū.