The Dragon Within

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The Dragon Within
by John Dougill

... the dragon is just about ubiquitous in Japanese religion, for it’s not only a guardian of Buddhism but a much featured part of Shinto too. You’ll find dragons on the roofs of Zen temples (Jake Davis has a stunning shot of Kyoto’s Kennin-ji roof here). And you’ll often find dragons at water-basins in Shinto shrines, where they act as a symbol of good fortune. Unlike the fire-breathing monsters of the Western tradition, Japanese dragons tend to be benevolent.

It’s said the dragon originated in China in ancient times, long before the arrival of Buddhism with which it later became associated. My supposition would be that immigrants from the continent brought tales of the mythical creature to Japan, which came to haunt the Japanese imagination. It helps explain why the legends and folklore are so unclear about whether there’s a snake, serpent, dragon or monster involved.

The true dragon is a composite figure, made up of a variety of creatures. In this way, presumably, it has the attributes of all of them, hence its potency. Maybe there’s a theme there to work on this year: how to harness the strength of different animals. Unleash your inner dragon!

The picture below, taken from a defunct Japanese website, shows the Frankenstein manner in which the dragon is patched together. As can be seen, the body is indeed snake-like… (Incidentally, a curious bit of trivia:
the Chinese dragon tends to have four claws,
but the Japanese dragon three.)

Green Shinto is a blog by John Dougill
source : www.greenshinto.com

Thanks to Gary Gach.


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