The Japanese rain doctor (sorcerer) and Qiangic Shibi shaman, and the origin of rain related doctrines in Japan


Pictured above: Mt. Oyama or Afuriyama or Afurisan, “Rainfall-inducing Great Mountain” (Source of photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Japanese rain wizard or sorcerer

The Japanese shaman of the Yayoi period onwards resembled the Shibi shaman of the Qiangic people, he was the rain sorcerer, the intercessor for bountiful harvests and for successful outcomes in major events and to reverse the bad luck during disasters. His role is to lead in sacred dances to influence the divinities and during activities that entail the “worshipping divinities, praying for divine blessing, holding funerals, exorcizing diseases and demons, and also praying for rain when in drought”. Taoist rain dances using sacred Big Dipper swords are still performed in Japanese Shinto shrines, have an origin in China.

Etching of shaman found on Yayoi pottery shard (Photo source: Heritage of Japan)

The  Taoist rain sorcerer’s dance has also survived in essentially-the-same form with southern Chinese migrants to other parts of Asia, especially in the relic dance of the Tang-ki shaman rain-sorcerer’s dance which is a veneration of King or Emperor Yu, the first ruler of the Xia dynasty and the earliest recorded archetype of the Chinese rain sorcerer. See  The Tang-Ki as Cosmic Actor by Margaret Chan, cf. p. 7):

“The tang-ki ritual sword has a double-edged blade engraved with the zig-zag pattern of the constellation and is believed to be imbued with the very spirit of the star group, so that the sword is worshipped as a deity in its own right. The zig-zag star motif is one of the twelve imperial insignias and can be seen printed on all sorts of talismans”

The Taoist associations with weather prayers and raindances seem borne out at least with the sword-waving dance offering of the Yasaka shrine during the Ine Festival, prayers for abundant crops, as well fish-catches. Similar tachifuri sword dances such as the Tabayashi-juni-kagura handed down at Tabayashi Atago Shrine are held at the ruins of Marumori Castle in Marumori Town, Miyagi Prefecture, as well as at the  Kono Jinja Shrine during the Aoi Festival (source).  The annual festival held April 24 at Kono Shrine in Miyazu City, Kyoto Prefecture is also called the Aoi Matsuri. From the Encyclopedia of Shinto, on the Aoi Festival:
Known as the sword-waving rite (tachi-furi shinji), swords three shaku long (about 90.9 centimeters) are enclosed inside poles four shaku long. Tassels of paper are attached to both ends of the poles, which are then positioned on the backs and at the hips of the performers and waved about. They also join in an accompanying festive song known as the sasa-bayashi. The livestock market held during this Aoi Festival is called the Aoi ushiichi (“Aoi cow market”).
The Budo World blog has more on the Big Dipper associations of the Taoist sword (see The Sword of Ancient Taoism) and its diffusion path to Japan via Korea. However, in our article Dragon-slaying sacred swords and kusa-nagi grass-cutters, we explore our theory that the idea of dragon-slaying sacred swords may have been of North-west Indian and/or Iranic origins.
Rain doctor/wizards who summon the rain with rain-stones on rain-making mountains

The clearest evidence of the rain sorcerer practice is perhaps to be found in the relic Oyama cult on Mt. Oyama’s Oyamadera temple-shrine complex in Kanagawa. Although the temple is also Buddhist, the syncretic Buddhist and Shinto elements both reveal the early rain-related functions and Omayadera’s main hall was first constructed in 1900 at the site exactly where Afurisan Oyamadera used to stand. The name Afuri of the Shrine is short for Amefuri, which is literally “rainfall.” As the word indicates, Oyama is believed to be a rain doctor, and in time of drought, farmers conducted special service of prayers to the god of the Shrine for rain. See the Oyama Afuri Jinja Shrine article on the history and practices of the temple-shrine complex:

“In the early times, there was a shrine called Sekison atop Mt. Oyama, which is 1252 meters above sea level, enshrining a natural, giant and holy stone as its principal object of worship. (Seki is a stone and son is a honorific suffix). Halfway up the mountain, they built a temple sacred to Fudo Myo-o in association with the stone statue Priest Roben had found. In other words, it had a Shinto shrine on the top, and Buddhist (Shingon) temple in the mid-slope of the mountain. Like other temple/shrine complex, however, Buddhist elements were more pronounced in this complex as well, and it was Buddhist priests, if anything, who controlled the institution. In the Shrine’s case, Shingon Esoteric Buddhism prevailed under the name of Afurisan Oyamadera, which, is literally a “rainfall-inducing-great-mountain” temple and Sekison was called Sekison Daigongen. (Gongen denotes manifestation of Buddha).

