Japanese dragons are diverse
legendary creaturesin Japanese mythologyand folklore. Japanese dragon myths amalgamate native legends with imported stories about dragonsfrom China, Koreaand India. Like these other Asian dragons, most Japanese ones are water deities associated with rainfall and bodies of water, and are typically depicted as large, wingless, serpentine creatures with clawed feet. The modern Japanese languagehas numerous "dragon" words, including indigenous "tatsu" from Old Japanese"ta-tu", Sino-Japanese "ryū" or "ryō" from Chinese , "nāga" ナーガ from Sanskrit, and "doragon" ドラゴン from English .
Indigenous Japanese dragons
The ca. 680 CE "
Kojiki" and the ca. 720 CE " Nihongi" mytho-histories have the first Japanese textual references to dragons. "In the oldest annals the dragons are mentioned in various ways," explains de Visser (1913:135), "but mostly as water-gods, serpent- or dragon-shaped." The "Kojiki" and "Nihongi" mention several ancient dragons:
Yamata-no-Orochi" 八岐大蛇 "8-branched giant snake" was an 8-headed and 8-tailed dragon slain by the god of wind and sea Susanoo. He discovered the "Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi" (legendary sword of the Imperial Regalia of Japan) in one of its tails.
Watatsumi" 海神 "sea god" or " Ryūjin" 龍神 "dragon god" was the ruler of seas and oceans, and described as a dragon capable of changing into human form. He lived in the undersea " Ryūgū-jō" 龍宮城 "dragon palace castle", where he kept the magical tide jewels.
Toyotama-hime" 豊玉姫 "Luminous Pearl Princess" was Ryūjin's daughter. She purportedly was an ancestress of Emperor Jimmu, Japan's legendary first emperor.
*"Wani" 鰐 was a
sea monsterthat is translated as both "shark" and "crocodile". "Kuma-wani" 熊鰐 "bear (i.e., giant or strong) shark/crocodile" are mentioned in two ancient legends. One says the sea god Kotoshiro-nushi-no-kamitransformed into an "8-fathom "kuma-wani" and fathered Toyotama-hime, the other says a "kuma-wani" piloted the ships of Emperor Chūaiand his Empress Jingū.
Mizuchi" 蛟 or 虯 was a river dragon and water deity. The "Nihongi" records legendary Emperor Nintokuoffering human sacrifices to "mizuchi" angered by his river engineeringprojects.These myths about Emperor Jimmu descending from Toyatama-hime evidence the folklore that Japanese Emperors are descendants of dragons. Compare the ancient Chinese tradition of dragons symbolizing the Emperor of China.
Dragons in later Japanese folklore were influenced from Chinese and Indian myths.
Kiyohime" 清姫 "Purity Princess" was a teahouse waitress who fell in love with a young Buddhist priest. After he spurned her, she studied magic, transformed into a dragon, and killed him.
Nure-onna" 濡女 "Wet Woman" was a dragon with a snake's body and a woman's head. She was typically seen while washing her hair on a riverbank and would sometimes kill humans when angered.
Zennyo Ryūō" 善如龍王 "goodness-like dragon king" was a rain-god depicted either as a dragon with a snake on its head or as a human with a snake's tail.
My Lord Bag of Rice, the Ryūō "dragon king" of Lake Biwaasks the hero Tawara Tōda 田原藤太 to kill a giant centipede.
Urashima Tarōrescued a turtlewhich took him to Ryūgū-jō and turned into the attractive daughter of the ocean god Ryūjin.
*Inari, the god of fertility and agriculture, was sometimes depicted as a dragon or snake instead of a fox.
Chinese dragon mythology is central to Japanese dragons. Japanese words for "dragon" are written with "
kanji" "Chinese characters", either simplified " shinjitai" 竜 or traditional " kyūjitai" 龍 from Chinese "long" 龍. These "kanji" can be read "tatsu" in native Japanese " kun'yomi" and "ryū" or "ryō" in Sino-Japanese " on'yomi".
Many Japanese dragon names are
loanwordsfrom Chinese. For instance, the Japanese counterparts of the astrological Four Symbols are:
*"Seiryū" < "Qinglong" 青龍 "
*"Suzaku" < "Zhuque" 朱雀 "
*"Byakko" < "Baihu" 白虎 "White Tiger"
*"Genbu" < "Xuanwu" 玄武 "
Black Tortoise"Japanese "Shiryū" 四竜 "4 dragon [kings] " are the legendary Chinese "Longwang" 龍王 " Dragon Kings" who rule the four seas.
