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Mythical Monsters, by Charles Gould, [1886], at

p. 248

FIG. 60—VIGNETTE. (After Hokŭsai.)
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FIG. 60—VIGNETTE. (After Hokŭsai.)



THERE is but little additional information as to the dragon to be gained from Japan, the traditions relating to it in that country having been obviously derived from China. In functions and qualities it is always represented as identical with the Chinese dragon. In Japan, however, it is invariably figured as possessing three claws, whereas in China it has four or five, according as it is an ordinary or an imperial emblem. The peasantry are still influenced by a belief in its supernatural powers, or in those of some large or multiple-headed snake, supposed to be a transformation of it, and to be the tenant of deep lakes or of springs issuing from mountains.

I give, as examples of dragon stories, two selected from the narratives of mythical history, * and one extracted from a native journal of the day.

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The first states that “Hi-koho-ho-da-mi no mikoto (a god) went out hunting, and his eldest brother Hono-sa-su-ri no mikoto went out fishing. They were very successful, and proposed to one another to change occupations. They did so.

“Hono-sa-su-ri no mikoto went out to the mountain hunting, but got nothing, therefore he gave back his bow and arrow; but Hi-ko-hoho-da-mi no mikoto lost his hook in the sea; he therefore tried to return a new one, but his brother would not receive it, and wanted the old one; and the mikoto was greatly grieved, and, wandering on the shore, met with an old man called Si-wo-tsu-chino-gi, and told him what had happened.

“The latter made a cage called mé-na-shi-kogo, enclosed him in it, and sank it to the bottom of the sea. The mikoto proceeded to the temple of the sea-god, who gave him a girl, Toyotama, in marriage. He remained there three years, and recovered the hook which he had lost, as well as receiving two pieces of precious jade called 'ebb' and 'flood.' He then returned. After some years he died. His son, Hi-ko-na-gi-sa-to-k‘e-ouga-ya-fu-ki-ayā-dzu no mikoto, succeeded to the crown.

“When his father first proposed to return, his wife told him that she was enceinte, and that she would come out to the shore during the rough weather and heavy sea, saying, 'I hope you will wait until you have completed a house for my confinement.' After some time Toyotama came there and begged him never to come to her bed when she was sleeping. He, however, crept up and peeped at her. He saw a dragon holding a child in the midst of its coils. It suddenly jumped up and darted into the sea.”

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The second legend is: “When the So-sa-no-o no mikoto went to the sources of the river Hi-no-ka-mi at Idzumo, he heard lamentations from a house; he therefore approached it and inquired the cause. He saw an old man and woman clasping a young girl. They told him that in that country there was a very large serpent, which had eight * heads and eight tails, and came annually and swallowed one person. 'We had eight children, and we have already lost seven, and now have only one left, who will be swallowed; hence our grief.' The mikoto said, 'If you will give that girl to me, I will save her.' The old man and woman were rejoiced. The mikoto changed his form, and assumed that of the young girl. He divided the room into eight partitions, and in each placed one saki tub and waited its approach. The serpent arrived, drank the saki, got intoxicated, and fell asleep.

“Then the mikoto drew his sword and cut the serpent into small pieces. When he was cutting the tail his sword was a little broken; therefore he split open the tail to find the reason, and found in it a valuable sword, and offered it to the god O-mi-ka-mi, at Taka-maga-hara.

“He called the sword Ama no mourakoumo no tsurogi,  because there was a cloud up in the heaven where the serpent lies. Finally he married the girl, and built a house at Suga in Idzumo.”

The third story runs as follows:—

The White Dragon.

"There is a very large pond at the eastern part of Fu-si-mī-shi-ro-yama, at Yama-shiro (near Kioto); it is called

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[paragraph continues] Ukisima. In the fine weather little waves rise up on account of its size. There are many turtles in it. In the summertime many boys go to the pond to swim, but never go out into the middle or far from the shore. No one is aware how deep the centre of the pond is, and it is said that a white dragon lives in that pond, and can transform itself into a bird, which the people of the district call O-gon-cho, i.e. golden bird, because, when it becomes a bird, it has a yellow plumage. The bird flies once in fifty years, and its voice is like the howling of a wolf. In that year there is famine and pestilence, and many people die. Just one hundred years ago, when this bird flew and uttered its cry, there was a famine and drought and disease, and many people died. Again, at Tempo-go-nen (i.e. in the fifth year of Tempo), fifty years back from the present time, the bird flew as before, and there was once again disease and famine. Hence the people in that district were much alarmed, as it is now just fifty years again. They hoped, however, that the bird would not fly and cry. But at 2 A.M. of the 19th April it is said that it was seen to do so. The people, therefore, were surprised, and now are worshipping God in order to avert the famine and disease. The old farmers say, in the fine weather the white dragon may occasionally be seen floating on the water, but that if it sees people it sinks down beneath the surface." *

As a pendant to this I now quote a memorial from the Pekin Gazette of April 3rd, 1884, of which a translation is given in the North China Herald for May 16th, 1884.

