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Dragon Symbolism in Japan

What started out as native myths concerning the dragon would morph into a collection of mythological legends and folklore that included the tales of other cultures. The Japanese dragon plays an important role in religion of the country. They appear in the names of temples and are worshipped at shrines. Other information is found in this article, which focuses on dragon symbolism in Japan.

Japanese Dragon

Mythology and folklore associated with Japan are known to feature the dragon. The legends of the country have incorporated native tales with other stories that have originated in other countries, such as Korea and India. However, the style of the dragon heavily draws upon the Chinese dragon. Just like many other Asian dragon depictions, the Japanese saw the dragon as closely associated with water. They were linked to rainfall and bodies of water. The dragon of the Japanese was large with clawed feet, but did not have any wings.

The first time that dragons appeared in Japanese text dates back to 680 CE in the Kojiki, which offered a sort of myth slash history for the culture. The dragons were mentioned in many different contexts, but for the most part, they served as water-gods and serpents. A couple of ancient dragons that have appeared in some of the texts of the past include:

An “8-branched giant snake” called Yamata no Orochi possessed eight heads and eight tales. The dragon was killed by the god of wind and sea (Susanoo), who used the sword of the Imperial Regalia of Japan , which happened to be hidden in one of the dragon’s tails.

A ‘dragon god’ or ‘sea god’ named Watatsumi was known as the ruler of seas and oceans. It was mentioned that the dragon had the ability to change into the form of a human. His place of dwelling was in the undersea, which was called the “dragon palace castle.” It was here that the magical tide jewels were stored.

Dragon Temples and Shrines

In Japan, temples and shrines devoted to or associated with dragons were popular. Buddhist temples were often at the center of dragon lore, as myths would mention the ponds and lakes near temples served as a home for dragons. It was not uncommon for temples to bear a name linked to a dragon, such as the Dragon Swamp Temple or Heavenly Dragon Temple.

As for shrines, the Japanese dragons played a role for those following the Shinto faith. There was actually a religious belief that worshipped dragons as ‘water kami’ , which was heavily referred to during agricultural rituals, prayers for rainfall, and for the hope that fishermen would find success at sea.

Thanks to Chinese and Indian myths, the dragons that later appeared in Japanese folklore took on a different role. For example, a tale was told of a “Purity Princess,” who was a waitress at a teahouse that fell in love with a young Buddhist priest. However, after he neglected her interest, she took up magic as a way to get back at him. She wound up transforming him into a dragon, where she then killed him.