The Japanese dragon , also known as ryū (龍) or tatsu (竜) is a mythical animal of Japan . It is a legendary monster very famous in Japanese folklore and mythology . Omnipresent in Japanese culture, the stories and legends about it are strongly associated and mixed with Chinese and Korean beliefs. 🐉

Unlike the European dragon, the Japanese dragon is a benevolent animal that does not breathe fire. 🔥 Its physical appearance strongly resembles that of the Chinese dragon. The Japanese dragon is described as being a serpentine creature without wings and having legs with three claws . In Japan, the term used to designate the Japanese dragon is ” Nihon no ryū ” (日本 の 竜).

In the land of the Rising Sun, dragons are aquatic deities whose powers are linked to water and weather. The Japanese dragon symbolizes strength and wisdom , it is a very powerful emblem in Japan. Let’s discover without further delay the meaning of the Japanese dragon, its origin , its place in Japanese mythology and culture, as well as the traditions dedicated to its image in Japan. ⛩️

MEANING OF THE JAPANESE DRAGON

The meaning of the Japanese dragon is the result of myths and stories that have formed a complex belief system within Japanese society . For many years and through the legends, Japanese dragons have become a symbol of strength, wisdom, prosperity, longevity and luck. 🍀

The Japanese dragons are the ancestors of the first emperor of Japan, Jinmu . They therefore also symbolize royalty, imperial power, honor and prestige. These traits and qualities are in the image of the former ruler of Japan, they represent the heritage. However, the meaning of the Japanese dragon gradually loses its symbolic character of yesteryear and instead turns to a decorative function like art.

Meaning of the Japanese dragon

JAPANESE DRAGON SYMBOLISM

The Japanese dragon has been an integral part of Japanese culture for many years, it represents balance , prosperity and auspiciousness . He is also known for his supernatural powers and wisdom. Many people choose the dragon to illustrate their life.

In Japan, the dragon is a protector and benefactor of humanity. The Japanese have great admiration for this divine being who is a symbol of power , good fortune and prosperity . Representations of her are used during Japanese customs such as festivals and commemorations. It is not uncommon to see Japanese temples and shrines decorated with dragon-shaped carvings.

Japanese dragon statue Kyoto temple

Therefore, under the eye of the Japanese, the dragon is first and foremost the rain deity . Dragons carved from iron or wood in various temples in almost all prefectures of Japan help remind us of the desire for auspicious time and fertility for the lands of Japan. The Japanese dragon is a symbol of good omen , it is seen as a favorable sign in the life of the Japanese.

MEANING OF THE COLORS OF THE JAPANESE DRAGON

As you may know, the colors of the Japanese dragon have a special meaning. In general, a Japanese dragon tattoo represents strength, courage and wisdom, but also balance and freedom. However, when mixed with other elements and colors, it tends to represent other attributes. Here is the meaning of the colors of the Japanese dragon :

  • The Japanese Black Dragon symbolizes knowledge and wisdom.
  • The Japanese Green Dragon symbolizes life and nature.
  • The Japanese Golden Dragon embodies wisdom, kindness and helpfulness.
  • The Japanese Blue Dragon embodies laziness, compassion and forgiveness.
  • The Japanese Yellow Dragon represents self-centeredness and kindness.
  • The Japanese White Dragon represents mourning and death.
  • The Japanese Red Dragon personifies passion and self-sacrifice.
Japanese dragon color

JAPANESE DRAGON TATTOO MEANING

The Japanese dragon is a design widely used in the world of tattooing. There is a wide variety of stylistic representations of the Japanese creature. Some are traditional while others have a more modern design . So, what does the Japanese dragon tattoo mean?

Very popular with both men and women, the Japanese dragon tattoo symbolizes power and luck. However, it can appear complex, as it covers a wide range of meanings that differ depending on its aesthetics and association with other animals:

  • The Japanese dragon associated with a koi carp symbolizes perseverance and willpower. Together they allude to the legend of the koi fish, which represents transformation and rebirth. 🐟
  • The Japanese dragon associated with the tiger symbolizes the balance of forces. Their opposite nature means that together they bring harmony to an opposite world (yin yang). 🐅
  • The Japanese Dragon associated with the phoenix symbolizes stability and duality. The dragon representing the male side (yang) and the phoenix embodying the female side (yin). 🐦
  • The Japanese Dragon associated with the snake symbolizes healing and protection. It can be the consequence of an event that its wearer has overcome. 🐍
Japanese dragon tattoo

WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF THE JAPANESE DRAGON?

The Japanese dragon derives its origin from China and India, more precisely from Confucianism and Mahāyāna Buddhism. During the Nara period (710–794 AD), Japanese people who went to study in Chang’an, China, introduced the dragon symbol to Japan. During the reign of the Tang Dynasty (ninth century AD), it was common to see dragons on buildings and in Chinese art. 🖋️

In Japanese history , it was during the Muromachi period (1336-1573) that the popularity of the Japanese dragon increased, especially in Buddhist architecture and paintings. Subsequently, Shintoism (kami no michi) took over Buddhist traditions. This Japanese religion, also called “Shintô” (the way of the spirits), aimed to break away from Buddhism imported from China to Japan. ⛩️

Japanese dragon

This current of thought which reinforces beliefs in the existence of spirits and deities becomes a state religion during the Meiji era (1868-1912). Among the main Kamis (Japanese deities) is Ryūjin , the dragon god of the sea. The Japanese dragon is often assimilated as a symbol of the emperor or a hero. 🐉

There is a legend related to the Japanese dragon that speaks of a Buddhist temple named Hōkō-ji (or Asuka-dera), which is located in Nara Prefecture in Japan. During its inauguration in 596, a purple cloud descended from the sky covered the pagoda as well as the Buddha room. The number of colors of the cloud increased to five, then it took the form of a dragon.

Japanese dragon origin

JAPANESE DRAGON NAME

In Japanese folklore, there are many names of Japanese dragon . One of the most important is Ryūjin (龍神), the god of the sea who is also called the Japanese dragon god (kami, 神), he is from Shintoism. Let’s discover together the meanings behind the name of the main Japanese dragon recognized in Japanese culture:

  • Dragon Sui-Ryu : a rain dragon that causes red rain, colored by its blood when in pain.
  • Han-Ryu Dragon : A multicolored species of dragon that is described as over twelve meters long and striped in nine different colors. According to legend, no matter how hard he tried, he never knew how to reach the heavens.
  • Dragon Ka-Ryu : a small red dragon that is only two meters long. Ka-Ryu is said to be scarlet, fiery red. According to some sources, his body is all on fire.
  • Dragon Ri-Ryu : a formidable dragon with extraordinary visual acuity. It is said that he can see over 160 km.
  • Dragon Fuku-Ryu : This is the Japanese dragon of good fortune. It is likely that he is depicted as “ascendant”, since an ascending dragon is a sign of luck in Eastern culture.
  • Hai-Riyo Dragon : This chimeric being has the body, claws and wings of a bird, as well as the head of a dragon. Hai-Riyo is one of the most evolved forms of Japanese dragon.
  • Dragon Kin-Ryu : a golden dragon. It is considered to be of lesser importance compared to other Japanese dragons.
Japanese dragon name

The Japanese dragon is everywhere, it is present on the engravings of tombs, temples, dwellings and shops. It even appears on government documents, banknotes. It is on new coins, in pictures and books, on musical instruments, in high relief on bronzes and stone carvings.

PHYSIOGNOMY OF THE TRADITIONAL JAPANESE DRAGON

Recall that like other East Asian dragons, most Japanese dragons are deities associated with precipitation and water masses. They are usually depicted as large serpentine creatures, without wings, with clawed legs.

Japanese dragons, just like Chinese dragons, are said to be made up of many different types of animals from Earth. Here are the animals that make up the body of the Japanese dragon:

  1. The head: camel (camelid)
  2. The scales: carp (fish)
  3. The horns: deer (cervid)
  4. Eyes: hare / rabbit (leporidae / lagomorph)
  5. Ears: beef / cow / bull (domestic cattle)
  6. The neck: snake (reptile)
  7. The belly: frog (batrachian)
  8. Legs: tiger (feline)
  9. Claws: eagle (raptor)
Japanese dragon physiognomy

In the universe of Japan, the dragon results from the fusion of these animals filled with positive symbolisms. The body of the Japanese dragon can expand and contract at will. Some of them would even have the ability to transform into human beings or become invisible.

