Traditional Chinese dragon painting

The Japanese Dragon

 

Japanese Dragon have appeared in the mythology since immemorial times.

They are fascinating creatures with a much larger background than Western books and films often show.

Asian dragons are closer to the figure of the gods. They are not simply beasts, but their powers and dimensions elevate some of them to the point of turning them into divinities.

Added to this is the duality that while western dragons tend to spit fire, Asian dragons tend to be more related to water.

 

Famous Japanese Dragons

It can be difficult to identify at first whether a dragon is Japanese or not.

As a general rule, Japanese dragons are those represented with 3 claws, while Chinese dragons have 5 and Korean dragons have 4.

Below we will list some of the most famous Japanese dragons:

 

 

Watatsumi – King of the Sea

Japanese mythology tells us that Watatsumi lived in a palace under the sea and that he was always ready to receive humans who fell into the ocean.

An ancient legend tells that one of his daughters fell in love with a fisherman who was looking for his brother’s fishing hook. They got married and lived in his palace under the sea for three years.

However, the human began to miss his home. He wanted to return, but was embarrassed to do so without his brother’s fishing hook.

To help him, Watatsumi summoned all the fish in the sea. And, fortunately, one of them still had his brother’s fishing hook attached.

The human took it and went home.

This Japanese dragon was seen as a friend of mankind, unlike others, and as a guardian of the Shinto religion.

Japanese Dragon

Utagawa Kuniyoshi / Public domain

 

 

Kiyohime – The Japanese Dragon Woman

Kiyohime was a woman who worked at a popular inn. One day, she falls in love with one of the monks who had stayed there, and the two have an affair.

Soon after, however, the monk regrets having broken his vows of chastity and decides to set out again on his journey.

Kiyohime doesn’t want to let him go and goes to the riverbank to look for him, where she begs him to stay with her. The monk, however, is determined to go on his way and sets sail in his boat.

Kiyohime, furious, starts swimming behind the boat. And, from the sheer hatred she was feeling, her body changes into that of a dragon.

She ends up chasing the monk she loved and killing him.

Japanese dragon woman

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 月岡芳年 / Public domain

 

 

Mizuchi – The Poisonous Dragon of Japan

Mizuchi was a river-dwelling Japanese dragon who used to kill travelers by spewing poison on them.

This dangerous dragon was killed by a human named Agatamori, who had set him a challenge.

The man had thrown three calabash to the river, and had told the dragon that if he managed to sink all three at once he would not kill him.

The dragon turned into a deer and tried to sink them, but failed in his task.

Agatamori, therefore, killed it. And after him he slaughtered all the dragons at the bottom of the river.

From then on that place became known as “Agatamori’s Pool”.

Japanese Dragon

 

 

Nure-onna

This may be one of the most disturbing dragons in Japanese mythology.

Its name translates as “wet woman” and it is a beast with the body of a Japanese dragon and the head of a woman. It has snake eyes and sharp claws.

This dragon could be found on the banks of rivers, either washing its hair or carrying a child.

Some legends say that it could suck the blood of humans with its long tongue.

Japanese dragon with woman head

Sawaki Sūshi (佐脇嵩之, Japanase, *1707, †1772) / Public domain

 

 

Toyotama-hime

This is the daughter of a Japanese dragon we talked about earlier: Watatsumi. However, she’s not the same daughter we talked about in that fragment.

Toyotoma met her husband when he saved her from a gang that tried to kidnap her.

After they were married, the two lived for 7 years in the underwater palace of Watatsumi, until the human began to miss his homeland and decided to return.

When Toyotama and her husband returned to human land, she became pregnant. But, instead of having a normal birth, she asked her husband to let her deliver the baby alone.

Her husband, however, could not contain his curiosity and followed her to a riverbank, where he saw her turn into a dragon during the birth.

When she found out that her husband had watched her, Toyotama became furious and returned to her palace under water.

Her child grew up on a surface under the care of Tamayori, her younger sister. Eventually, these two would fall in love and bring forth Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan.