The Japanese Dragons: All You Need To Know!

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The Japanese Dragons: All You Need To Know!

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All you need to know about The Japanese Dragons

Ghosts, demons and spirits are the most popular creatures often associated with Japanese mythology, but are far from being the only creatures present.

A slightly lesser known entity is the Japanese dragon, which usually lives in the water and transforms into a magnificent man or woman.

Although dragons can also be iconic mythical creatures, few people are aware of their role in Japan's classic legends.

A common misconception of dragons is that they are all exactly the same throughout Asia. This statement may be true to some extent, but each country has essentially its own type of dragons.

Japanese temple dragon
Japanese dragon that sits above a temple

1. Overview of Japanese mythology and Japanese dragons

Japanese mythology uses Shinto, Buddhist and folk beliefs for its creative history and legends. When the universe was created, it is believed that several deities were also created and are collectively called kotoamatsukami.

After the formation of heaven and earth, seven generations of gods (individually called kami) emerged and were considered as kamiyonanayo or the Age of the Seven Generations of Gods. According to the myth of Japanese creation, the kamiyonanayo was composed of twelve gods, two of which served as initial individual kamis called hitorigami, while the other ten were in the form of couples, brothers and sisters or married.

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From these deities, many other gods and goddesses were born, as well as various creatures that served as guardians, messengers, warriors and enemies. Japanese dragons were unique in that they served as water gods who ruled the oceans. They fought with other gods, metamorphosed into human beings, or vice versa. They were also thought to mean wisdom, success and strength.

2. Dragons in Japan: Names, meanings and stories

Some of the first appearances of dragons in Japanese mythology took place in the Kojiki (680 AD) and Nihongi (720 AD).

Kojiki, also known as the Records of Ancient Matters or Furukotofumi, is a collection of myths related to the four islands of Japan.

Nihongi, also known as Nihon Shoki or The Chronicles of Japan, is a more detailed and elaborate historical document than Kojiki.

In both documents, the deities of water in the form of Asian snakes or dragons are mentioned repeatedly in many ways. These creatures are considered to be the indigenous dragons of Japan, the most popular being:

A. Yamata no Orochi: The eight-tailed, eight-headed dragon

Yamata no Orochi, or simply Orochi, was an eight-tailed, eight-headed dragon. Every year, he devoured one of the daughters of the kunitsukami, two earth gods. The legend begins by telling how Susanoo, the Shinto god of the sea and storms, was expelled from the sky because of her deceptions against Amaterasu, her sister and the sun goddess.

Near the Hi River (now called Hii River) in Izumo province, Susanoo met the kunitsukami, who was crying over the fact that they had to abandon a girl every year for seven years to please Orochi. And that they would soon sacrifice their last daughter, Kushi-nada-hime.

Yamata No Orochi

Celestial battle against the monster Yamata No Orochi

Susanoo offered to help save Kushi-nada-hime in exchange for her hand in marriage. The kunitsukami accepted and Susanoo turned their daughter into a comb before their eyes. Then he slipped it into his hair and asked the kunitsukami to prepare sake eight times and make eight cupboards, each with a bathtub filled with alcohol.

When Orochi appeared, Susanoo noticed that he had red eyes, an eight-fork tail, an eight-fork head, cypresses and fir trees growing on his back. The dragon's size extended over eight valleys and eight hills, as it crawled towards the homeland of the kunitsukami.

When he reached the bins, Orochi drank all the sake, got drunk and finally fell asleep. Susanoo took the opportunity to kill the dragon by cutting it into small pieces with her ten-sided sword. As Susanoo opened the dragon's tail, he found a sword inside that would later be called Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi. It is the same sword that Susanoo will finally give to Amaterasu as a reconciliation.

The sword, as well as a mirror and a jewel named respectively Yata no Kagami and Yasakani no Magatama, are considered as the royal imperial insignia of Japan.

B. Watatsumi: The god of the sea or king of the sea

Watatsumi, or Ryujin, was a legendary sea god and a Japanese dragon. Another name of this dragon is Owatatsumi no Kami, which means "the great god of the sea".

According to Japanese mythology, Watatsumi lived in a palace known as Ryugo-jo under the sea. It is believed that he was the guardian of the Shinto religion and would welcome humans to his kingdom if they fell into the sea. He and his many daughters have often appeared in various legends.

Watatsumi Tomb
The magnificent tomb of Watatsumi

A story in Kojiki tells how a man named Hoori lost his brother's hook in the sea and, while searching for him, met Otohime, a daughter of Watatsumi. Hoori and the dragon goddess married and lived in Ryugo-jo.

After three years, Hoori began to get homesick and wanted to live on land again, but was afraid to face his brother without his hook. Watatsumi confronted Hoori about what was bothering him and upon hearing his concerns, the water god summoned all the fish in the sea to ask if any of them had seen the hook.

Fortunately, one of the fish fell on the hook and caught it in the throat. It was washed and given to Hoori.

Watatsumi then asked Hoori to bring Otohime back to the land with him using a wani, another mythical dragon, which could be described as a sea monster.