*"Gōkō" < "Aoguang" 敖廣 "
Dragon King of the East Sea"
*"Gōkin" < "Aoqin" 敖欽 "
Dragon King of the South Sea"
*"Gōjun" < "Aorun" 敖閏 "
Dragon King of the West Sea"
*"Gōjun" < "Aoshun" 敖順 "
Dragon King of the North Sea"
Some authors differentiate Japanese "ryū" and Chinese "long" dragons by the number of claws on their feet. "In Japan," writes Gould (1896:248), "it is invariably figured as possessing three claws, whereas in China it has four or five, according as it is an ordinary or an imperial emblem."
World War II, the Japanese military named armaments after Chinese dragons. The "Kōryū" 蛟竜 < " jiaolong" 蛟龍 "flood dragon" was a midget submarineand the "Shinryū" 神竜 < " shenlong" 神龍 "spirit dragon" was a rocket kamikazeaircraft.
When monks (primarily from
China) introduced Buddhism in Japanthey transmitted dragon and snake legends from Buddhist and Hindu mythology. The most notable examples are the "nāga" ナーガ or 龍 " Nāga; rain deity; protector of Buddhism" and the "nāgarāja" ナーガラージャ or 龍王 ”Nāgaraja; snake king; dragon king". De Visser (1913:179) notes that many Japanese nāgalegends have Chinesefeatures. "This is quite clear, for it was via Chinathat all the Indian tales came to Japan. Moreover, many originally Japanese dragons, to which Chineselegends were applied, were afterwards identified with nāga, so that a blending of ideas was the result." For instance, the undersea palace where nagakings supposedly live is called Japanese "ryūgū" 龍宮 "dragon palace" from Chinese"longgong" 龍宮. Compare ryūgū-jō 龍宮城 "dragon palace castle", which was the sea-god Ryūjin's undersea residence. Japanese legends about the sea-god's tide jewels, which controlled the ebb and flow of tides, have parallels in Indian legends about the nāga's "nyoi-ju" 如意珠 " cintamani; wish-fulfilling jewels".
Some additional examples of Buddhistic Japanese dragons are:
*"Hachidai ryūō" 八大龍王 "8 great naga kings" assembled to hear the Buddha expound on the "
Lotus Sutra", and are a common artistic motif.
*"Mucharinda" ムチャリンダ "
Mucalinda" was the Nāga king who protected the Buddha when he achieved bodhi, and is frequently represented as a giant cobra.
Benzaiten弁才天 is the Japanese name of the goddess Saraswati, who killed a 3-headed Vritraserpent or dragon in the " Rigveda". According to the " Enoshima Engi", Benzaiten created EnoshimaIsland in 552 CE in order to thwart a 5-headed dragon that had been harassing people.
*Kuzuryū 九頭龍 "9-headed dragon", deriving from the multi-headed Naga king シェーシャ or 舍沙 "
Shesha", is worshipped at Togakushi Shrinein Nagano Prefecture.
Dragon lore is traditionally associated with Buddhist temples. Myths about dragons living in ponds and lakes near temples are widespread. De Visser (1913:181-184) lists accounts for
Shitennō-jiin Osaka, Gogen Temple in Hakone, Kanagawa, and the shrine on Mount Hakuwhere the " Genpei Jōsuiki" records that a Zen priest saw a 9-headed dragon transform into the goddess Kannon. In the present day, the Lake Saiko Dragon Shrine at Fujiyoshida, Yamanashihas an annual festival and fireworks show.
Temple names, like Japanese
toponyms, frequently involve dragons. For instance, the Rinzaisect has Tenryū-ji天龍寺 "Heavenly Dragon Temple", Ryūtaku-ji龍沢寺 "Dragon Swamp Temple", Ryōan-ji竜安寺 "Dragon Peace Temple". According to legend (de Visser 1913:180), when the Hōkō-ji 法興寺 or Asuka-dera飛鳥寺 Buddhist temple was dedicated at Narain 596, "a purple cloud descended from the sky and covered the pagoda as well as the Buddha hall; then the cloud became five-coloured and assumed the shape of a dragon or phoenix".
