Have you ever found yourself captivated by the twisting serpentine grace of a dragon’s form? If our exploration of Chinese dragon symbols ignited your curiosity, prepare to embark on a new journey. Today, we’re venturing into Japanese dragons’ mythical world. Come with us as we unravel the inked threads of these magnificent creatures!
General Look and Symbolization of Japanese Dragons
Japanese dragons, 龍 or 竜, are legendary creatures that embody a rich blend of native Japanese beliefs and influences from China, Korea, and Indian mythology. Like Chinese dragons, Japanese dragons are mostly wingless and known for serpentine bodies and their clawed feet.
Japan’s belief related to dragons originally stems from rain-praying ceremonies. For instance, the Ryujin, the dragon god of the sea, possesses the power to control water and resides in an undersea palace. Additionally, due to the lack of understanding of natural disasters, dragons were sometimes associated with volcanic activity, earthquakes, and tsunamis in ancient times. In modern Japan, dragons are generally seen as agricultural and water-controlling deities in traditional ceremonies.
Besides, dragons have various personalities in Japanese art and folklore. Indigenous dragons like Yamata no Orochi, an 8-headed giant snake, terrorize villages and demand sacrifices. On the other side, the kind dragons, like Ryujin, reward helpers with gifts, according to the Tawara Tōda Monogatari.
Meanings of Dragon Tattoos in Japanese Culture
Japanese dragons have not only general meanings but also specific representations in various contexts. The design of dragon tattoos within Japanese culture is gifted with different wishes. Let’s explore these more colorful facets.
- The Dragon as a Symbol of Absolute Power: Dragons in Japanese folklore were seen as controllers of natural disasters, such as typhoons and floods. They could also harness storms and influence the weather, making them symbols of absolute strength. These abilities likened them to the power of a king or emperor, and they became symbols of the highest authority.
- The Dragon and Koi as Symbols of Success: The tattoo of an ascending dragon particularly symbolizes ‘Rishin Shusse,’ meaning social advancement or success in one’s career. The story from ancient China of the koi fish swimming upstream and transforming into a dragon has become synonymous with perseverance and success. Therefore, you may see many tattoos embracing both a koi fish and a dragon.
- The Dragon Ball as A Symbol of Mystical Power: Often seen with dragons, the dragon ball is said to have contained a part of the dragon’s power. In “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” this ball is a kind of legendary jewel, which is very rare and hard to find. Moreover, in the famous Japanese anime “Dragon Ball,” we can also see the magical power of these balls.
Famous Japanese Dragons and Their Legends
Now that we have received so many lectures, let’s visit some famous Japanese dragons and the timeless stories that have inspired generations. Plus, there are some Japanese dragon tattoo ideas offered!
Yamata no Orochi (八岐大蛇 やまたのおろち) – Giant Snake with 8 Heads
Although the “Orochi” means “big snake” in Japanese, Yamata no Orochi is often depicted as a giant dragon with eight heads and eight tails (that’s really hard to imagine the whole outline of this creature…you may imagine it like two large forks combining together on their handles?) in Japanese tales.
The story of Yamata no Orochi is best known from the ancient text “Nihon Shoki,” written in the 8th century. According to the book, this serpent-like dragon’s body is covered by moss and trees, extending over eight valleys and hills. It is said to be evil and has devoured many young girls. Susanoo, the Shinto god of storms and the sea, slayed this creature to free the land from its terror. From one of Yamata no Orochi’s tails, Susanoo found a legendary sword Kusanagi no Tsurugi, one of the three sacred treasures of Japan.
Orochi’s tale, filled with heroism and drama, continues to captivate audiences in modern Japan. Some tattoo lovers would ink Susanoo and Yamata no Orochi on their bodies to memorize the ancient hero and show their admiration. They also believe this kind of tattoo will give them Susanoo’s courage and wisdom.
