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Posts Tagged ‘Japanese mythology’

Tamatori-hime, or Princess Jewel Taker, is one of the most famous folk stories involving the sea dragon, Ryujin.


Long ago in Japan, there was a powerful family known as the Fujiwara Clan. Their leader was Kamatari Fujiwara, and under his guidance the clan became so influential that one of his daughters was even a concubine to the Emperor of China. When Kamatari died, as all men must, the Emperor showed his affection for his concubine by sending a ship with three rich gifts to the funeral.

One of these gifts was a wondrous pearl. When Ryujin heard about it, he thought that no mere mortal deserved to have such a prize. He created a terrible storm, and in the confusion, he stole the pearl! When Kamatari’s son, Fuhito, heard about the loss, he was horrified. Even a powerful clan like the Fujiwaras couldn’t be so careless as to lose a gift from the Emperor of China. It was a terrible disgrace.

Fuhito set off to search in the area where the pearl was last known to be safe on board the ship. The storm had come up along a remote stretch of coast where only a few villagers lived. There Fuhito met a pearl diver named Ama. Although she didn’t know about any lost pearls, Fuhito thought she was the most rare pearl of all. They were married and she bore him a son.

However, Ama was determined to find the Fujiwara Pearl and restore honor to her husband’s and son’s family. She dove and dove again, searching the deepest crevices of the rocks and reefs. Soon she discovered Ryujin’s palace and all the fearsome sea creatures guarding it. By plucking a stringed instrument, Ama was able to lull the guards to sleep. She dove down deeper than ever and fetched the pearl out of Ryujin’s palace.

Alas, once the music stopped, the guards woke up. Brave Ama swam as fast as she could, but it was clear they swam faster than any human ever would. She made a desperate decision. With her diving knife, she cut her own chest open and hid the pearl inside. Blood gushed out, clouding the water. Ama was able to escape!

Although she did reach the shore, the injury claimed her life soon after.  Ama was buried with great honor because of what she had sacrificed to restore her son’s future. Ever since that day she has been remembered as Tamatori-Hime, or Princess Jewel Taker.


Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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After all these military-grade Sea Dragons, I’m longing for a truly mythic sea dragon, aren’t you? Well, here you go.

Ryujin was the dragon god who ruled the seas in Japanese folklore. Also known as Ryu-O or Watatsumi, he was a major deity in Japan’s traditional faith, Shinto. Considering that Japan is a group of islands surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, this isn’t surprising. The sea could be bountiful or turn destructive at a moment’s notice, so everyone wanted to get in good with the sea god.

In addition to being the god of the sea, Ryujin was believed to control fresh water springs and the coming of the rain. He could walk in people’s dreams. As a healer, his skill was supreme.

According to the tales, Ryujin lived in a beautiful palace of red and white coral, far beneath the sea. Using a set of magical gems, he was able to control the tides. Other tales say that he had an underground passage to Lake Biwa, on the island of Honshu, and his palace was actually under Lake Biwa. His court was made up of fish, turtles, jellyfish, and similar sea creatures. When he wanted to operate on land, snakes would serve as his messengers.

Like many of the Asian dragons, Ryujin was able to take human form at will. There are various tales of his adventures, although he seems a bit of a homebody. Most humans encounter him by wandering into his domain rather than him being out and about. Like the sea, Ryujin could be fickle. He might be kind and helpful, or dangerous and sinister. Several of the tales show him stealing things from mortals or other deities, so there’s an element of the trickster-god, as well.

Check back on Saturday for one of Ryujin’s legends.


Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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Long ago in Japan, the emperor was beset by a mysterious affliction. He was troubled in his mind and could not sleep at night. As soon as he fell asleep, he had terrible nightmares. The whole court was dismayed. A few faithful courtiers resolved to keep watch and discover what was causing this malady. Some stationed themselves just outside his quarters, while others watched the gardens around the emperor’s window.

To their horror, a black cloud appeared in the sky just after sunset. It swooped and swirled and came to rest on the roof above the emperor’s chamber. The courtiers inside heard the scratching of great claws on the roof. Then the hapless monarch cried out as a nightmare took hold. Something dreadful must be hidden within the vapors! Archers fired many arrows into the cloud, but they had no effect. The black cloud hovered over the roof until dawn, when it moved off toward the east and vanished.

As weeks of insomnia dragged on, the emperor grew very weak and ill. Nobody knew how to help him. They decided to send for a samurai named Yorimasa, whose skill with the bow was widely known. His charge was to discover what creature was attacking the emperor, and put an end to it.

Yorimasa came at once, bringing his bow and arrows and a single retainer. Alas, the weather was very bad that day. Savage winds and driving rain blocked the sky. How could Yorimasa even see the black cloud through this storm? But the samurai was not discouraged. At dusk, he and his retainer positioned themselves where they would have as good a view of the roof as possible, given the conditions. And they waited.

Hours passed and the storm did not let up, but eventually the emperor’s wail of terror told them the nightmares had begun. Yorimasa kept a steady eye on the peak of the roof. At last, luck favored him. A flash of lightning outlined the shape of a terrible dragon hidden within the cloud. As it faded, the samurai saw the evil glint of its eyes.

He raised his bow and shot for the eyes.  A howl, a crash! Something writhed on the ground, wrecking the emperor’s lovely garden. Wasting no time, the samurai drew his sword and leapt to attack. The evil dragon struggled and howled, but Yorimasa and his retainer slashed the monster nine times together. Soon all was quiet. The emperor slept peacefully for the first time in months.

The fearful courtiers emerged with lanterns to see what had been troubling the emperor. The dragon was a large as a horse, with a tiger’s body covered in scales, an ape-like head, wings of a bird, and a serpent’s tail. When the emperor awoke, he ordered the dragon skinned and kept as a trophy. As for Yorimasa, he was presented with a sword called Shishiwo (“King of Lions”) and promoted to the imperial court. There he met a noble woman named Ayame, and was granted her hand in marriage.

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This, to me, is the movie of the year. Certainly it’s the best animated movie — sorry, Zootopia fans — and possibly the best movie over all. Kubo has a terrific story, great imagination and a respectful depiction of Japanese folklore. It was made by Laika, the studio that specializes in a distinctive animation/stop motion hybrid. Previous films from Laika include Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and ParaNorman.

The lead character is Kubo, a one-eyed young boy who struggles to care for his mother, who is very ill. In the daytime, Sariatu exists in a daze, while at night she is cheerful and loving. Kubo gets money by telling stories in the markeplace, using an instrument called the shamisen to bring his origami figures to magical life. The stories he tell involve a powerful samurai, Hanzo, who dared gather enchanted weapons and armor that would allow him to take on the terrible Moon King. Kubo doesn’t tell the villagers that Hanzo, in fact, was his own father.

Sariatu makes Kubo promise that he will never venture outside at night, because the Moon King is still hunting him. He’s the one who stole Kubo’s eye, and he wants the second one, too. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if Kubo kept his promise. Grieving for his lost father, he attends a lamp-lighting ceremony that is interrupted by his vicious aunts, Sariatu’s sisters. Sariatu appears, sacrificing her own life so that Kubo can escape.

I can’t say much more without spoiling things. There are chases, races, funny moments and amazing battles. There’s also an awesome dragon, very like the Asian-style dragon kite I mentioned in a post last year. Raiden, the Moon King, assumes this form for the final confrontation. It’s a dragon like you’ve never seen before.

If you’ve heard that Kubo and the Two Strings is a great movie, you’ve heard right. Beg, borrow or rent this movie. You won’t regret it.

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