Meanwhile, people in Kanagawa and western Tokyo knew that if the top of the mountain was veiled by clouds, it would rain momentarily. At a long spell of dry weather, they offered a prayer and petition for rainfall to Sekison enshrined at the top of the mountain as if Sekison had been a rain doctor. Hence the Shrine was called Afurisan, or rainmaker-mountain. Incidentally, the present name Afuri of Afuri Jinja is also short for a rainfall in Japanese.”

For more on rainstones and rain doctors or rain wizards, see A study of rain deities and rain wizards of Japan.

In Nihon shoki (or Shoku-Nihongi, the 8th c. chronicle), it is written that in 763, a black horse was specially dedicated together with Heihaku (strips of paper symbolizing offerings of clothing). From that time on, it became a custom to dedicate a black horse in offering a prayer for bringing rain and a white horse for bringing a good weather.
Shrines were often established and dedicated to rain or water gods. According to the records of the Niu kawakami shrine, it was founded in 676, when the god said, “If you set up the holy pillars of my shrine in this deep mountain, I will bring the blessed rain instead of the damaging rain for the people of this country.” Niu Kawakami Shrine’s Lower Shimo-sha located in Shimoichi-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara Pref. is one of the three Niu Kawakami shrines that have existed since the ancient times and it enshrines Kura Okami no Kami (the god of water and rain(Source: Nippon-kichi).

We also know historically that Kukai, or Kobo-Daishi, “the Grand Master who propagated Buddhist Teaching” (774-835) summoned the rain which involved a rite to summon the third nāga princess of the Nāga King Sāgara, the emanation of Cintāmaṇicakra Avalokitēśvara Bodhisattva to come from the snowy mountains of the Himalayas. (Kukai arrived in Fujian but proceeded to Changan and he studied Chinese Buddhism in earnest at  the famous Tang dynasty Ximingsi temple as well as Sanskrit with the Gandharan pandit Prajñā (734-810) who had been educated at the Indian Buddhist university at Nalanda. He was also initiated into esoteric Buddhist traditions upon meeting in 805 Master Hui-kuo (746 – 805) at Changan’s Qinglong Monastery (青龍寺).)

Rain dances and Dipper sword dances

Compare the roles of the Japanese rain-sorcerer to the Shibi sorcerers of the Qiang group ( below:

“Within the settlement of Qiang Ethnic Group in the upper reaches of Min River of Sichuan Province, sorcerers are called Shibi in the southern dialect. …

In the primitive society, like other ancient ethnic groups with a long history, Qiang Ethnic Group could not understand many natural phenomena. They vaguely felt that there seemed to be supernatural force underlying happiness, affliction, success and failure. They looked forward to times of good harvests, prosperity and peace, thus giving birth to Shibi. As the messenger of divinities, Shibi is a key figure who holds varied conventional activities like sacrificial ceremonies and who spreads culture of Qiang Ethnicity. Dancing runs through all sacrifices and other conventional activities which are held in Qiang settlement. Shibi presides at all these activities, so he is the indispensable protagonist. Therefore, not only is Shibi an important figure presiding at various activities, but he is also an art teacher good at singing and dancing, as well as a proactive creator of folk dances of Qiang Ethnic Group. By fulfilling his sacred obligations, Shibi plays a decisive role in the content and form of Qiang dances.

Qiang Ethnic Group will carry out activities of offering sacrifices, under such circumstances as worshipping divinities, praying for divine blessing, holding funerals, exorcizing diseases and demons, and also praying for rain when in drought. During these activities, there will be a traditional folk ceremony called Buzila, namely sheepskin-drum dance. Dancing while beating a drum, Shibi will carry a sacred stick on his shoulder, and hold in his hand a dish-like bell made of copper. Besides, when there is a battle, hunting or memorial ceremony for national heroes, Shibi will run around outside the altar, holding a torch and wearing cowhide loricae. He will stoutly lead people in the “loricae dance”. Moreover, at wedding ceremonies, Shibi is characterized by easy and slow motions, gentle behavior, and melodious incantations which seem to pray that the newly-wed will always enjoy happiness, prosperity and good luck. Everything done by Shibi seems to be making arrangement for life. Consequently, he is the most authoritative in the conventions and life of the entire Qiang Ethnic Group. The deity genealogy of an ethnic group is a complicated system of cultural symbols, by means of which the group understands, reflects, interprets and controls its society. Shibi is recognized as the critical link of this system. Accordingly, Shibi occupies an eminent position and plays an essential role in dances of Qiang Ethnic Group. “Dancing is very solemn and grand for them. It is more a religious ritual and special incantation than entertainment.”

