Boreas and Fujin: How a Greek Deity Became Japanese


It’s 323 BCE and Alexander the Great just died. His massive Greco-Macedonian empire is almost immediately divided shortly afterwards. However despite the division his impact remained in the form of smaller yet influential empires and trade-routes that stretched all the way from Europe, North Africa, and into modern day Afghanistan. A Greco-Bactrian empire stretched throughout Afghanistan and even managed to pull off what Alex could not in that it managed to conquer parts of India.

This Greco-Bactrian conquest of India led to a fusion of Greek and Buddhist mythology in certain parts of the empire. Trade between a Greek elite, Bactrians, and Indians led to unique situations in which Buddha was sculpted in the manner of a Greek deity and Zeus was depicted as a protector of Buddhism. Stranger still, the Greek deity of the north wind, Boreas, started his strange journey that would lead him all the way into the far flung islands of Japan.

Through their trade routes into India and China stories and depictions of the Greek deity Boreas were absorbed into Buddhist art pieces. Traces of the deity were picked up and applied to Buddhist mythology in China. In China Boreas went through a myriad of new names and depictions, becoming something stranger with each name change. The formerly European deity of wind was already evolving into something quite foreign.

Chinese artisans and merchants who sold depictions of the now Buddhist deity took the Chinese version of Boreas into Japan where he became something even stranger. The deity evolved into a strange wind god that was depicted as having green skin, wild hair, and a bag that spat out wind. He became Fūjin.

Like Boreas before him Fūjin had brethren who had similar powersets. Unlike Boreas however Fūjin looked completely different. While Boreas would have resembled most of the other Greek deities in that he looked mostly human Fūjin was green like an ogre and more portly. His teeth were also more gnarly and his limbs more stocky. Fūjin was a farcry from his Greek ancestor.

Yet Greek in origin he still was. Despite not having met the Greeks themselves the Japanese still unknowingly harbored a deity that was of Greek origin and morphed the deity into something that better fit their own local mythologies. Like Boreas Fūjin was a deity of the wind. He was also the product of trade from the silk road.

Trade and cultural diffusion caused even the most hermitic and far flung cultures to be linked in ways that led to the creation of Fūjin, proving that no matter how isolated a culture may be it will never truly be immune to influence from outside cultures. Despite not knowing who the Japanese were and despite having never met them the Greeks influenced Japan and vice versa, with Japan preserving this Greco deity in its own way long after the Greeks themselves stopped believing in these deities.

Some References:

Some Questions: 

  1. Can you think of other religious pantheons that were changed or added to by a far away culture? 
  2. Do you think all religions are prone to this kind of cultural absorption, even more modern faiths such as Christianity?

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