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Famous Japanese Dragons

Chinese | > Japanese | Korean | Vietnamese

history | > famous dragons

Note on identifying Japanese dragons:

Eastern dragons can be rather...elusive. For example, not much is officially known about how Fuku Riu (the Japanese good luck dragon) looks like exactly.

There are certain little things to look out for.
A Japanese dragon definitely has three claws on each foot (Chinese dragon has five, Korean has four). Japanese dragons are much more slender and serpent-like. Eastern dragons are sometimes shown with a pearl, which means many things from wealth to wisdom and good luck & prosperity. Eastern dragons ascending in the sky are symbolic of "success in life".

I was discussing this with someone who was researching on Fuku Riu. Personally, I think such a dragon would have a certain "liveliness" as opposed to "fierceness".

Kunisada dragon print

Print by Kunisada, 1860.
According to Dr. Karl Shuker, the print probably depicts the female
sage Tai-shin flying across the ocean on a white dragon.

The following are reasons why I don't think this white dragon is Fuku Riu. The little that can be gathered from this print is that the dragon is flying across an ocean. It's during the night too. Good luck wouldn't really be associated with the dark or night in Eastern mythology. White is the traditional color of mourning in many Eastern cultures. The dragon is white and also oldish-looking (the white bushy eyebrows, stray hairs on claws). Could it be O Goncho? If it is, then this dragon is signalling famine!

The more cheerful dragons in eastern mythology tend to be either looking upwards or "ascending" (towards the sky, the heavens, success, etc), like the gold dragon below.

Gold dragon

Ascending Gold Dragon © SilverDragonGallery.com

The white dragon in the Kunisada print isn't really ascending.

So while the identity of the Kunisada white dragon isn't exactly confirmed (at this point in time), it is likely that it isn't Fuku Riu by process of elimination. All in all, the dragon's doing a good job upkeeping its secrets and mystery.

Famous Japanese dragons:

1.Ryu Jin or Ryo Wo
· Originated from Shinto, Japan's traditional religion
· Dragon king of a kingdom of serpent people under the sea
· Ruled in a spectacular palace of crystal and coral
· Said to have a human body, and a serpent entwined in his crown.
· Known for his nobility and wisdom, Ryu-wo was a guardian of the Shinto faith. People who have fallen into the sea are said to have lived on in the kingdom of Ryu-wo.
· Ryu-jin has a submarine palace, Ryugo-Jo. His messenger is Riuja, a small white serpent with the face of an ancient man.
· A man named Hoori once visited the sea-god's palace and got a wife. But as soon as the first baby came the wife became a dragon and sank beneath the sea.

vector ryu

[full size] A cool vector of the Kanji "Ryu"/DRAGON.
Copyright: © Junji Takemoto

ryu calligraphy
[full size] Japanese Calligraphy of "Ryu".

© 2007 Saiga
Japanese Gifts Store

2. Blue-Green Dragon
· Guardian of the Eastern signs of the Japanese Zodiac
· The Chinese characters making up the name can be read seperately as "qing," meaning either "green" or "young," and "long," meaning "dragon."
· In Japanese the kanji is "aoi" for "blue-green," and "ryu," for dragon. The name can also be pronounced "Sei Ryu."
· This could be Sui Riu, mentioned two lines below.

3. The main 'dragon kings' recognized in Japan:

· Sui Riu is a rain-dragon, which when in pain causes
red rain, coloured by its blood.
· Han Riu is striped with nine different colours and is forty feet long. This dragon can never reach heaven.
· Ka Riu is a small dragon; only seven feet long. It's said
that Ka-Riu is scarlet, a fiery red. Some sources even
say that its body is all flame.
· Ri Riu has wonderful sight and can see more than 100 miles.

Kunisada dragon, detail

Detail of print by Kunisada, 1860.

- Benten is the Japanese goddess who rides on a nameless dragon. She frequently descends to earth to stop the evil doings of other dragons.

- Fuku Riu is the Japanese Dragon of Good Luck. Likely to be depicted as "ascending" since an ascending dragon is a sign of good luck in Eastern culture.

- Kinryu is a golden dragon.

- Kiyo was originally a beautiful waitress. She becomes a dragon to seek revenge on a priest that lost his passion for her.

- O Goncho is a white dragon that signals famine.

- Uwibami is a huge fearsome flying beast that snatches and devours men right off horse's backs.

- Yamata-no-Orochi is an eight-headed dragon.


Susanoo slaying the Yamata-no-Orochi
1870s, Toyohara Chikanobu

Its belly is always bloody, its back is covered with moss.

The Orichi is slain by Susanoo, a travelling warrior.
Susanoo encounters a weeping couple, sacrificing their eighth and last daughter, Kushinada.

susano legend

Legend of Susanuo, Copyright 2006 Howard David Johnson

Susanoo asks for Kushinada's hand in marriage, and transforms her into a comb which he places in his hair. The Orichi is tricked into getting drunk on sake. It dips each head into a liquor vat and is intoxicated, allowing Susanoo to slice it to pieces.

- Yofune-nushi was a sea serpent that feasted on young beautiful maidens. A [kick-ass] girl named Tokoyo blinded it with her knife, then killed it when it reared back and exposed its neck.


By the way, "welcome" if you came from Body-Jewelry!
If you have a dragon tattoo, consider showing them off at Dragon Tattoos.

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