Buzila (sheepskin-drum dance) is popular in places like Wenchuan and Lixian Counties. No matter whether the dance is to exert mysterious magic influence on divinities or to entertain them, its ultimate purpose is to pursue prosperity by asking divinities for protection.”

Incidentally, the name Shibi is still a rather commonplace in Japan, as a location name and names can be found in the earliest historical chronicles of Japan.

See also Rain dances of Qiang ethnic group.


The many Kojindani’s swords – largest cache discovered in Japan (Kojindani Museum) were likely ritual swords used to summon rain. According to the Kojindani Museum, the swords originated from China. See Taiji sword dance of Wudang mountain and we have already mentioned the Taoist sword and rain-sorcerer’s dances above.

Rain related symbols and ritual objects – white horses, roosters and dragon-serpents

White horse, black horse symbolism Other practices that originated from China (but which may have had earlier roots in Scythic-Indo-Saka steppeland practices elsewhere) were the offerings of black and white horses such as the ones still seen at the Festival at Niu Kawakami Shinto shrine in Shimoichi-cho, Nara. The shrine has revived an ancient ceremony once held as a state festival in 763 — the Imperial court would present a black horse to the water deity at the shrine or a white horse to stop excessive rains and damage from the tsunami/typhoon.

White horse sacrifices were also presented at the Kifune-jinja, see A study of rain deities and rain-wizards of Japan. The Kamigamo shrine of descendants of the Kamo clan, still keeps a sacred white horse tethered in a small hut, see photo here and here. The practice of keeping sacred or sacrificial white horses died away as Buddhist prohibitions against taking animal lives, led to votive ema offerings as substitutes, see photo of ema white horse votive tablets here.

Cosmic Couple dance around the Cosmic Pillar The mytheme of the Primordial Couple and Cosmic Pillar is closely connected with Chinese The Deluge or Diluvial concepts (see the Handbook of Chinese mythology – origin of flood myths, Nuwa legends and brother and sister primordial pair and Miao cosmic pillar courtship dance) and manifest the common origin of the origin of the Japanese cosmic couple Izanagi and Izanami (although the roots of the myth appear to have been Iranic-Vedic in character, so a common Iranic connection or influence is possible see # below).

Rooster symbolism

Japan also shares the Rooster symbolism of the Miao people – although the cock is mainly known for its Underworld funerary associations, additionally, “in the Miao’s flood myths, the thunder god is in charge of the rain, and the image of the thunder god is a rooster.” (See Chicken and Family Prosperity: Marital ritual among the Miao in Southwest China).

Other rain-connected mythemes of common East Asian origin are dragon and serpent concepts connected with rain and spring sources and with immortality concepts (see Towadako: Lake so popular a dragon and serpent fought over itToyo no Kuni and the Spring of Immortality.)  The ubiquitous rain dragon symbols in Japan clearly have a Chinese connection (see the Evolution of the Chinese dragon symbol)

Rain drums and bronze bells

Other symbols connected with rain are bronze drums and bronze bells.

Diorama depicting how a Yayoi bronze bell may have been used (Photo source: Heritage of Japan)

Bronze bells and drums are also a symbol of rain-making pleas for agricultural communities of Japan and China… and Southeast Asia. The use of rain bronze drums and bronze bells(see Treasure! Bronze bells and magical mirrors), for instance, appears to have been a key cultural of the southerly tribes in Yunnan (see Ancient bronze bells at Jianshui, Yunnan) and Dong son tribes of Vietnam. The early rain drums of Jomon and Yayoi were however, superceded by the taiko prototypes from Central Asia (possibly of Indian or Indian-Saka origin).

Bronze bells were almost certainly used in agricultural ritual or festive contexts, as depicted in the context of tribal festivity shown in the ancient mural in Yunnan, China.

