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Japanese dragon meaning and symbolism

The Japanese Dragon Meaning

here you find The Japanese Dragon Meaning

Far away from our fire-breathing Western dragon, the Japanese dragon remains a fascinating and emblematic creature of the Land of the Rising Sun. It occupies an important place in Asian mythology where many legends refer to this force of nature.

Are you ready to learn more about this majestic legendary animal?

The Japanese dragon, also called ryū (龍) or tatsu (竜), is a serpentine creature that has no wings, unlike the western dragon. A symbol of strength and power, it is respected and honored in Japan.

Let’s discover together the importance of the dragon in Japanese mythology, its origin, meaning and legends. But first of all, what can this oriental dragon look like? ?

Japanese Dragon Meaning

First of all, the Japanese dragon is known as one of the guardians of Buddhism. It appears in many religious buildings to protect deities, in the form of sculptures or paintings.

Animal of Chinese origin, the legends which accompany it came from China before spreading throughout Asia.

Did you know that the dragon has the particularity of possessing a sacred pearl, hidden in its throat, which gives it all these powers? Very appreciated by men, it brings happiness and wisdom to the one who holds it. ?

Japanese Dragon Portrait

Japanese Dragon Portrait
Illustration by Monanu on DeviantArt / Painting by Liu Yijun

This mythical animal has a long serpentine body covered with scales and devoid of wings. Its appearance resembles a crossbreeding of several animals with a reptile body, tiger legs, eagle talons, hairy camel head, ox ears and deer horns. His demonic eyes add to his ferocious look. However, unlike its Chinese cousin, the Japanese dragon has only three claws instead of five.

Before becoming a dragon, the creature goes through several stages of development that take thousands of years. It is first a snake ? before mutating into a carp and a few centuries later, it acquires its famous goatee before growing clawed legs and a tail. At the end of this long metamorphosis, it will develop horns to discern the sounds and finally, a crest allowing it to fly as an adult.

Known for its great longevity, this reptile lives mainly in the aquatic environment, which explains why it is often depicted in water through Japanese works.

According to Japanese mythology, this creature has the supreme power to metamorphose, to elongate its body or to become invisible. It can also take on human appearance.

If it can fly, it is not its main power because it is more like a snake than a bird. We are therefore quite far from the stereotype of the European dragon, hovering in the air, with its gigantic wings and spitting fire.

Japanese Dragon Origin

The Japanese dragon has its origin in the legends of the genesis of the universe. Shortly after the creation of heaven and earth, 7 generations of kami (gods) were born. The dragons would thus have appeared with other creatures to protect them, as guardians of the celestial deities.

In Japanese mythology, it is said that they reign over the oceans and fight to defend the gods.

Dragon-shaped fountain in a Japanese shrine. Photo by Lorenzo Lamonica.

There are 5 types of dragons :

– The celestial dragon, guardian of the kamis
– The spiritual dragon, god of wind and rain
– The land dragon, guardian of rivers and oceans
– The treasure-defending dragon that watches over the gemstones
– The imperial dragon, symbol of the Chinese dynasty

Japanese Dragon Symbol

Like nature, whose strength, power and unpredictability it embodies, this reptile can be dangerous to ordinary people.

However, the dragon is above all a sign of good omen and is generally benevolent. In addition, it brings happiness, wealth and success and symbolizes wisdom, perseverance and immortality in the Japanese mind.

In Japan, the dragon is implored to attract rain, which nourishes the land.

Japanese Dragon Legends

In the Kojiki, an ancient book published in the year 712, which contains many legends about the origin of Japan and Shinto deities, several myths revolve around the dragon. The most famous of them are certainly the legends of Yamata No Orochi and Watatsumi.

Yamata No Orochi Legend

yamata no orochi legend
Susanoo killing Yamata no Orochi by Utagawa Kuniteru / Illustration of Orochi by Goble Warwick

Yamata no Orochi also nicknamed Orochi was an evil creature with 8 tails and 8 heads that roamed near the Hi River in the city of Izumo. Each of his heads represented natural elements such as water, earth, wind, fire, lightning, light, darkness and poison. His red eyes reminded us of the color of blood. His body was so long that it spread out over 8 hills and 8 mountains. Impressive all the same!

On his back we could see cypress trees and moss and on his belly rivers of blood. Legend has it that every year this dragon used to devour a young girl. All the inhabitants of the Koshi province were afraid of this monster with ferocious cruelty.

