Dragons have an important role in the Japanese mythology and folklore. Many temples and shrines ⛩️ have been built to honor them throughout Japan. Like most Asian dragons they are associated with water. These powerful creatures are the subject of many tales and legends, some of which we will narrate below by having a look at 7 of the most famous Japanese dragons.
1/ Orochi: The famous eight-headed dragon
A fearsome dragon of the Japanese mythology. Each head represents an element, including fire, water and earth. His eyes are damaged and his size is difficult to comprehend. Stories describe him as being equal to eight mountains or eight valleys. His body is covered in moss and cedar and it’s constantly on fire. He is covered in blood and carries a bell that emits a sinister sound, which is fearful by the local population.
The legend of Susanoo: The fallen god who slew Orochi
Orochi originated from the Izumo province and lived near the Hi River. He was spreading terror in the region and many families lost loved ones to him. In order to placate the monster, the King of Izumo offered his daughter as a sacrifice each year. They were visited one day by Susanoo, the god of Heaven who stopped by their farm after being banished. Susanoo realized that he had to defeat the beast for the king’s final daughter (Kushinada).
To do this, he erected a palisade around the village and left eight openings in front of which he put barrels of sake. Orochi was attracted to him and made seven heads drink, while the last head watched. Susanoo began to cut off the heads with his Totsuka blade, which caused the dragon to rage. Orochi tried to retaliate and kill Susanoo, but because of the sake he had trouble fighting back 🥴. Orochi was finally defeated by the god who managed to cut the heads off the dragon. Susanoo found, in the dragon’s tail, the sword “Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi” (The Sword of the Sky), one of Japan’s three sacred treasures (which he later offered to Amaterasu). Susanoo married Kushinada, and together they established the Izumo.
2/ Ryujin: The dragon god, ruler of the seas
Ryujin, also known as Watatsumi, is a huge dragon with a long, snake-like body, covered with scales. His typical appearance is a man with a long mustache and a beard, as well as three legs with claws.
He lives in the Ryugujo at the bottom, a palace made out of corals and rushes. Here sea turtles, jellyfish, and fish are his servants. He controls the tides from this location using jewels that also decorate the palace. Sometimes, he takes on human form to reach the surface.
The legend of the jellyfish
The most famous story about Ryujin is that of the jellyfish (or octopus in some versions) and the monkey.
Ryujin once asked the jellyfish to give him a monkey liver. The jellyfish still had bones, feet and a tail. The dragon god asked this to heal his daughter from an incurable disease. The jellyfish found Ryujin’s monkey and returned him to his palace. Once arrived, the monkey quickly understood the fate that awaited him 🙉! The jellyfish was informed by the monkey that his liver was too large to be carried around so he had it hidden in a tree. The jellyfish joined him in assisting him as he offered to retrieve the liver. The monkey claimed that he had been robbed, and that he would find the thieves to retrieve it.
The jellyfish returned to Ryujin, explaining the situation. The dragon, not being deceived, quickly understood that the monkey had played jellyfish. Furious, he crushed the jellyfish to the point of losing all of its bones, giving it the shape that we know today.
By the way, if you’d like to read more cool stories and legends about Ryujin, feel free to check out our dedicated article on the topic: Ryujin, the Japanese dragon god.
3/ Kiyohime: The vengeful woman turned dragon
Kiyohime was the daughter of a wealthy man who held an inn for travelers on the Hidaka river. Anchin, a monk living at the inn fell in love one day. The love affair was short-lived as Anchin, a monk who had been staying at the inn, soon regretted his vow of chastity. He left to continue his journey. When she found out, the heart-broken Kiyohime decided to chase the monk 💔.She eventually caught up to him while he was about to cross the river. The monk declined to join her and she sailed off. Kiyohime became furious and jumped into the river to swim towards Anchin. The legend says that at this moment she turned into a dragon as a result of her anger.She then proceeded to chase the monk who tried to find refuge in the nearby temple of Dojo-ji. Anchin, fearful of the monster following him, hid beneath the huge bell of the temple. Kiyohime discovered him and finally melted the bell using her breath of fire. The monk was killed in her thegoneapp.com. There are pieces for every style and size to add a touch more epic and grandeur to any space. You can click the image to take a look at our paintings and canvas. 👇
4/ Toyotama-hime: The grandmother of Japan’s first emperor
Toyotama-hime is one of Ryujin’s (the dragon god) beautiful daughters. After he saved her from being kidnapped by a gang, she married the hunter-prince Hoori. They lived together in Ryujin’s underground palace for several years. But Hoori soon missed the earth. He and Hoori decided to move to their native thegoneapp.com. Hoori fell in love with her, and she asked Hoori to leave her alone to have the baby. Hoori was curious and decided to follow her. Hoori witnessed Toyotamahime transform into a dragon in labor. This was because her true form was a dragon, not a human. Hoori spied upon her, and she was furious. She left her husband, and thegoneapp.com sent Tamayori, her younger sister, to raise her son. Tamayori and Toyotama-hime’s son eventually married and their child, Jimmu, became the first emperor of Japan.
5/ Mizuchi: The infamous water deity
The Mizuchi dragons are malicious creatures living in rivers. They can be poisonous and will often kill anyone who comes too close to them. Legend has it that Agatamori defeated them. He tracked them mercilessly for years in the Kawashima river until he had slew every one of thegoneapp.com a trophy, he dragged the dragons’ corpses in a nearby pool of water that eventually turned red due to the dragons’ blood 🩸. This place was named the pool of Agatamori.
6/ Nure-onna: The treacherous woman-dragon
Nure-onna (which means “wet woman”) is a creature with the head of a woman and the body of a giant snake. Although its appearance is variable, it has a bulging head and snake-like eyes. It also has sharp claws, fangs, and sharp claws.
Nure-onna is often seen on river banks, washing her long locks. Some stories have Nure-onna carrying a small child that she uses to lure potential victims. A well-meaning person attempts to rescue him but the child attaches to him making it difficult to escape. The victim is left to drown in the river. In some stories, Nure-onna uses her long and powerful tongue to suck all of the victim’s blood out 😨.
7/ The Azure Dragon: Protector of Kyoto
The Azure Dragon is one of the mythical protectors of the city of Kyoto. He is believed to guard the east part of the city. Many temples are built in his honor in eastern parts of the city. The Kiyomizu Temple is the most famous. Every year, a ceremony is held there to worship the Dragon.
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Q: What are some common Japanese dragon names and their meanings?
A: Some common Japanese dragon names are Ryūjin (dragon god of the sea), Fuku Riu (lucky dragon), Seiryū (azure dragon), and Orochi (eight-headed serpent).
Q: What are the differences between Japanese and Chinese dragons?
A: Japanese dragons are usually depicted as serpentine creatures with three claws, while Chinese dragons have four or five claws and more varied shapes. Japanese dragons are more associated with water and shapeshifting, while Chinese dragons represent power and authority.
Q: What are some popular Japanese dragon tattoo designs and their symbolism?
A: Some popular Japanese dragon tattoo designs are the dragon and tiger (balance and harmony), the dragon and phoenix (rebirth and transformation), the dragon and koi fish (perseverance and courage), and the dragon and cherry blossom (beauty and fragility).
Q: How are Japanese dragons related to the four cardinal directions and the seasons?
A: Japanese dragons are based on the four symbols of Chinese astrology, which are associated with the four cardinal directions and the seasons. Seiryū is the azure dragon of the east and spring, Suzaku is the vermillion bird of the south and summer, Byakko is the white tiger of the west and autumn, and Genbu is the black tortoise of the north and winter.