History of dragons, Who are the dragons

Japanese dragon


The Japanese dragon, also known as ryū () or tatsu (), is a legendary Japanese creature. It is a mythical creature from Japanese mythology and folklore. Stories and tales surrounding it are highly related and intertwined with Chinese and Korean beliefs in Japanese society.

The Japanese dragon, unlike the European dragon, is a beneficent creature that does not breathe fire. It has a physical appearance that resembles that of a Chinese dragon. A wingless serpentine monster with three clawed legs is characterized as a Japanese dragon. In Japan, the Japanese dragon is referred to as "Nihon no ryū" (日本の竜).

Japanese dragons are aquatic deities with abilities relating to water and weather in the Land of the Rising Sun. The Japanese dragon is a prominent symbol in Japan, representing strength and wisdom. Let us quickly learn about the significance of the Japanese dragon, its origins, its role in Japanese mythology and culture, and the Japanese rituals associated with its image.


The myths and legends that have developed a complex belief system inside Japanese society have given rise to the meaning of the Japanese dragonJapanese dragons have long been regarded as a sign of power, wisdom, wealth, longevity, and good fortune in Japan, thanks to tales.


Japanese dragons are supposed to be the descendants of Jinmu, Japan's first monarch. As a result, they also represent monarchy, imperial authority, honor, and prestige. These characteristics and attributes are in the image of Japan's ancient rulers, and they embody the country's history. The meaning of the Japanese dragon, on the other hand, is increasingly losing its symbolic aspect and shifting towards a decorative role, such as art.


For many years, the Japanese dragon has been an important emblem in Japanese culture, signifying balancewealth, and auspiciousness. Many people use it to illustrate their life because of its supernatural abilities and wisdom.

The dragon is the defender and benefactor of humanity for the Japanese. Dragon aspire to be like this supernatural creature, who epitomizes powerriches, and prosperity. In Japanese rituals, such as festivals and commemorations, dragon representations are employed. Also,statues may be seen in abundance in Japanese temples and shrines.


As a result, the dragon is generally regarded as a rain god by the Japanese. The dragons etched in iron or wood in practically every prefecture's temples serve as a reminder of the wish for good weather and fertility for Japan's countryside. Japanese dragon is seen as a good omen and an auspicious sign in the lives of the Japanese.

Read the article about the dragon symbol


As you may know, the colors of the Japanese dragon have a specific meaning. A Japanese dragon tattoo, in general, denotes power, courage, and wisdom, as well as balance and freedom. When combined with other components and colors, though, it takes on new meanings. The following is a list of the Japanese dragon colors and their meanings. :

  • Black Dragon symbolizes knowledge and wisdom.

  • Green Dragon symbolizes life and nature.

  • Golden Dragon embodies wisdom, kindness and helpfulness.

  • Blue Dragon embodies laziness, compassion and forgiveness.

  • Yellow Dragon represents self-centeredness and helpfulness.

  • White Dragon represents mourning and death.

  • Red Dragon personifies passion and self-sacrifice.



In the field of tattooing, the Japanese dragon is a popular design. The Japanese monster has a broad range of aesthetic depictions. Some are more conventional, while others are more contemporary. So, what exactly is the meaning of a Japanese dragon tattoo ?

The Japanese dragon tattoo is quite popular among both men and women, and it represents power and good fortune. However, it might look complicated since it has a wide range of connotations that vary based on aesthetics and animal associations:

  • Japanese Dragon shown with a Koi carp represents endurance and determination. They all refer to the tale of the Koi fish, which signifies rebirth and metamorphosis.

  • Tiger is related with the Japanese Dragon, which represents the balance of powers. Because of their polar opposite natures, they bring harmony to an opposing world when they work together (yin yang).

  • Phoenix is related with the Japanese Dragon, which represents stability and dualism. The phoenix represents the feminine aspect (yin) and the dragon represents the masculine side (yang) (yin).

  • Snake is related with the Japanese Dragon, which represents healing and protection. It might be the result of an incident that the bearer has overcome.