Due to the age of the stories and legends about the Japanese dragon, this list of physical attributes is not exhaustive. On the other hand, here is a collection of the most common characteristics found in the Japanese dragon in Japanese myths and folklore:

  • They dwell in the water and the palaces under the sea. 🌊
  • They are able to fly even without wings.
  • They have antlers or antlers.
  • Calls are made to Japanese dragons to cause rain. 🌧️
  • They have a long, slender body with four limbs and three claws on each paw.
  • They have a man’s hair or a man’s beard.
Japanese dragon

THE GODS IN JAPANESE MYTHOLOGY

The Japanese mythology is based on the Buddhist myths , Shinto and traditional to describe the history of its creation and the legends who succeeded him. During the founding of the universe, it is believed that different deities arose and were collectively baptized kotoamatsukami. Once the sky and the earth were constituted, seven generations of gods (named kami) emerged. They are considered “Kamiyonanayo” (Age of the Seven Generations of Gods).

Japanese mythology gods

According to Japanese creation mythology, the Kamiyonanayo consisted of twelve gods. Among them, three kami had come to exist on their own, they are called “Hitorigami”. The most emblematic being Izanagi and Izanami . The other nine manifested themselves in the form of male-female pairs, either brothers and sisters or married couples.

Izanagi and Izanami

From these entities, many gods and goddesses were born, as well as various creatures who served them as guardians, messengers, warriors and enemies. Japanese dragons were unique, these water gods ruled the oceans, fought other gods, transformed into humans. They are credited with the symbols of wisdom, success and strength.

THE DRAGON IN JAPANESE MYTHOLOGY

Some of the earliest appearances of dragons in Japanese mythology occurred in the Kojiki (680 AD) and Nihongi (720 AD). The Kojiki, commonly known as Furukotofumi, is a set of various myths, linked to the four islands of Japan. The Nihongi, also called Nihon Shoki or Chronicles of Japan, is a more complete and detailed historical work than the Kojiki. In these two texts, aquatic deities in the form of snakes or dragons are mentioned repeatedly and in several ways. These creatures are considered the traditional Japanese dragons . Below is the story of these Japanese dragons.

Japanese mythology dragon

YAMATA NO OROCHI

Yamata no Orochi (八 岐 大蛇) was named the giant eight-headed serpent, or just Orochi , was an eight-headed, eight-tailed dragon who every year devoured one of the daughters of the kunitsukami, two earth gods. The legend begins by describing how Susanoo , the Shinto god of sea and storms, was banished from the heavens for his tricks against Amaterasu , his sister and the sun goddess.. Near the Hi River (now known as Hii River) in Izumo Province, Susanoo came across the kunitsukami, who were lamenting that they had to sacrifice a girl every year for seven years to please Orochi and that they would soon have to sacrifice their last daughter, Kushi-nada-hime.

Yamata no Orochi

Susanoo offered to help save Kushi-nada-hime in exchange for her hand in marriage. The kunitsukami approved and Susanoo turned their daughter into a comb in front of their eyes. Then he slipped it through his hair and told the kunitsukami to make him an eightfold sake and build him eight cupboards, each with a barrel full of alcohol. When Orochi arrived, Susanoo saw that he had red eyes, a tail, and one to eight pitchforks. Growing cypress and fir trees on its back. The dragon’s waist spanned eight valleys and eight hills as it crawled towards the homeland of the kunitsukami. 🐉

8 Headed Dragon Yamata no Orochi

Arriving in the thermal baths, Orochi consumed all the sake, got drunk and fell asleep. Susanoo took the opportunity to kill the dragon using her ten-toothed sword to slice it into small pieces. Opening the tail of the dragon , Susanoo found a sword inside, which would later be called the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi , the same sword that Susanoo would later give to Amaterasu as a token of reconciliation. The sword, along with a mirror and a piece of jewelry called Yata no Kagami and Yasakani no Magatama , respectively, are considered the imperial symbols of Japan .