In Nihongi, Watatsumi also appears in the accounts of Emperor Keiko and Emperor Jimmu. According to the texts, Emperor Keiko's army crossed difficult waters crossing the land between Sagami province and Kazusa province. This calamity was associated with Watatsumi, to whom human sacrifices had to be made to calm down.

Watatsumi is mentioned in the history of Emperor Jimmu because of his claim to be a descendant of Toyotama-hime, daughter of Otohime and Hoori.

C. Toyotama-hime - The princess of glowing pearls

As mentioned earlier, Toyotama-hime was a descendant of Watatsumi. She is also known as the lush princess and is mentioned in the legend known as the luck of the sea and the mountains. In this story, Toyotama-hime is not presented as the daughter of Otohime and Hoori, but rather assumes the role of Otohime herself.

Toyotama Hime
Madam Princess of the Pearls of Light

In addition, Watatsumi recognized Hoori as the descendant of another god and quickly organized a banquet for him. The same events of the two people who are getting married, have been living in Ryugo-jo for three years and are going back to the land remain true. Their life on earth is then told in detail.

When they were informed of their pregnancy, Hoori built a cabin where she could give birth. The goddess asked her husband not to attend the birth of their son, Ugayafukiaezu. But Hoori's curiosity led him to spy on his wife.

Surprisingly, instead of seeing Toyotama-hime, Hoori saw a wani resembling a crocodile rocking his son. Apparently, it was necessary for Toyotama-hime to give birth to change shape. She didn't want her husband to see her in this state.

Toyotama-hime caught Hoori spying on her and felt betrayed. Unable to forgive her husband, she decided to leave him and their son and return to Ryugo-jo. She then sent her sister, Tamayori, to Hoori to help raise Ugayafukiaezu.

Tamayori and Ugayafukiaezu eventually married and gave birth to a son, Jimmu.

D. Mizuchi - The four-legged dragon

Mizuchi was a water dragon who lived in the Kawashima River and killed transient travellers by spitting venom. Agatamori, an ancestor of the Kasa no omi clan, went to the river and challenged the dragon.

Agatamori threw three gourds (gourds) at the riverside that remained at the water's surface. He told Mizuchi to sink the water bottles or he would have to kill him.

The dragon turned into a deer to try to sink the calabashes but eventually failed. Agatamori then killed the dragon, as well as the other water dragons at the bottom of the river.

According to legend, the river turned red because of this massacre. The river was then referred to as the Pool of Agatamori.

E. Kiyohime - The Princess of Purity

Kiyohime, princess of purity
Kiyohime, or simply Kiyo, was the daughter of a village owner or chief known as Shoji. Their family was quite rich. It was responsible for receiving and housing itinerant priests.

Kiyohime's tale tells how a handsome priest named Anchin fell in love with the beautiful girl. But one day, he decided not to see her again. This sudden change was not welcomed by Kiyohime, who attacked the priest with anger.

The two men met on the Hidaka River, where Anchin asked for the help of a ferryman to cross the river. He also told the boatman not to allow Kiyohime to board a boat so he could escape.

After completing Anchin's plan, Kiyohime jumped into the Hidaka River and began swimming towards his boat. As she swam, her great rage turned her into a great dragon.

Anchin ran into a temple called Dojo-ji. He asked for help and protection. The priests of the temple hid it under a bell but Kiyohime was able to find it thanks to its smell.

She wrapped herself around the bell and hit it hard using her tail several times. Then she threw a large amount of fire, which eventually melted the bell and killed Anchin.

3. Japanese Dragons: The Art of Drawing

As far as Japanese art is concerned, or at least Japanese inspired, the use of dragons is quite common. Over the many years and countless legends, Japanese dragons have become the emblem of many concepts such as strength, wisdom, prosperity, longevity and luck.

Miyamoto Musashi kills a dragon

The way a dragon is represented in a drawing, painting or symbol contributes greatly to the meaning and general concept.

Here are some representations of dragons and their meanings:

  • Ouroboros which symbolizes the cycle of life.
  • A sleeping dragon that symbolizes a hidden power or force that manifests itself when needed.
  • A Gothic dragon that symbolizes man's primary instincts
  • A dragon and a snake symbolize the contradictory ideas of superstition and science.
  • A dragon's claw that symbolizes fearlessness and power.
  • A tribal dragon that symbolizes a deep connection with the culture of the tribe from which the name comes.
  • A flying dragon symbolizes progress and ascension.
  • A dragon skull symbolizes that a difficulty has been overcome.
  • A Yin-Yang dragon that symbolizes the right balance of power.
  • A dragon and a tiger that symbolizes the importance of having the brain and muscles.
  • A dragon and a moon symbolize the connection of consciousness with nature.
  • Finally, a fire dragon, which symbolizes passion, power and sexual desires.

4. Fan of Japan?

If, like the Dragon Clan, you are a fervent admirer of the Japanese Dragons, and of Japanese culture in general: we have what you need!

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