The Japanese dragon may be traced back to Confucianism and Mahyna Buddhism in China and India. Japanese students studying in Chang'an, China, introduced the dragon sign to Japan during the Nara era (710-794 AD). Dragons were prevalent on structures and in Chinese art during the Tang Dynasty (ninth century AD).

The popularity of the Japanese dragon grew throughout the Muromachi era (1336-1573) in Japanese history, particularly in Buddhist architecture and arts. After then, the Buddhist traditions were taken over by Shinto (kami no michi). This Japanese religion, also known as "Shinto" (the Way of the Spirits), sought to separate itself from Buddhism, which had been introduced from China.


During the Meiji era, this school of thought became a state religion, reinforcing beliefs in the presence of spirits and deities (1868-1912). Ryjin, the sea dragon deity, is one of the most important Kamis (Japanese deities). The emperor or a hero are frequently associated with the Japanese dragon.

A Japanese dragon tale surrounds the Buddhist temple Hōkō-ji (or Asuka-dera), which is located in Nara Prefecture, Japan. A purple fog dropped from the sky and shrouded the pagoda as well as the Buddha Hall when it was consecrated in 596. The cloud's color count climbed to five, and it took on the shape of a dragon.



Many Japanese dragon names can be found in legend. Ryjin (龍神)), the god of the sea who is also known as the Japanese dragon deity (kami, ), is one of the most significant. It is derived from Shintoism. Let's look at the secret meanings of the names of the most well-known Japanese dragons in Japanese culture:

  • Sui-Ryu: When it suffers, a rain dragon produces crimson rain, which is tinted by its blood.

  • Han-Ryu : a multicolored dragon described as being about twelve meters long and striped in nine distinct hues. He could never reach the skies, according to mythology, no matter how hard he tried.

  • Ka-Ryu: A little red dragon with a length of only two meters. Ka-Ryu is supposed to be crimson, a burning red. His body, according to some sources, is entirely made of flame.

  • Ri-Ryu: a fearsome dragon with exceptional vision acuity It is believed to have a range of more than 160 kilometers.

  • Fuku-Ryu : This is the good luck Japanese dragon. It's most likely depicted as "ascending," because in eastern tradition, a dragon rising signifies good fortune.

  • Hai-Riyo : This chimeric creature has a dragon's head and the body, claws, and wings of a bird. One of the most sophisticated kinds of Japanese dragon is Hai-Riyo.

  • Kin-Ryu : a dragon with golden scales In comparison to other Japanese dragons, it is regarded to be of lower importance.


The Japanese dragon can be seen engraved on tombstones, temples, residences, and storefronts. It may even be seen on government documents and bank statements. 



Keep in mind that, like other East Asian dragons, most Japanese dragons are deities who are linked to rain and water. They're usually depicted as enormous serpentine monsters with clawed legs and no wings.

Like Chinese dragons, Japanese dragons are thought to be made up of a variety of various creatures from the Earth. The Japanese dragon's body is made up of the following animals :


Physical characteristics of the Japanese dragon may vary due to a lengthy history of myths and traditions surrounding it. However, the following are some of the most prevalent traits of the Japanese dragon as depicted in Japanese mythology and folklore :

  • Remain in the water and the palaces under the sea.

  • Are able to fly even without wings.

  • Have horns or antlers.

  • Appeals are made to the Japanese dragons to cause rain.

  • Have a long, thin body with four limbs and three claws on each leg.

  • Have male hair or a male beard.


The presence of dragons is based on tales from the beginning of the cosmos in Japanese mythology and Shintoism. At the creation of the universe, a group of deities known as "Kotoamatsukami" (distinctly heavenly kami) arose.

Seven generations of kami (Japanese gods) came after the Kotoamatsukami and after the sky and earth were established, dubbed "Kamiyonanayo" (seven generations of the Age of Gods). The two most well-known members of this group of Japanese gods are Izanagi and Izanami.


Many gods, goddesses, and animals were formed from these heavenly spirits, including the Japanese dragon, who acted as their guardian, protector, and messenger. Japanese dragons were one-of-a-kind, governing the seas, occasionally fighting gods, and occasionally adopting human form.

The stories Kojiki (712 AD) and Nihon Shoki (712 AD) were the first to mention dragons in Japanese mythology (720 AD). Aquatic deities in the form of snakes or dragons appear frequently and in various ways in these two collections. Traditional Japanese dragons, these animals are said to be.

The Japanese dragon, unlike the European dragon, is a beneficent creature that does not breathe fire. It has a physical appearance that resembles that of a Chinese dragon. A wingless serpentine monster with three clawed legs is characterized as a Japanese dragon. In Japan, the Japanese dragon is referred to as "Nihon no ryū" (日本の竜).


Yamata no Orochi (八岐大蛇), also known as the gigantic eight-headed snake or just Orochi, was an eight-headed, eight-tailed dragon who devoured one of the kunitsukami's daughters each year. Susa the Shinto deity of the sea and storms, was exiled from the skies because of his betrayal of Amaterasu, his sister and the sun goddess, according to tradition. He saw the kunitsukami at the Hi River (now called Hii River) in Izumo region, who bemoaned the fact that they had to sacrifice a girl every year for seven years to appease Orochi, and that they would soon have to sacrifice their last daughter, Kushi-nada-hime.


He promised Kushi-nada-hime his hand in marriage in exchange for his assistance in saving her. sus' converted their daughter into a comb in front of the kunitsukami after they consented. Then he slipped it into his hair and told the kunitsukami to make him eightfold sake and build him eight cupboards, each containing a barrel of booze. Susanoo saw Orochi had crimson eyes, a tail, and an eightfold fork when he came. On its back, cypress and fir trees grew. 


When Orochi arrived at the termal baths, he drank all of the sake, became inebriated, and fell asleep. Susanoo took advantage of the situation by slicing the dragon into little bits with his ten-pronged blade. He discovered a sword inside the dragon's tail, which would eventually be known as the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, and which Susanoo would later offer to Amaterasu as a token of reconciliation. The sword is regarded the imperial emblem of Japan, coupled with a mirror and a gem known as Yata no Kagami and Yasakani no Magatama, respectively.


Ryūjin (海神also known as the God of the Sea or Watatsumi in Japanese mythology, was a mythological water god and Japanese dragon. Ōwatatsumi no kami, which translates to "huge deity of the sea," is another moniker for the dragon. Ryjin lived under the sea in a palace called as Ryūgū-jō, according to Japanese legend. 


A man called Hoori lost his brother's hook in the water, according to a narrative in the Kojiki. He encountered Otohime, Watatsumi's daughter, while hunting for it. Hoori and the dragon goddess were married soon after, and they settled in Ryg-j. He was homesick after three years and desired to return to the land, but he was terrified to confront his brother without his hook. 


Watatsumi instructed Hoori to use a wani, another fabled dragon portrayed as a sea monster, to transport Otohime to the land. Watatsumi also appears in the Nihongi in the stories of Emperor Keiko and Emperor JimmuEmperor Keiko's troops, according to the texts, navigated the treacherous waterways between the provinces of Sagami and Kazusa. This disaster was linked to Watatsumi, who required human sacrifices in order to be blessed.


The identical events occurred: they both married, stayed in Ryg-j for three years, and then returned to the farm. Worldly existence is then chronicled in great detail. When Hoori learned of their pregnancy, he constructed Toyotama-hime a cottage in which she could give birth to their kid.  


She was surprised to find a crocodile-like wani cuddling her son instead of Toyotama-hime. Toyotama-hime had to transform into a wani in order to give birth to her baby, and she didn't want her husband to judge her in this state. She noticed Hoori staring at her. Tamayori, her sister, was sent to Hoori to assist her in raising Ugayafukiaezu. Ugayafukiaezu and Tamayori later married and had a son named Jimmu.


Mizuchi (蛟 or ) The hornless dragon was a water dragon that lived in the Kawashima River and killed people by spewing venom at them. An progenitor of the Kasa no Omi clan, Agatamori, walked to the river and confronted the dragon. Three gourds (fruit shaped like a gourd) were thrown into the river by Agatamori, and they remained on the water's surface.


To try to drown the gourds, the dragon transformed into a deer, but he was never successful. As a result, Agatamori slew the dragon and the other water dragons at the river's bottom. Because of all the dead dragons, the river became crimson, according to folklore. Agatamori's Pond has been the name of the river since then.



Kiyohime (清姫Kiyo, often known as "Princess Kiyo" or just Kiyo, was the daughter of Shoji, a lord or village leader. Their family was well-to-do and committed to hosting and lodging pilgrim priests. According to the legend of Kiyohime, a charming priest named Anchin fell in love with the lovely girl, but finally overcame his feelings and decided not to encounter her again. Kiyohime was taken aback by the priest's abrupt change of attitude, and he assaulted him with zeal. Anchin meets up with a boatman on the Hidaka river and requests for his assistance in crossing the river. He tells the boatman not to let Kiyohime get on a boat because he wants to get away.


Knowing Anchin's intention, Kiyohime leapt into the Hidaka River and began swimming to direct his boat. His immense wrath transformed him into a massive dragon as he was swimming. Anchin took refuge in Dojo-ji, a temple famed for its support and safety. The temple priests tried to hide him under a bell, but Kiyohime was able to track him out because to his fragrance. She curled herself around the bell and slammed it repeatedly with her tail. Spewed a massive amount of fire, which melted the bell and killed Anchin.



The Wani (わに) often known as "the sea dragon," has the look of a deep-sea monster. Wanis have long, serpentine bodies with fins and the ability to breathe both air and water. He have the ability to morph into humans, and legends abound of Wani and humans falling in love. The story of Toyotama-hime, Ryjin's daughter, is perhaps one of the most well-known wani stories.


Behavior: they are the gods of the sea and lords of the waters. Wani reside on the ocean floor in magnificent coral castles. He have a complicated political structure that is similar to that of the surface world. King and queens, princes and princesses, courtesans, and servants all exist. The finest of these is watatsumi, also known as Ryjin. From his palace, Ryg-j, he governs the sea. With the aid of the tidal jewels kanju and manju, he controls the ocean's ebb and flow.


Origin : The Wani occur in the Kojiki and the Nihon shoki, two of the oldest recorded accounts of Japanese mythology. Their tales are probably definitely from far further back in antiquity, in the mists of prehistoric ages. Scholars debate whether the first wani stories originated in Japan or were imported from other civilizations, citing parallels between the wani and the Chinese long or the Indian naga. He is major figures in Japanese mythology, particularly in the country's mythical basis.



Appearance : The Nure-onna (濡女)), also known as "the soaked lady," is a vampiric sea serpent that stalks beaches and rivers looking for victims to consume. They are most typically spotted on Kysh Island's coastlines. Nure-onna encounters have been reported from Niigata Prefecture to Fukushima Prefecture. This yōkai comes in two varieties :

  • Without arms, looking like a huge sea serpent with a woman's head

  • With arms, humanoid type.


Apart than that, they are identical in appearance and behavior. Their faces are hideous, with snake-like characteristics such as a forked tongue. Hair is long and black, and it clings to their soaking bodies. They get their name from the fact that they constantly appear to be drenched.


When the prey gets close, the nure-onna begs the victim to hold its infant for a few moments so it may relax. If he accepts the bundle, the "baby" will become as solid as a rock. Immobilizing the subject. The nure-onna may then assault its hapless prey, draining and feasting on its blood with its long serpentine tongue. Because they live in the same area and eat the same food, nure-onna frequently appear together and collaborate with ushi oni.


dragon from Japanese mythology known as "The Sovereign Dragon." Zennyo Ryuo, Zen-nyo-ryu-o, Zentatsu, and Zen-tatsu are some of the other spellings and variations of the name. She is usually described as a little dragon (about two meters long) with a small golden serpent on his head in Shinsen'en legends. He may also take on the shape of a person. His dragon tail, on the other hand, is still visible.



She loved to reside in ponds and lakes, according to most accounts. He was frequently approached with prayers and donations requesting rain. Originally, Zennyo Ry was said to live in a pond on Mount Muro. After 781-783 A.D., a temple was constructed for this dragon king. Offerings to Zennyo Ry were made at this temple in return for rain. One of these items is a pair of twin dragon sculptures constructed of straw and reeds. According to some traditions, Zennyo Ry was formerly one of the Anavatapta pond's dragon kings (or naga), the source of numerous rivers in the Himalayas.