Ryujin (龍神 りゅうじん) – Dragon God that Can Transform Into Human
Diving into the world of Japanese mythology, we find Ryujin, the majestic sea dragon king. Often portrayed with a human-like face and a serpent’s body (sounds like the Torch Dragon?), this dragon could shape-shift into a human form, a trick that surely helped it mingle at parties. Imagine meeting a dragon guy at a beachside barbecue!
Jokes aside, let’s check one of Ryujin’s most famous tales. Ryujin’s daughter Otohime needs a monkey’s liver to cure her disease, and Ryujin sends a turtle to get it. However, the turtle fails because a jellyfish and a flounder leak the secret to the monkey. Ryujin is so angry that it removes all the bones of the jellyfish and cuts the flounder into two pieces. Ouch! But don’t worry, Ryujin’s not an evil dragon; it is also known for bestowing blessings and helping kind people.
In the “Nihon Shoki,” a folktale tells of Ryujin inviting a fisherman to its underwater palace for centuries as a reward for saving a turtle. The fisherman even received a box of magical pearls. Another story from the book recounts how Empress Jingū received assistance from Ryujin’s jewel to control the sea while conquering the Korean army.
This divine dragon deity embodies strength, wisdom, and safeguarding prowess. Some Japanese believe that a Ryujin tattoo will link them to Ryujin’s power or get its protection.
Kuzuryu (九頭龍 くずりゅう) – Dragon with 9 Heads
Here we are, another multiple-headed dragon. Kuzuryu, or the nine-headed dragon, is a significant deity in several locations in Japan. It is often portrayed as a tame dragon that was originally bad and then turned kind.
According to the Togakushi Shrine‘s legend, a Buddhist practitioner named Gakumon met the nine-headed dragon in a cave. This dragon was originally a man and turned into a terrifying dragon because he stole a temple’s property. Gakumon enlightened the dragon to become a good god. Therefore, Kuzuryu is now the god of the Togakushi Shrine. It is said to have the power to control rain, bless good marriages, and cure toothache.
Besides Togakushi Shrine, we can also see Kuzuryu worship in Hakone and Kuzuryū River. It is a fascinating figure in Japanese folklore. As a tattoo design, it reflects the transformative power of faith. The nine heads can also represent the ability to see in all directions, symbolizing wisdom and vigilance.
Zennyo Ryuo (善女龍王 ぜんにょりゅうおう) – Kind Female Dragon King
Finally, let’s meet a gentle lady dragon. Zennyo Ryuo, or 善女龍王, is the daughter of one of eight dragon kings in Japanese Buddhism culture. According to “Lotus Sutra,” she understands all nature rules of this world and is destined to become a goddess. Also, Japanese believes she can bring rain like other dragons.
In 824 AD, Emperor Junna ordered two monks to pray for rain during a drought. One monk failed, while another monk discovered that all the dragon gods were trapped—except for Zennyo Ryuo. So what’s a monk to do? He summoned Zennyo Ryuo from India, and rain suddenly everywhere! Another story from the “Konjaku Monogatari Shu” said that Zennyo Ryuo showed up as a golden snake to her most devout prayers. Such a nice girl!
In the world of Japanese dragon tattoos, Zennyo Ryuo is often a beautiful girl with a long dragon tail or a girl accompanied by a dragon or a golden snake. She is a blend of grace, wisdom, and supernatural power.
Alright, that’s our ride through the vibrant world of Japanese dragon tattoos! Whether it’s the ferocious Yamata no Orochi or the graceful Zennyo Ryuo, there’s a Japanese dragon tattoo design out there calling your name. Need some courage? Ink a Susanoo and Yamata no Orochi battle scene. Looking for something more elegant? Zennyo Ryuo might be your go-to lady! These intricate designs and their cultural meanings aren’t just skin deep – they’re part of a rich tradition in Japan.
If you want to learn more about Asian tattoo ideas, welcome to our “Asian Tattoo” channel. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or ideas~ We are always here to exchange brilliant thoughts!