The "Kinryū-no-Mai" 金龍の舞 "Golden Dragon Dance" is an annual Japanese
dragon danceperformed at Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple in Asakusa. The dragon dancers twist and turn within the temple grounds and outside on the streets. According to legend, the Sensō Temple was founded in 628 after two fishermen found a gold statuette of Kannonin the Sumida River, at which time golden dragons purportedly ascended into heaven. The Golden Dragon Dance celebrates the temple founding and allegedly provides good fortune and prosperity.
Japanese dragons are associated with
Shinto shrinesas well as Buddhist temples. Itsukushima Shrineon Miyajima or ItsukushimaIsland in Japan's Inland Seawas believed to be the abode of the sea-god Ryūjin's daughter. According to the " Gukanshō" and " The Tale of Heike" (Heinrich 1997:74-75), the sea-dragon empowered Emperor Antokuto ascend the throne because his father Taira no Kiyomorioffered prayers at Itsukushima and declared it his ancestral shrine. When Antoku drowned himself after being defeated in the 1185 Battle of Dan-no-ura, he lost the imperial Kusanagisword (which legendarily came from the tail of the "Yamata no Orochi] " dragon) back into the sea. In another version, divers found the sword, and it is said to be preserved at Atsuta Shrine. The great earthquake of 1185 was attributed to vengeful Heike spirits, specifically the dragon powers of Antoku.
"Ryūjin shinkō" 竜神信仰 "dragon god faith" is a form of Shinto religious belief that worships dragons as water "
kami". It is connected with agricultural rituals, rain prayers, and the success of fisherman.
Dragons in modern culture
Dragons are a familiar motif in
Japanese art and architecture, literature, and popular culture. Some alphabetically-arranged examples include:
Chunichi Dragonsare a professional baseball team
*Dragon Ball is a
Dragon Warrioris a video game in the Dragon Questseries
Kamen Rider Ryuki(English Kamen Rider Dragon Knight) is an show in the Kamen Rider Series
* Long is the villian of the
GekirangerSuper Sentai series, americanized in as Dai Shi and Scorch.
King Ghidorahis a 3-headed golden dragon that has taken many forms in the kaijufilms, specificaly the Godzillaseries
*Manda is a dragon in kaiju films
*Nāsu ナース is a dragon robot in the
*"Ryū" 龍" or "" is a short story by
Other Asian dragons
*Aston, William George, tr. 1896. [http://www.sacred-texts.com/shi/nihon0.htm "Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697"] . 2 vols. Kegan Paul. 1972
*Chamberlain, Basil H., tr. 1919. [http://www.sacred-texts.com/shi/kj/index.htm "The Kojiki, Records of Ancient Matters"] .
*Gould, Charles. 1896. [http://books.google.com/books?id=YKEAAAAAMAAJ&dq=mythical+monsters|"Mythical Monsters"] . W. H. Allen & Co.
*Heinrich, Amy Vladeck. 1997. "Currents in Japanese Culture: Translations and Transformations". Columbia University Press.
*Ingersoll, Ernest. 1928. " [http://www.sacred-texts.com/etc/ddl/ddl11.htm Chapter Nine: The Dragon in Japanese Art] ", in "Dragons and Dragon Lore", Payson & Clarke.
*Smith, G. Elliot. 1919. " [http://fax.libs.uga.edu/BL313xS648/# The Evolution of the Dragon] ". Longmans, Green & Company.
*Visser, Marinus Willern de. 1913. [http://fax.libs.uga.edu/GR830xD7xV8/# "The Dragon in China and Japan"] . J. Müller.
* [http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/dragon.shtml Dragons, Dragon Art, and Dragon Lore in Japan] , A to Z Photo Dictionary of Japanese Buddhism
* [http://www.blackdrago.com/famous_japanese.htm Dragons of Fame: Japan] , The Circle of the Dragon
* [http://www.dragonorama.com/oriental/japanese.html The Japanese Dragon] , Dragonorama
* [http://eos.kokugakuin.ac.jp/modules/xwords/entry.php?entryID=795 Ryūjin shinkō] , Encyclopedia of Shinto
* [http://www2.gol.com/users/stever/spring.htm The Azure Dragon of the East] , Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara
* [http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/r/ryuu.htm Ryuu 龍] , Japanese Architecture & Art Net User System
* [http://www.kyohaku.go.jp/eng/dictio/data/senshoku/c_ryuho.htm Lucky Motifs on a Dragon Robe] , Kyoto National Museum
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