RYŪJIN

Ryūjin (海神) nicknamed the god of the sea or Watatsumi , was a legendary water god and a Japanese dragon in the universe of Japanese mythology. Another nickname for the dragon is Ōwatatsumi no kami , which means “the great god of the sea”. According to Japanese mythology, Ryūjin occupied a palace known as Ryūgū-jō under the sea. He is believed to be the guardian of the Shinto religion and that he received humans into his kingdom if they fell into the sea. sea. He and his countless daughters have made multiple appearances in different legends.

Japanese Ryūjin Mythology

An account in the Kojiki relates how a man named Hoori lost his brother’s hook in the sea. While looking for it, he encountered Otohime , a daughter of Watatsumi. Hoori and the dragon goddess soon married and established their residence in Ryūgū-jō. After three years, Hoori felt homesick and wished to live on dry land again, but was afraid to face his brother without his hook. Watatsumi confronted Hoori about what was bothering him and understanding his concerns, the water god summoned all the fish in the sea to ask if any of them had seen the hook. Miraculously, one of them got it stuck in his throat. It was collected, washed and given to Hoori.

Ryūjin dragon

Watatsumi ordered Hoori to bring Otohime back to earth with him using a wani, another mythical dragon , described as a sea monster. In Nihongi, Watatsumi also makes an appearance through Tales of Emperor Keiko and Emperor Jimmu . According to the writings, the army of Emperor Keiko passed through difficult waters crossing the land between Sagami Province and Kazusa Province. This calamity was associated with Watatsumi, who had to be provided with human sacrifices to be blessed. Watatsumi is mentioned in the story of Emperor Jimmu because he claims to be a descendant of Toyotama-hime, the daughter of Otohime and Hoori.

OTOHIME

Otohime (豊 玉 姫) is the dragon goddess, as stated before, she is the descendant of Ryūjin. She is also known as the “Princess of Luxurious Jewels” and appears in the legend named “Luck of the Sea and Luck of the Mountains”. In this tale, Toyotama-hime is not introduced as the daughter of Otohime and Hoori, instead, she takes on the role of Otohime herself. Additionally, Ryūjin recognizes that he is another god’s heir and immediately arranges a banquet for him.

Toyotama-hime

The same events, namely that the two got married, lived in Ryūgū-jō for three years, and returned to the land, hold true. Their earthly life is then traced in detail. When the news of their pregnancy is announced, Hoori builds a cabin for Toyotama-hime where she will be able to give birth to their child. The goddess asked her husband not to attempt the birth of their son, Ugayafukiaezu, but Hoori’s curiosity led him to spy on his wife.

Toyotama-hime dragon

Oddly enough, instead of seeing Toyotama-hime, Hoori spotted a crocodile-like wani cradling his son. Obviously, for Toyotama-hime to be able to give birth to her son, she had to transform into a wani and she did not want her husband to judge in this state. Toyotama-hime caught Hoori watching her. Betrayed, she could not forgive the latter, she chose to leave them, him and their son, by returning to Ryūgū-jō. She sent her sister, Tamayori, to Hoori to help her raise Ugayafukiaezu . Tamayori and Ugayafukiaezu eventually got married and gave birth to a son, Jimmu. 🐉

MIZUCHI

Mizuchi (蛟 or 虯) nicknamed the hornless dragon, was a water dragon that occupied the Kawashima River and murdered travelers by spitting venom at them. Agatamori , ancestor of the Kasa no Omi clan, went to the river and challenged the dragon. Agatamori threw three gourds (gourd-shaped fruit) into the river which remained on the surface of the water. He asked Mizuchi to pour out the gourds, otherwise he might have to kill him.

Mizuchi

The dragon turned into a deer in an attempt to drown the gourds, but never succeeded in meeting the challenge. Therefore, Agatamori 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 all those slaughtered dragons. Since then, the river has been called the Pond of Agatamori.

