Ryu – Meet 14 Japanese Dragons

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Dragons are mythological creatures from different cultures, the most famous being from China, Korea and India, but Japan also has its legends and stories of Dragons. In this article we will talk about Japanese dragons and some curiosities.

Dragons in Japan are called ryu [竜 or 龍] and the vast majority are related to water and not fire as some think. In addition to being aquatic, they often turn into humans or other things. Unlike Chinese dragons, they look like snakes and have crocodile-like heads.

Dragons are rarely mentioned in Japanese stories. Some say these dragon stories stem from sightings of huge fish that have grown disproportionately. Some are dragons imported from other cultures.

Ryujin – Sea Dragon God and His Daughters

Ryujin [龍神] is a Dragon god also known as watatsumi [海神] who lives in the ocean and appears in several Japanese myths. He turns into a human and stole priceless jewelry from a prince.

Ryu - 14 Japanese Snakes or Dragons

Legend has it that this prince falls in love with Princess Tamatori, who manages to steal her lover’s jewelry, but cuts off her breasts to keep the jewelry from the wrath of Ryūji Dragon, thus dying because of the wound.

The Ryujin is believed to live in an undersea palace called the Ryūgū-jō, where he kept the tidal jewels called the kanju. These magical jewels were used by Ryujin to control the tides.

Otohime, Toyotamahime and Kuniyoshi

Toyotama-hime is another daughter of the Dragon God Ryujin. Toyotama marries Prince Hoori, but returns to the sea when he breaks his vow not to spy on her.

Otohime is one of the most beautiful daughters of the Dragon God Ryujin. She is also the grandmother of Jimmu, Japan’s first emperor. She is present in the legend of Urashima Taro, a young fisherman who saved Otohime who was in the shape of a turtle.

Ryu - 14 Japanese Snakes or Dragons

Kuniyoshi – Another daughter of the Dragon God Ryujin, she observes a warrior named Hidesato who was not afraid of his Dragon form and then asks the warrior to kill a giant centipede.

Yamata no Orochi – 8-headed dragon

Yamata no Orochi [八岐の大蛇] is a dragon with 8 heads, 8 tails and red eyes with moss and trees on its back. It was so big that it occupied 8 valleys and 8 peaks. Also known as the Great Eight-headed Serpent (Dragon).

Annually the Orochi Dragon demanded the sacrifice of eight virgins. One day, one of the eight required virgins was Susano’s beloved. Considered god of thunder, Susanoo no Mikoto, with his sword, cut off every head of Orochi.

Ryu - 14 Japanese Snakes or Dragons

The sacred orb of life, the Magatama, fell from his womb, and a tear fell from the last severed head that became the mirror. Amaterasu took the Kusanagi dragon slaying sword, Izumo got the Magatama orb, and Princess Yata got the mirror.

These three objects are now known as “The Three Sacred Treasures of Japan” and are said to be preserved in the Tokyo Imperial Palace.

Kiyohime – angry lover

Kiyohime’s [清姫] family was wealthy and his father Shoji was head of the village. The family provided accommodation for priests and travelers. One day young Kiyohime fell in love with a traveling healer named Anchin.

Ryu - 14 Japanese Snakes or Dragons

Kiyohime and Anchin had a romance, but one day the healer lost interest in Kiyohime and tried to escape by the Hidaka River. Kiyohime’s anger was so great that she turned into a dragon and chased Anchin.

The healer tried to hide from Kiyohime’s anger inside an iron bell in a temple, but Kiyohime as a dragon wrapped himself around the bell, hit the bell several times and in the end gave a fire belch that melted the bell with Anchin inside it.

Seiryu – AZURE DRAGON AND THE 4 DRAGONS

There are two legends involving 4 protective creatures. In one of them the 4 creatures of green, red, black and white colors protect the Japanese cities, in another they are four dragons that protect the seas.

Ryu - 14 Japanese Snakes or Dragons

Azure Dragon is present in both. He is a green dragon of Chinese origin called the Qing Long. In China he is a symbol of Chinese constellations, but in Japan he is one of the four spirits that guard Japanese cities.

He is also called Seiryu, the protector of Kyoto or Eastern Japan. The West is protected by a White Tiger, the North by the Black turtle and the South by the Red Bird.

Other Japanese Dragons

There are many Japanese dragons that appear in legends and historical, cultural and religious records. Below we will briefly mention some popular Japanese dragons.

Mizuchi – another snake dragon

Mizuchi[蛟] is a Japanese aquatic dragon / snake and possibly a deity, mentioned in the chronicles of Nihon Shoki and in the poems Man’yōshū. Records mention human sacrifices made as an offering to the Mizuchi who inhabited the rivers.

Ryu - 14 Japanese Snakes or Dragons

Wani – The Crocodile Dragon

Wani [鰐] is a crocodile dragon or sea monster mentioned twice in Japanese legends. Wani may also be simply a crocodile, but in Japanese mythology it is categorized as a dragon.

Nure-onna – Yokai Serpent

Nure-onn [濡女]a is a yokai that resembles a snake that are the popular dragons of Japanese legends. Your difference is in the head of a woman. She is often seen in rivers and beaches washing her hair.

Zennyo Ryuo – Rain Dragon

Zennyo Ryuo – It is a rain dragon god mentioned in Buddhist stories and in the Imperial Palace of Kyoto. He is a small dragon that usually appears in human form, but with his dragon tail.

Ryu - 14 Japanese Snakes or Dragons

Kuraokami – The Snow Dragon

Kuraokami is referred to as the Dragon of Darkness, but he is also a Shinto deity of rain and snow. He was also born of Izanagi and Izanami as well as most Japanese dragons and deities.

Kuzuryu – The exorcised dragon

Kuzuryu is a dragon from the folklore of Nagano Prefecture in Japan. He is mentioned as a poisonous and ferocious dragon that lives in the lake, in which humans had to offer sacrifices. One day he was exorcised and became the local guardian.

Inari Ōkami – Divinity of Prosperity

This deity is very popular and has a mountain full of portals in Kyoto dedicated to Inari. She is often represented as a fox. She has also appeared as a snake or dragon in some accounts.

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