Bronze bells were almost certainly used in agricultural ritual or festive contexts, as depicted in the context of tribal festivity shown in the ancient mural in Yunnan, China.

The genetic connection and ancient continental links

Two genetic connections with Chinese prehistoric populations and the Japanese are evident in the M7 haplogroup of the Miao tribe (Early Japanese belong to the M7 (mtDNA) family of Austronesian Southeast Asia), as well as in the Y-DNA O3 haplogroup connection between Di-Qiang and the Japanese prehistoric population, see Zhao YB, et al., Ancient DNA evidence supports the contribution of Di-Qiang people to the Han Chinese gene poolAm J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Feb;144(2):258-68. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21399. Epub 2010 Sep 24.

“Han Chinese is the largest ethnic group in the world. During its development, it gradually integrated with many neighboring populations. To uncover the origin of the Han Chinese, ancient DNA analysis was performed on the remains of 46 humans (1700 to 1900 years ago) excavated from the Taojiazhai site in Qinghai province, northwest of China, where the Di-Qiang populations had previously lived. In this study, eight mtDNA haplogroups (A, B, D, F, M*, M10, N9a, and Z) and one Y-chromosome haplogroup (O3) were identified. All analyses show that the Taojiazhai population presents close genetic affinity to Tibeto-Burman populations (descendants of Di-Qiang populations) and Han Chinese, suggesting that the Di-Qiang populations may have contributed to the Han Chinese genetic pool.”

Furthermore, regarding the Chinese creation myth, it is interesting to note that Derk Bodde, believed the Pangu myth “to be of non-Chinese origin” (Bodde 1961:383) and who linked it to the ancestral mythologies of the peoples such as Miao people and Yao people in southern China. (Source: Professor Qin Naichang, head of the Guangxi Institute for Na, Chinese creation myth). Given the similarity with Japanese myths of the emergence from caves of deities, of the primordial pair, jade tadpole symbolism, gourd tales, sacrifices to rice spirits, underworld worldview, there is also a possibility that these beliefs issued from the wild Wa country in Northern Indo-China, which may have been connected to the Japan’s Wa-kuni (Wa country) of the Yayoi Period (see Anthropogonic myths of the Wa in Northern Indo-China by Taryo Obayashi). Thus a more southerly proto-Mongoloid provenance of such beliefs should also be contemplated and explored.

For comparing similarities in the gene pools of Chinese and Japanese populations (suggesting affinities or common origins), see other relevant sources below:

The population in Yunnan, like the population in Japan, are predominantly of the Y-DNA haplogroup D (with YAP+alleles*)…as are the Japanese whose Y-DNA haplogroups are D-P37.1 (34.7%) and therefore suggest common or close ancestral origins in ancient times. For sources see Shi, Hong et al. (2008). “Y chromosome evidence of earliest modern human settlement in East Asia and multiple origins of Tibetan and Japanese populations”BMC Biology (BioMed Central6: 45. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-6-45PMC 2605740PMID 18959782YAP in 25 ethnic groups from Yunnan China and The geographic polymorphisms of Y chromosome at YAP locus among 25 ethnic groups in Yunnan, China also studies by Shi Hong et al.

*The YAP allele defines haplogroup DE of the human Y-chromosome phylogeny, which joins together the haplogroup E, found in Negroids and Caucasoids, with haplogroup D, found mainly among Mongoloids, including the archaic Ainu, but also non-Mongoloid populations such as the Andaman Islanders. It has also been suggested that the patrilines belonging to haplogroup D are possibly the first modern human groups in East Asia based on the Out of Africa theory because their ancestor haplogroup DE is found in Africans in Nigeria along with Tibetan in East Asia (Source: Shi, Hong et al. (2008). “Y chromosome evidence of earliest modern human settlement in East Asia and multiple origins of Tibetan and Japanese populations”.

A 2007 study by Nonaka et al. reported that Japanese males in the Kantō region, which includes the Greater Tokyo Area, mainly belong to haplogroup D-M55 (48%), haplogroup O2b (31%), haplogroup O3 (15%) (see Nonaka, I.; Minaguchi, K.; Takezaki, N. (February 2, 2007). “Y-chromosomal Binary Haplogroups in the Japanese Population and their Relationship to 16 Y-STR Polymorphisms”. Annals of Human Genetics(John Wiley & Sons71 (Pt 4): 480–95. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1809.2006.00343.xPMID 17274803.)