Mizuchi dragon

KIYOHIME

It was believed that Kiyohime (清 姫) also called “Princess Kiyo”, or more simply Kiyo , was the daughter of a lord or the village chief named Shoji. Their family was relatively wealthy and devoted themselves to receiving and housing priests on pilgrimage. The legend of Kiyohimetells us that a charming priest named Anchin fell in love with the attractive young girl, but ended up overcoming her impulses and preferred to refrain from meeting her again. This sudden turnaround was not well received by Kiyohime, who attacked the priest with ardor. Crossing over the Hidaka River, Anchin enlists the help of a boatman to cross the river. He tells the boatman not to let Kiyohime board a boat so that he can escape.

Kiyohime

Understanding Anchin’s plan, Kiyohime dove into the Hidaka river and began to steer his boat swimming. While swimming, his great rage transformed him into a great dragon. Anchin took refuge in a temple known as Dojo-ji and sought assistance and protection. The temple priests hid him under a bell, but Kiyohime was able to locate him by his scent. She wrapped herself around the bell and banged on it loudly using her tail a few times. Then, she spat out a large amount of fire, which eventually melted the bell and killed Anchin. 🐉

Kiyohime dragon

WANI

The appearance of the Wani (わ に) called “the sea dragon” is that of a monster living in deep waters. Wanis have long, serpentine bodies, fins, and can breathe air and water. The Wani are able to transform into humans, and there are even stories of Wani and humans falling in love. Notably, one of the most famous wani legends is the story of Toyotama-hime, the daughter of Ryūjin.

Wani dragon

Behavior : The Wani are rulers of the oceans and gods of the sea. They live in splendid coral palaces at the bottom of the ocean. The Wani have a complex political hierarchy that mirrors that of the surface world. There are kings and queens, princes and princesses, courtesans, servants. Ōwatatsumi, also known as Ryūjin, is the tallest of them. He rules the sea from his Ryūgū-jō palace. It controls the ebb and flow of the ocean with the help of the jewels of the tide that are kanju and manju.

Wani dragon

Origin : The Wani appear in the earliest written records of Japanese myths, the Kojiki and the Nihon shoki. Their stories almost certainly date back to even more distant times, in the mists of prehistoric times. Scholars disagree on whether the earliest wani legends originated in Japan or were imported from other cultures, citing similarities between wani and Long Chinese or Indian Naga. The wani play an important role in Japanese mythology, especially in the mythological foundation of Japan.

Wani dragon

NURE-ONNA

Appearance : The Nure-onna  (濡 女), also called “the drenched woman” is a vampiric sea ​​serpent that haunts shores and rivers in search of humans to devour. They are most commonly found on the shores of Kyushu Island. There are stories of nure-onna encounters ranging from Niigata prefecture to Fukushima prefecture. There are two variations of this youkai :

  • One without arms, resembling a huge sea serpent with a woman’s head
  • One with arms, humanoid type.
Nure-onna

Other than this difference, both look the same and act exactly the same. Their faces are hideous and reveal snake characteristics like a forked tongue . They have long dark hair that sticks to their dripping bodies. Their name comes from the fact that they always seem soaked.

Interactions : Although physically much stronger than a human, the nure-onna prefer not to use brute force and use cunning to grab their prey. They most often appear near water, on a coast or by a river. Nure-onna magically disguises herself as a woman in distress carrying a baby wrapped in her arms. They cry out for help from fishermen, sailors or anyone passing through.

Nure onna

When the prey approaches, the nure-onna pleads with her victim to hold her baby for a moment so that she can rest. If he accepts and takes the bundle, the “baby” becomes as heavy as a rock. Making the person still. The nure-onna is then free to attack its helpless victim, draining and feeding on its blood with its long serpentine tongue. Nure-onna often appear together and cooperate with ushi oni , as they live in the same environments and share the same diet.

ZENNYO RYŪŌ

Zennyo Ryūō (善 女 竜 王) nicknamed “The Sovereign Dragon” is a dragon from Japanese mythology . Other spellings and variations of the name include Zennyo Ryuo, Zen-nyo-ryu-o, Zentatsu, and Zen-tatsu. A common description of Zennyo Ryūō in the stories of Shinsen’en is that he is a small dragon (about two meters long) with a small golden serpent on his head. He is also able to appear in human form. However, his dragon tail remains visible.

