Japanese Dragons

A colorful Japanese dragon

One of the Four Legendary Creatures, Japanese dragons guard the cosmic direction of the East.

Dragon: Guardian of Eastern Direction

In ancient times, the dragon was one of the Four Legendary Creatures that carefully guarded the four compass directions. While the dragon guarded the East, the other three Legendary Creatures stood guard at their cosmic directions.

  • Red Bird guards the South

  • White Tiger guards the West

  • Tortoise guards the North

The dragon, and the eastern compass direction, also represent:

  • The season of spring

  • The elements of wood and water

  • The color green or green-blue

  • The virtue of propriety

Over the centuries, the Four Legendary Creatures of Japan have merged with the Shitenno, the Four Heavenly Kings. The Shitenno are Buddhist guardians that also guard the cosmic directions.

Characteristics of Japanese Dragons

Distinguishing Japanese Dragons From Chinese Dragons

The legendary dragons of Japan have a rich and significant history in the folklore and mythology of the country. This group of dragons is known as Tatsus and resembles Chinese dragons in many ways. One way to tell them apart by sight is by the number of claws or toes they have on each foot.

  • The Imperial Chinese dragon has five toes.
  • Common Chinese dragons have four toes.
  • The dragons of Japan have three toes.

Compilation of Nine Animals

Japanese dragons have spikes along their back, while Chinese dragons don't. Both the Japanese and Chinese dragons have bodies that are snakelike and are made up of parts of nine animals. They have the:

  • Neck of a snake
  • Head of a camel
  • Horns of a deer
  • Eyes of a rabbit
  • Ears of an ox
  • Abdomen of a cockle
  • Scales of a carp
  • Paws of a tiger
  • Claws of an eagle

Ability to Transform or Shape-Shift

The mystical dragons of Japan have the power to shape-shift and move seamlessly from one form to another or become completely invisible. Many Japanese legends tell of dragons changing their size and shape as they magically transform into humans. Other legends tell of the reverse happening as humans transform back into dragons.

Japanese Imperial Family and Dragon Ancestry

It's believed that when dragons transformed into humans, they had the ability to mate with other humans, creating the Japanese Imperial family. The Japanese Imperial family claims to be direct decedents of the Dragon King through Princess Toyotama-hime, the Dragon King's daughter.

According to the Tale of Hori, Princess Toyotama-hime, also known as Princess Fruit Jewel and Princess Rich Jewel, married Hori no Mikoto, a hunter. For three years, the couple lived together in the underwater kingdom of the Princess before the hunter returned to his life in the upper world.

Before leaving the underwater kingdom, the Princess and Hori no Mikoto had a son. The son grew up and had four children. One of those children, a son named Kamuyamato Iwarebiko, became the first Emperor of Japan and was known as a human, Jinmu Tenno. In Japan, the dragon remains a symbol of imperial power.

Symbolism of Dragons in Japan

  • Although dragons appear in mythology centuries before the birth of Buddhism, Japanese dragons are known as the Protectors of Buddhist Law.
  • Dragons represent yang energy and the Emperor. They are the mortal enemy of the phoenix, which represents yin energy and the Empress. Yet, when they are together, the dragon and the phoenix are in perfect balance, representing the perfect balance of yin and yang. As partners, the two also symbolize wedded bliss and conflict.
  • The symbolism of the dragon is found throughout the Japanese culture and is strongly associated with the realm of water and the underwater kingdom.
  • It is the Japanese dragon that maintains and supports the country as it controls the rain, symbolizing the power of the Emperor.
  • Four dragon kings rule the four seas.
  • Dragon spirits control the rain and the wind and can even cause floods to occur.
  • Earth dragons deepen the oceans and cleanse the waters of lakes and rivers.
  • Celestial dragons guard the home of the gods.
  • Treasure guarding dragons keep watch over precious stones and metals.

Dragons and Feng Shui

In feng shui, Japanese dragons represent strength, power and protection. They are often used as a powerful feng shui cure. Dragons are symbols of yang energy, the strong masculine energy of activity and creativity. A feng shui dragon symbolizes prosperity and success. When it holds a crystal or pearl in its claw, the dragon is an auspicious symbol of power, wealth and prosperity.

Since dragons represent the East, an ideal placement of a feng shui dragon is on the east side of your home or east sector of a room. However, dragons should not be placed in bedrooms, bathrooms or closets since they symbolize activity and will draw too much energy flow to these areas. If they are placed in the relationship area of the home or space, a dragon should always be paired with a phoenix to ensure happy relationships.

Use the Dragon Wisely

Japanese dragons have fascinated people for centuries, and they will likely continue to do so for ages to come. They occupy a powerful place in the Asian culture and, when used wisely, can enhance the the good energy in your home.

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Japanese Dragons