One day when the king of Izumo was about to offer his eighth and last daughter as a sacrifice, to calm the beast, Susanoo, god of storms, proposed a pact: fight the dragon in exchange for the hand of the girl. Then, in order to protect her, he turned her into a comb.

In order to defeat the dragon, Susanoo had to trick her and put down 8 barrels of sake to fool her enemy. Irresistibly, Yamata no Orochi began to drink every last drop of this divine drink before falling asleep.

It is then that Susanoo threw herself on the monster to kill it by cutting one by one its 8 heads. While cutting up his rival, he found inside a sacred sword called Kusanagi no Tsurugi, which he later offered to his sister Amaterasu, goddess of the sun.

One can imagine that this story actually reflects the human sacrifices made in the past to appease the anger of the opposing tribes, and that the sword found in the dragon’s body represented the much hoped-for acquisition of a formidable weapon for overcoming a grueling battle.

Watatsumi Dragon Kingdom

watatsumi dragon kingdom
Illustration de Themimig sur DeviantArt

Watatsumi, also called Ryujin, is the dragon king and great god of the sea and oceans. This dragon is recognizable by his colossal size and long moustache. He is master of the tides and governs all aquatic species. Generous, the king welcomes shipwrecked people in his magnificent underwater palace.

One day, one of his ravishing daughters named Otohime met Hoori, a human who was wandering the sea in search of a hook. The two fell in love and decided to live together in Watatsumi Palace.

After several years, Hoori, suffering from boredom, wanted to come back to earth but he was afraid of his brother’s reaction when he learned that he had not found his hook. The king was gracious enough to summon the servants of his kingdom and ask them if they had seen the object he was looking for. Luckily, a fish had just swallowed it.

Hoori was able to return to his beloved land with his wife, the dragon goddess. According to legend, their grandson became the first emperor of Japan. This is why it is said that emperors are descendants of kamis.

Mythical Ryujin Dragon The Funny Story

mythical ryujin dragon the funny story

There is another legend featuring the sea god, Ryujin.

While his daughter was suffering from an incurable disease, Ryujin asked the jellyfish to bring him a monkey liver. At that time the mollusc still had bones and legs.

The jellyfish complied and went in search of the mammal. When she found the monkey, the monkey told her that its liver had been stolen. The jellyfish returned empty-handed to its king.

Ryujin quickly realized that the monkey had mocked them and, in a fit of anger, he crushed the jellyfish with all his weight. Since then, the jellyfish has resembled the mollusk we know today, flat and boneless. ?

Dragon In Japanese Culture

Every year in the spring, the Japanese honor the dragons in Tokyo during Kinryu no mai, a ceremony that takes place at Senso-ji of Asakusa, the oldest Buddhist temple in the capital.

A golden dragon parades around the religious building, carried by 8 dancers. Its body is 18 meters long and has no less than 8888 scales. That makes a lot of 8, all that! Not astonishing because it is a fetish number among the Buddhists. The golden dragon also makes its return in Tokyo on October 18 during the festival of the chrysanthemums.

dragon in Japanese culture
Dance of the golden dragon, Senso-ji temple in Tokyo.

If you visit this beautiful country that is Japan, keep your eyes wide open, you will probably see dragons in the Shinto buildings, located near the rivers.

On the other hand, Itsukushhima Shrine located on the sacred island of Miyajima and classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a remarkable place, very famous in Japan, where dragons are implored. Finally, if you visit a Zen Buddhist temple you will certainly see them on the ceilings.

Japanese Dragon Tattoo Meaning

The dragon is a very widespread tattoo theme throughout the world, thanks to its strong symbolism, mythical character, astrological connotation and majestic appearance.

We all agree that a dragon tattoo commands respect. Wise and benevolent, this mythical creature is nonetheless unpredictable and dangerous if you provoke it. You share the same character? Maybe this tattoo is made for you.

Young woman getting a tattoo of a Japanese dragon on her hand. Photo by Cottonbro.

Ryū The Famous Japanese Dragon

All these manifestations, legends, works and buildings in honor of the Japanese dragons show how this extraordinary creature has been rooted in Japanese culture for centuries.

From now on, you will be able to impress your friends by telling them the legend of Yamata no Orochi. ?

Are you fascinated by Japanese dragons and their symbolism? Let it be known by decorating your interior with this Japanese painting Dragon Ryu! And if you’re just as passionate about Japanese cuisine ?, opt for this Japanese Maki Attack noren, with its dragon made of maki.

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