Nonaka I et al., Y-chromosomal binary haplogroups in the Japanese population and their relationship to 16 Y-STR polymorphismsAnn Hum Genet. 2007 Jul;71(Pt 4):480-95. Epub 2007 Feb 2.

Using 47 biallelic markers we distinguished 20 haplogroups, four of which (D2b1/-022457, O3/-002611*, O3/-LINE1 del, and O3/-021354*) were newly defined in this study. Most haplogroups in the Japanese population are found in one of the three major clades, C, D, or O. Among these, two major lineages, D2b and O2b, account for 66% of Japanese Y chromosomes. Haplotype diversity of binary markers was calculated at 86.3%. The addition of 16 Y-STR markers increased the number of haplotypes to 225, yielding a haplotype diversity of 99.40%. A comparison of binary haplogroups and Y-STR type revealed a close association between certain binary haplogroups and Y-STR allelic or conformational differences, such as those at the DXYS156Y, DYS390m, DYS392, DYS437, DYS438 and DYS388 loci.

# Note the possible Iranic interaction sphere and provenance of the primordial couple mytheme from Michael C. Witzel’s Vala and Iwato – The Myth of the Hidden Sun:

…there are indications of the high status of brother-sister marriage in a wide swath, between Egypt, Iran48 and Polynesia where it occurred as late as the early 1800’s. King Kamehameha who unified the Hawaiian islands was born of one such carefully planned union, which made him magically strong.49…..

Apparently even primordial incest between siblings was not tolerated both in Yamato and in Vedic myth. Instead, the union of Wo and Amaterasu is carefully obscured, and this is matched in the Veda where incest50 between brother and sister was likewise forbidden even for the first mortals (Yama and Yamī, RV 10.14), while it was allowed in Iran. The intriguing Apålå hymn (RV 8.91, Schmidt 1987) tells, again in a rather veiled fashion, of a marriage proposal made by the young Apålå to the great demiurge god Indra. In this hymn51 a young woman, Apålå, is looking for a husband. She goes down to a river, finds and chews some Soma stalks (A 6). The clanking of her teeth is enough to attract Indra, who yearns for his favorite Soma drink. The similarity with Amaterasu is clear: both women, standing at the river (of heaven) invite their partner to produce children or to marry, both chew some objects and exchange the results. Such food exchange is typical for many marriage ceremonies. Apålå is to be regarded as Indra’s wife.52 Usually a wife does not carry a name of her own but is called, like most other Vedic goddesses, after the husband: she is Indrå􏰁ī, ‘the one belonging to Indra…

…there are indications of the high status of brother-sister marriage in a wide swath, between Egypt, Iran48 and Polynesia where it occurred as late as the early 1800’s. King Kamehameha who unified the Hawaiian islands was born of one such carefully planned union, which made him magically strong.49…..

Footnote no. 49:

In India, the Buddhist version of the Råmåyana, too, has the conjugal pair Råma and Sītå as siblings, which fits the Iranian-like concepts of some dynasties of eastern North India (Buddha legend, see Witzel, forthc. §2, with n. 101 sqq). Note that the marriage between Adam and Eve fits the Iranian version closely: though the ‘birth of Eve’ from Adam’s rib is an isolated feature, both are ‘siblings’ like Yima/*Yamī, the later Jam/Jai in Iran; the motif is not found in the RV, though Parśu (‘the rib/sow’) is said to have had of 20 children (10.86.23 parśur ha nåma månavī såka􏰆 sasūva vi􏰆śatim).

Source references and readings:

Shibi sorcerers of the Qiang group (

Notes: Qiangic populations and their traditions and beliefs

Witzel, M., Vala and Iwato – The Myth of the Hidden Sun

Han Xiaorong (1998) The Present Echoes of the Ancient Bronze Drum: Nationalism and Archeology in Modern Vietnam and China A Journal of the Southeast Asian Studies Student Association, Vol 2, No. 2 Fall 1998

Articles also by me (Aileen Kawagoe @ Heritage of Japan):

The Adoration of the Sword: Dragon-slaying sacred swords and kusa-nagi grass-cutters

Magic, superstitions, religious rituals of the Yayoi culture

A study of rain deities and rain wizards of Japan.

Treasure! Bronze bells and magical mirrors

Role of a shaman

Kukai (Wikipedia); Ximingsi temple


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