Zennyo Ryūō

Most stories agree that Zennyo Ryūō preferred to live in ponds and lakes. He often received prayers and offerings to produce rain. Zennyo Ryūō was originally described as living in a pond at Mount Muro. A shrine was built for this dragon king sometime after AD 781-783. This shrine was used to make offerings to Zennyo Ryūō in exchange for rain. Twin dragon models made from materials like straw and reeds are one such offering. Other sources claim that Zennyo Ryūō was originally one of the dragon kings (or naga) of Anavatapta Pond, the place in the Himalayas where many rivers originate.

Zennyo Ryūō

Originally, Shinsen’en (or Shinzen’en) was a garden used by the wealthy for entertainment. In times of drought, the pond water had been given to farmers so that they could irrigate their land, meaning that the pond already had a connection to the water supply. Zennyo Ryūō’s gesture has been attributed to the Shingon Buddhist monks, who performed rituals invoking the appearance of the dragon. The monks became responsible for the rain rituals necessary to persuade or coerce Zennyo Ryūō to provide the rain. The observations of these monks showed that Zennyo Ryūō was a golden dragon with a serpent on his head.

HOW TO WRITE DRAGON IN JAPANESE?

En japonais, le dragon est “ryū” (ou “ryuu”, ce sont les mêmes) et le kanji est 竜 en écriture shinjitai, ou 龍 en écriture traditionnelle (kyuujitai). Les dragons peuvent également être appelés “tatsu“, bien que le “ryū” soit plus courant. Le mot “ryū” est dérivé du chinois, tandis que le mot “tatsu” est dérivé du japonais ancien. Les termes “ryū” et “tatsu” sont utilisés pour désigner les dragons d’Asie de l’Est, ceux de la Chine et du Japon. ✍🏼

There are several ways to say dragon in Japanese , depending on the type of dragon you are referring to. Below you will find variations of the word dragon in Kanji . As for the pronunciation, trust the word in parentheses, and set the tone.

KANJI DRAGON IN JAPANESE

What is dragon kanji in Japanese ? There are two ways to write it. The easier to remember and the more recent of the two (denotes western dragons) is an English imprint word, it is as follows:

  • ド ラ ゴ ン(doragon) = Western Dragon

Many of these loan words sound like their English counterparts, but with a Japanese accent. If you must have heard it if you watch animes. This katakana version of the word is primarily used for the European style of dragons. Here is the second:

  • (ryū) = Dragon (The dragon of Hokusai)
Dragon in Kanji

It is the older and more common of the two names. You will most likely use this version when speaking dragons in Japanese. Some of the compound words that use the kanji for dragon are:

  • 竜 王(Ryūō) = Dragon King
  • 竜 神(Ryūjin) = dragon god
  • 竜 宮(Ryūgū-jō) = Underwater Palace of the Dragon God
  • 竜 座(Ryūza) = Draco the dragon (the constellation)
  • 日本 の 竜(Nihon no ryū) = Japanese Dragons

Finally, the Indian dragons or Nāga, from Hindu and Buddhist tales, are calledナ ー ガ(nāga).

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CHINESE AND JAPANESE DRAGON

In China as in Japan, the dragon is one of the most significant symbols of culture and religion. Studying each culture’s perception of this ancient mythological creature is essential to understanding Japanese and Chinese political history, science, and many other aspects. Japanese dragon mythology mainly derives from Chinese traditions, which makes the difference between Chinese and Japanese dragon very difficult to notice.

Difference between Chinese and Japanese dragon

Unlike Western dragons, Japanese and Chinese dragons generally appear as snake-like creatures. Japanese dragons have a slim body with a large head, while Chinese dragons have a larger body, but a smaller head. Both types of dragon do not have wings. Chinese dragons always have five fingers or claws (except the Imperial dragon which has four), while Japanese dragons only have three.

This is the end of the article on the Japanese dragon, I hope he will have you more, do not hesitate to comment and to appropriate one of these superb dragon incense holders. It infuses soothing and de-stressing aromas into your home.

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