Shinsen'en (or Shinzen'en) was once a rich man's amusement garden. During droughts, the pond's water was distributed to farmers to irrigate their land, implying that the pond was previously connected to the water supply. Zennyo Ry's apparition was credited to Shingon Buddhist monks who performed ceremonies summoning the dragon's manifestation. Rain rituals were entrusted to the monks in order to convince or compel Zennyo Ry to give rain. According to the monks' observations, Zennyo Ry was a golden dragon with a serpent on its head.


Dragon is spelled "ry" (or "ryū" in Japanese), and the kanji is written in shinjitai script, or traditional script (kyuujitai). Dragons are also known as "tatsu," however "ry" is the more frequent name. The term "ry" comes from the Chinese language, whereas "tatsu" comes from ancient Japanese. The names "ry" and "tatsu" are used to describe East Asian dragons, such as those seen in China and Japan.


What is the Japanese kanji for dragon ? It can be written in two ways. The easiest to remember and more modern of the two (which pertains to western dragons) is:

  • ドラゴン (doragon) = Western Dragon 

    Many of these borrowed words have a Japanese accent and sound similar to their English counterparts. You've probably heard it if you watch anime. This katakana variant of the term is mostly used for dragons in the European manner. The second is as follows :

  • 竜 (ryū) = Dragon (Hokusai's dragon)


This is the more frequent and older of the two names. When discussing about dragons in Japanese, you'll almost certainly use this version. The character for dragon is used in the following compound words:

  • 竜王 (Ryūō) = Dragon King

  • 竜神 (Ryūjin) = Dragon God

  • 竜宮 (Ryūgū-jō) = Underwater Palace of the Dragon God

  • 竜座 (Ryūza) = Draco the dragon (the constellation)

  • 日本の竜 (Nihon no ryū) = Japanese Dragons 

Finally, Indian dragons or Nāga, from Hindu and Buddhist tales, are called ナーガ (nāga).


The dragon is one of the most important cultural and religious icons in both China and Japan. Knowledge Japanese and Chinese political history, science, and many other areas need an understanding of each culture's concept of this old legendary monster. Because Japanese dragon mythology is largely based on Chinese customs, distinguishing between the Chinese and Japanese dragons is difficult.

In contrast to Western dragons, Japanese and Chinese dragons are snake-like animals. Chinese dragons have a bigger body but a smaller head, whereas Japanese dragons have a thin body with a massive head. Both species of dragons lack the ability to fly. Except for the imperial dragon, which has four, Chinese dragons usually have five fingers or claws, but Japanese dragons only have three.

17 thoughts on “Japanese dragon

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  7. Stef says:

    what were the particularities of the Japanese dragons ?

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  14. Ronald Sabatini says:

    Excellent and very comprehensive article, but you got one small point reversed: imperial Chinese dragons have five claws, while other Chinese dragons have four.

    1. Hi Ronald,

      Thank you for this information, we will proceed to a verification and correction of the article!

  15. Tammy says:

    On a Japanese Tanto suicide sword a marking on one side and a dragon on the other what does it mean?

    1. Hi Tammy,

      The marking on a Tanto Japanese sword can have several meanings. Traditionally, the marks on the blades of Japanese swords, including Tanto, are known as “mei”. These marks are usually signatures or names of the blacksmiths who made the sword. They may also contain additional information such as the place and date of manufacture.

      On the other hand, the dragon engraved on the other side of the blade is often more symbolic. In Japanese culture, the dragon is a powerful symbol associated with strength, wisdom and luck. Dragons are often regarded as protectors and are respected in many Asian traditions. On a sword such as the Tanto, an engraved dragon may be intended to confer strength and protection on the wearer.

      However, it’s important to note that the exact meaning can vary depending on many factors, such as the era in which the sword was made, the region in which it was created, and the specific intentions of the blacksmith or the person who commissioned the sword. For an accurate interpretation, it would be ideal to consult an expert in Japanese weapons or Japanese history.

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