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Ryujin: Japanese Folklore

In Japanese mythology, thousands of dragons exist. All of them have three common characteristics: three claws on each leg, a mustache and a sacred pearl that is called the “dragon pearl”. The magic of the dragons come from these jewels.

It is from this jewel that the magic of these dragons comes. The greatest of these dragons is Ryujin, the God of the Seas. Curiously, he is also considered a demon or Yokai.

Ryujin resides in a palace and has a love of letters and a keeper of many secrets. His magic is so great that he is worshipped by thousands of Shintoists.

The Imperial Palace of the Sea Dragon King

Ryujin lives in a luxurious palace submerged under the sea called “Ryūgū-jō.” It is made of red and white coral as well as precious stones. This large mansion has a very special power: it changes the perception of time. A century in the earthly world is equivalent to only a day in the Kingdom. The palace has four entrances and each one symbolises the four seasons.

Ryujin’s Magical Powers

The magic pearl that Ryujin holds gives him certain powers. Like all dragons, he is able to breathe fire but his abilities also include transformation into any shape he wants. He can even perfectly adopt a human form. He has total control over the oceans and can unleash dangerous tsunamis or terrible storms if he wishes. All marine species are also under his control with Sea turtles delivering his messages, fish and jellyfish are his faithful servants. Fishermen regularly try to appease him through offerings hoping for calm seas.

Shinto Belief: Faith Of The Dragon God

Within Shintoism, there is a doctrine called Ryūjin shinkō. These believers worship dragons and they name the divine creatures “water kami.” They pray for agricultural success as well as success for the fishermen. The sea was very important for the Japanese people of the Middle Ages and of antiquity and island lifestyles meant the inhabitants survived mainly by fishing. Thus, Ryujin, the great king of the seas is their most important deity.

Many Shinto shrines are dedicated specifically to Ryujin with the most famous in Osaka called the Daikai Jinja.

The Empress Jinga and the Jewels Of Ryujin

Ryujin’s sacred mission is to protect Japan. He uses his powers to help the Japanese imperial family. In the context of war, the Japanese empress had to fight a fierce Korean fleet and so the sea dragon offered his powerful assistance.

When the battle began, all the water disappeared leaving the Korean fleet of boats stuck. They changed tactics and launched the infantry. But at that moment, the water reappeared and caused the death of the Empresses’ enemies with the aid of Ryujin.

Urashima Tarō and the Magic Pearl Of Immortality

A fisherman named Urashima Tarō witnesses children torturing a helpless fish. He comes to its aid and releases it back into the ocean. He lived a quiet life until a huge turtle asked him to climb on its back. The turtle took the fisherman to the great kingdom of the sea dragon where Ryujin intends to reward his good deed.

The fish he had saved was not just a common fish. It was Ryujin’s daughter who had transformed herself into a fish. For seven days, Urashima Tarō was welcome in the sea dragon’s palace.

When it was time for him to leave, Ryujin’s daughter gave him a generous gift – a small box containing a pearl of immortality. It can allow him to fulfill all his wishes but for the pearl to work, the box must never be opened.

The seven days in Ryujin’s palace was 700 years on earth. When Urashima Tarō returned it was to discover that 700 years had passed. He took advantage of the pearl to live in luxury but never let the pearl corrupt his altruistic nature. As soon as he returned to earth, he offered his wealth to all the villagers. But the people forced their way through his door to take the magic box. Once they’d stolen it, they rushed to open it. All the power permanently escaped leaving its owner to succumb to age. In punishment of this cowardly act, Ryujin deprived the villagers of water and everyone in the village perished.

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