“A Postscript Memorial of P‘an Yü requests that an additional title of rank, and a tablet written by His Majesty's

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own hand, may be conferred on a dragon spirit, who has manifested himself and answered the prayers made to him.

“In the Ang-shan mountains, a hundred li from the town of Kuei-hai, there are three wells, of which one is on the mountain top, in a spot seldom visited. It has long been handed down that a dragon inhabits this well. If pieces of metal are thrown into the well they float, but light things, as silk or paper, will sink. If the offerings are accepted, fruits come floating up in exchange. Anything not perfectly pure and clean is rejected and sent whirling up again. The spirit dwells in the blackest depths of the water, in form like a strange fish, with golden scales and four paws, red eyes and long body. He ordinarily remains deep in the water without stirring. But in times of great drought, if the local authorities purify themselves, and sincerely worship him, he rises to the top. He is then solemnly conveyed to the city, and prayers for rain are offered to him, which are immediately answered. His temple is in the district city, on the To‘ang-hai Ling. The provincial and local histories record that tablets to him have been erected from the times of the Mongol and the Ming dynasties. During the present dynasty, on several occasions, as, for instance, in the years 1845 and 1863, he has been carried into the city, and rain has fallen immediately. Last year a dreadful drought occurred, in which the ponds and tanks dried up, to the great terror of the people. On the 15th day of the eighth month, the magistrate conducted the spirit into the city, and, with the assembled multitude, prayed to him fervently; thereupon a gentle rain, falling throughout the country, brought plenty in the place of scarcity, and gladdened the hearts of all. At about the same time, the people of a district in the vicinity, called Chin-yü, also had recourse to the spirit, with equally favourable results. These are well-known events, which have happened quite recently.

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“It is the desire of the people of the district that some mark of distinction should be conferred on the spirit; and the memorialist finds such a proceeding to be sanctioned both by law and precedent; he therefore humbly lays the wishes of the people before His Majesty, who, perhaps, will be pleased to confer a title and an autograph tablet as above suggested. The Rescript has already been recorded.

“No. 6 of Memorial.”

The idea of the transformation of a sea-monster or dragon into a bird is common both to China and Japan; for instance, in The Works of Chuang Tsze, ch. i. p. 1, by F. H. Balfour, F.R.G.S., we read that—

"In the Northern Sea there was a fish, whose name was kw‘ên. It is not known how many thousand li this fish was in length. It was afterwards transformed into a bird called p‘êng, the size of whose back is uncertain by some thousands of li. Suddenly it would dart upwards with rapid flight, its

FIG. 62.—THE HAI RIYO. (<i>Chi-on-in Monastery, Kioto</i>.)
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FIG. 62.—THE HAI RIYO. (Chi-on-in Monastery, Kioto.)

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wings overspreading the sky like clouds. When the waters were agitated [in the sixth moon] the bird moved its abode to the Southern Sea, the Pool of Heaven. In the book called Ts‘i Hieh, which treats of strange and marvellous things, it is said that when the p‘êng flew south, it first rushed over three thousand li of water, and then mounted to the height of ninety thousand li, riding upon the wind that blows in the sixth moon. The wild horses, i.e. the clouds and dust of heaven, were driven along by the zephyrs. The colour of the sky was blue; yet, is that the real colour of the sky, or only the appearance produced by infinite, illimitable depths? For the bird, as it looked downwards, the view was just the same as it is to us when we look upwards."

On the screens decorating the Chi-on-in monastery in Kioto, are depicted several composite creatures, half-dragon, half-bird, which appear to represent the Japanese rendering of the Chinese Ying Lung or winged dragon. They have dragons’ heads, plumose wings, and birds' claws, and have been variously designated to me by Japanese as the Hai Riyo (Fig. 62), the Tobi Tatsu, and the Schachi Hoko.

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p. 256

FIG. 64.
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FIG. 64.


The numerous quotations given in the above pages, or in the Appendix, are merely a selection; and by no means profess to be so extensive as they should be were this work a monograph on the dragon alone. Having a special object in view, I have forborne to diverge into those interesting speculations which relate to its religious significance; these I leave to those who deal specially with this portion of its history. I therefore pass over the many traditions and legends regarding it contained in the pages of the Memoirs of Hiouen-Thsang* of Foĕ Kouĕ Ki and similar narratives, and

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omit quoting folk-lore from the pages of Dennys, Eitel, and others who have written on the subject.

