Dragon in Japanese Culture
Dragons are back to popularity thanks to TV Series such as Games of Throne, or its newest spin off House of Dragon and we have a good view at one in the movies of Lords of the Ring Universe or even Dragon Ball. But besides these, dragons in Japan have a whole different signification.
In Japanese Dragons are called ryū (龍) or tatsu (竜), there are a snake-like creature without wings, contrary to the Western dragon. As a symbol of strength and power, the dragons are highly respected and honored in Japanese society.
The current style and appearance of the dragon is heavily influenced by its Chinese counterpart, especially the three-clawed long, after all dragons were introduced in Japan from China in ancient times.
Like these other East Asian dragons, most Japanese ones are water deities associated with rainfall and bodies of water
Japanese sea-dragon, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Japanese dragon, by Hokusai
This mythical animal has a long snake-like body covered with scales but no wings. Its appearance resembles a crossbreeding of several animals, with a reptile body, tiger paws, eagle talons, a hairy camel's head, ox ears and deer horns. Their demonic eyes add further grip to their fierce look.
Some authors attempted to differentiate Japanese ryū and Chinese long dragons by the number of claws on their feet. In 1886, Charles Gould wrote that in Japan, the dragon 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". A common belief in Japan is that the Japanese dragon is native to Japan and is fond of travelling gaining claws as it walked further from Japan; e.g. when it arrived in Korea, it gained 4-claws; and when it finally arrived to China, it gained five-claws. However, contrary to the Japanese belief that the three-clawed dragons also originated from China and was introduced in Japan. The three-clawed dragons were the Chinese dragons used in China in the earlier times and were the principal form of dragons which were used on the robes of the Tang dynasty. When the Chinese dragons were introduced in Japan, they still had three claws. Three-clawed dragons were seldom used after the Song dynasty and were later found in four or five claws in China; the three-clawed dragons were briefly revived in the Qing dynasty.
Japanese dragons are mostly associated with Shinto shrines as well as some Buddhist temples.
Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima or Itsukushima Island in Japan's Inland Sea was 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 Antoku to ascend the throne because his father Taira no Kiyomori offered 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 Kusanagi sword (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.
The Importance of the dragon in Japanese culture:
Each year, during spring, the Japanese honor the dragons at Kinryu no mai in Tokyo, a ceremony that takes place in Senso-ji of Asakusa, the most ancient Buddhist temple of the capital.
A golden dragon, carried by 8 dancers, parades around the religious building. Its body measures 18 meters long and possesses no less than 8888 scales. Many 8s - which is not surprising as it is a fetish number among Buddhists. The golden dragon also makes its return in Tokyo on October 18 during the celebration of chrysanthemums.
What Are Japanese Dragons Called?
There are a number of different dragons in Japanese mythology but there are some that are extremely well-known. Some of them include:
Ryu Jin or Ryu Wo
This dragon is known to originate from Shinto, Japan’s traditional religion.
It's considered to be a dragon king of a kingdom of serpent people residing under the sea.
It is believed that this dragon ruled a spectacular palace of coral and crystal and has a human body with a serpent entwined in his crown.
Ryu Jin is particularly known for its wisdom and nobility and as a guardian of the Shinto faith.
It is believed that people who have fallen into the sea have continued to live their lives in the kingdom of Ryu Wo.
Ryu Jin's submarine palace is often referred to as Ryugo-Ju. Its messenger is named Riuja, a small white serpent who has the face of an ancient man.
This dragon is considered as the guardian of the Eastern signs of the Japanese Zodiac.
The Chinese characters that make up the name of this dragon can be read separately as ging.
That means either young or green and long meaning dragon.
In Japanese, the characters that make up the name of this dragon can be read as aoi for blue-green and ryu for the dragon.
Other Main Dragons
While the above two are the commonly known and popular dragons in Japanese mythology, there are more which include:
Sui Riu: A rain dragon and when in pain can cause red-colored rain which signifies its blood.
Han Riu: This is a striped dragon with nine different colors. Even though this dragon is known to be 40 feet long, it is said that it can never reach heaven.
Ka Riu: This is a small seven feet long dragon and is said that this dragon is scarlet, fiery red. Some even claim that its entire body is in flames.
Ri Riu: This dragon is known for its phenomenal sight as it can see more than 100 miles away.
Fuku Riu: This is a Japanese dragon known to give good luck. It is always depicted as an ascending creature since an ascending dragon is considered a sign of good luck in Eastern culture.
Benten: This is a Japanese Goddess who rides on a nameless dragon. She is known to descend to Earth frequently to put a stop to evil doings caused by other dragons.
Kiyo: According to legend, Kiyo was originally a beautiful waitress. She turns into a dragon to seek revenge on the priest that lost his passion for her.
Uwibami: This is a huge fearsome flying beast that snatches and devours men right off the back of the horse.
Kinryu: This is a golden dragon.
Yamata-no-Orochi: This is an eight-headed dragon.
O Goncho: This is a white dragon that typically indicates a famine.
While there could be some of you who may be sceptical about Japanese dragons, we believe that its symbolism is more than enough to inspire all of us in our lives and to learn from them.
In a way, these creatures are doing what the legend claims them to do and that is to impart wisdom to those who believe in them.
Our dragon collection is inspired by them for you.
If you wants to read more about famous dragons click here
Dragon Eye by dgim-studio on Freepik