The Dragons of Enoshima

Discovering more about dragons in Japan

By Elena Lisina    - 2 min read

On my recent visit to Enoshima I came across many dragon sculptures and statues - more than in any other place I've been to in Japan. After that I became interested to learn about the meaning of the dragon in Japan.

A dragon is a mythological character, a snake, I'd read, with wings and endowed with magical abilities and spiritual qualities. The word ‘dragon’ came from the combination of Greek words for snake and fish. In Europe a dragon was considered to be a cruel and primitive creature that could only be soothed or defeated by the gods, and then later by some outstanding human hero.

In Buddhism, though, the dragon has another meaning. A dragon combines two worlds - the ‘upper’ world as a flying creature and the ‘underworld’ as a snake. In the Chinese culture that influenced Japan's, a dragon is one of the ‘Yang’ symbols indicating the masculine. Dragons exhibiting Chinese roots are usually pictured as a long snake with fish-like scales, clawed feet, two horns and spikes along its spine. The dragons that I saw on Enoshima island had all of these features in their appearance.

Unlike in Europe, a dragon in Japan is considered to be a symbol of happiness. In mythology it can produce the much sought after Elixir of Immortality and has strong connections with water. Accordingly, a dragon will often be found at springs and wells and many Shinto shrines will have a dragon (or two or three...) as part of their temizuya ablution wells where worshippers come to purify themselves before prayer.

I recalled seeing dragons at such shrines as Suwa Taisha, Sumiyoshi Taisha, as well as in Asakusa and elsewhere. But it was the concentration of dragons on Enoshima island that sparked my curiosity and made want to learn a bit more about them.

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Elena Lisina

Elena Lisina @shiroi.tenshi

I love Japan very much! I like small towns of Japan where I can watch people doing their business and talk to them carefully. They're always friendly. I like Japanese gardens where I can just sit or walk and take my time. Also I like Shinto Jinja as being there I feel in peace. I like to watch sunsets and then to dine in some small local places. I like to soak into onsen after a long day of wandering. I like Japanese crafts very much as all items are made with great taste and skill. Nihon wo daisuki desuyo! My photos from Japan I also place here: Matane!