For my purpose it would be profitless to collate legends such as that given in the Apocrypha, in the story of Bel and the Dragon, and reappearing in the pages of El Edrisi as an Arab legend, with Alexander the Great as the hero, and the Canaries as the scene, or to dwell on the Corean and Japanese versions of dragon stories, which are merely borrowed, and corrupted in borrowing, from the Chinese. Nor shall I do more than allude to the fact that dragons are represented in the Brahminical caves at Ellora, and among the sculptures of Ancoar Wat in Cambodia.

FIG. 65.
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FIG. 65.

The rude diagrams, Figs. 64, 65, 66, are facsimiles from a manuscript of folio size in the possession of J. Haas, Esq., Imperial Austro-Hungarian Vice-Consul for Shang-hai, which he kindly placed at my disposal. This unique volume is at present, unfortunately, unintelligible. It comes from the western confines of China, and is believed to be an example of the written Lolo language, that is, of

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the language of the aboriginal tribes of China. They suffice to show that the same respect for the dragon is shown among these people as in China; but no opinion can be offered as to whether this belief and respect is original or imported, until their literature has been examined.

FIG. 66.
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FIG. 66.

I regret that I am unable to give in this volume, as I had wished, an account of the Persian dragon, which, I am informed, is contained in a rare Persian work.

In conclusion, I must hope that the reader who has had the patience to wade through the medley of extracts which I have selected, and to analyse the suggestive reasoning of the introductory chapters, will agree with me that there is nothing impossible in the ordinary notion of the traditional dragon; that such being the case, it is more likely to have once had a real existence than to be a mere offspring of fancy; and that from the accident of direct transmission of delineations of it on robes and standards, we have probably

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a not very incorrect notion of it in the depicted dragon of the Chinese.

We may infer that it was a long terrestrial lizard, hibernating, and carnivorous, with the power of constricting with its snake-like body and tail; possibly furnished with wing-like expansions of its integument, after the fashion of Draco volans, and capable of occasional progress on its hind legs alone, when excited in attack. It appears to have been protected by armour and projecting spikes, like those found in Moloch horridus and Megalania prisca, and was possibly more nearly allied to this last form than to any other which has yet come to our knowledge. Probably it preferred sandy, open country to forest land, its habitat was the highlands of Central Asia, and the time of its disappearance about that of the Biblical Deluge discussed in a previous chapter.

Although terrestrial, it probably, in common with most reptiles, enjoyed frequent bathing, and when not so engaged, or basking in the sun, secluded itself under some overhanging bank or cavern.

The idea of its fondness for swallows, and power of attracting them, mentioned in some traditions, may not impossibly have been derived from these birds hawking round and through its open jaws in the pursuit of the flies attracted by the viscid humours of its mouth. We know that at the present day a bird, the trochilus of the ancients, freely enters the open mouth of the crocodile, and rids it of the parasites affecting its teeth and jaws.


248:* The first two stories are from the Ko Ku Shi Riyăh, a recent history of Japan, from the earliest periods down to the present time, by Matsunai, with a continuation by a later author. They are contained in p. 249 the first chapter of the first volume. The third is given as an ordinary item of news in the journal called the Chin jei-Nippo, April 30th, 1884.

251:* The idea of the eight heads probably originated in China; thus, in the caves in Shantung, near Chi-ning Chou, among carvings of mythological figures and divinities, dating from A.D. 147, we find a tiger's body with eight heads, all human.

251:† Mourakoumo means "clouds of clouds"; ama means "heaven"; tsurogi means "sword."

252:* White snakes are occasionally, although rarely, seen in Japan. They are supposed to be messengers from the gods, and are never killed by the people, but always taken and carried to some temple. The white snake is worshipped in Nagasaki at a temple called Miyo-ken, at Nishi-yama, which is the northern part of the city of Nagasaki.

256:* Mémoires sur les Contrées occidentales, traduits du Sanscrit en Chinois en l’an 648; et du Chinois en Francais, par M. Stanislas Julien. 2 vols., Paris, 1857.

256:† Foĕ Kouĕ Ki, ou Relation des Royaumes Bouddhiques, par Chĕ Fa Hien. p. 257 Translated from the Chinese by M. Abel Remusat; Paris, 1836. This volume contains a number of very interesting dragon legends, and quaint conceits about them; but I find nothing in it to supplement my materialistic argument.

Next: Chapter IX. The Sea-Serpent