Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts

Sunday 6 March 2022

The Courageous Koi at Dragon's Gate

The Courageous Koi at Dragon’s Gate

In China they tell the story of the Yellow Emperor, who became so angry at the wickedness of the humans that he decided to end their existence. Summoning the God of Rain, he commanded that the rain should never stop until the entire Earth was covered in water and all but a few of the offensive humans were all drowned. So began a Great Flood and every day the floodwaters rose until only the highest mountains were left. The Yellow Emperor’s grandson, Kun, managed to make a few safe havens with some stolen magic mud, but his supply ran out and the rains kept on falling. The Emperor’s anger had not yet abated and, for his disobedience, Kun was executed by the God of Fire.

River by Sandra buy here:

Kun’s son, Yu, was a golden yellow dragon, strong and beautiful, and he took up the task of saving humanity from the Great Flood. Yu spoke respectfully to the Emperor and described the suffering he had seen amongst the humans. His words softened the Yellow Emperor’s heart and he gave the golden dragon, Yu, the position of the new rain god. He also gave Yu enough magic mud to soak up all the water as well as the assistance of a Magic Tortoise to carry it for him.

River Dragon by Collette J Ellis buy here:

Yu’s mighty Dragon Breath easily dispersed the storm clouds and deposed the old Rain God, who had revelled in making ceaseless rain. Once the last drop had fallen, Yu and the Magic Tortoise travelled the Earth dispensing magic mud and creating solid land once more until all the mud on the Tortoise’s back had been used.
Then, so that the rain would have a place to go, Yu created the rivers with swipes from his powerful tail. As Yu was digging the course of what was to become the Yellow River in the north he came across a place where some rocky cliffs blocked the flow of the water. Yu pondered for a moment then, with calculated ferocity, he directed one mighty blow from his tail at the cliffs, cutting a chasm through the hard rock. “I name this place ‘Dragon’s Gate’ and from this day forward it shall be sacred to Dragons.”
This was the origin of the great rivers that flow across China to this day.

Koi Dragon by Heather Bruton - buy here:

Seeing the new land, ready for planting, the people left their caves in the mountains and ventured down onto the fertile plains. In their gratitude they begged Yu to become their Emperor. Thus Yu, the Golden Dragon, became a Man-God and lived a long lifetime on the Earth, almost as long as he would have lived had he stayed as a Dragon. Under his guidance mankind grew knowledgeable in following the ways of Heaven and gained favour in the eyes of the Yellow Emperor.

Yu the Great Contols the Floods

Dragon Emperor Yu is still honoured and remembered at the rapids of Dragon’s Gate on the Yellow River and the location still retains a touch of the magic it had at the beginning of time.

A certain type of carp, called a koi, gains their strength by swimming against the current. Not for the koi are the soft lives living in still ponds, for they seek out and revel in adversity. Thousands of years ago, before writing was invented in China, a huge school of thousands of koi swam up the Yellow River until they reached Dragon’s Gate. Most of the school grew discouraged seeing the roiling water and feeling the strong current that stood against them, and so they went back downstream to feast in the quiet waters of the lower river, leaving a small group of 360 stalwarts behind.

Hukou Waterfall
Leaping higher and higher, swimming faster and faster, each koi strained to reach the top of the falls, only to be swept back by the power of the water in the chasm. Their splashing drew the attention of sadistic demons that lived nearby who maliciously increased the height of the falls even more. Undeterred, the koi continued their attempts over the next hundred years, growing stronger and stronger with each failure until one single koi made a heroic leap and cleared the chasm.

Koi Dragon - tattoo design by Ed Delacruz buy here:

As he sailed through the air on his way over the water the Gods looked down with approval and transformed the flying fish into a shining golden dragon in the middle of his leap. The former carp was now a Dragon, the spitting image of Yu, the creator of Dragon’s Gate, himself. Flapping his new wings he continued upwards until he reached the clouds where he chased pearls of wisdom across the skies. Whenever another brave koi finds the strength and courage to leap the falls at Dragon’s Gate they, too, become a Heavenly Dragon.

Koi Dragon by Ben Wootten buy here:

Because of their endurance and perseverance, koi have become the symbol of overcoming adversity and fulfilling one’s destiny. The Chinese word “carp” sounds similar to the word “business” and is also a homophone with “profit” or “advantage”. “Fish” sounds similar to “surplus” or “wealth”. Because of this word play, koi have also become associated also with good fortune in mercantile endeavours and paintings of them are a common decoration in shops and restaurants. And in the China of today there is still the possibility that a lowly shopkeeper may, by strength and courage, become a Dragon of Industry.

Koi Dragon Fish by Cortney DeSantis - buy here:

Posted by Steve Caunce

Thursday 8 March 2012

The Gentle Qilin

The Gentle Qilin

The Qilin is a mystical hoofed chimerical creature, often depicted with what looks like fire all over its body. It has the head of Dragon and the body of horse. It represents protection, prosperity, success, longevity and illustrious offspring. It is a good omen that brings ruì (roughly translated as "serenity" or "prosperity"). The Qilin (sometimes misleadingly called the "Chinese unicorn" due to Western influence) is believed to manifest upon the occasion of an imminent person’s arrival, or when a wise sage or an illustrious ruler has departed.
During the Zhou dynasty the Qilin ranked higher than the Dragon or Phoenix; Qilin first, the Phoenix ranked second and the Dragon third. In the Post-Qin Chinese hierarchy of mythical animals, in fables where the Qilin was depicted as the sacred pet of the deities, the Qilin ranked the third after the Dragon and Phoenix. In Japan (Qilin) Kirin are portrayed as a dragon shaped like a deer with an ox’s tail, and they preserved their primary importance, with the Phoenix placed second and the Dragon third.

The earliest references to the Qilin were in the 5th century BC, in the book of Zuo Zhuan. In its historical account we are told that after Zheng He’s voyage to the East Africa around the area of modern day Kenya he had brought back two giraffes to the Emperor in Nanjing. The giraffes were thereafter referred to as Qilins.
The Qilin and the giraffe were both vegetarian and shared a quiet nature on top of their reputed ability to "walk on grass without disturbing it”. Furthermore, the Qilin were described as having antlers like a deer and scales like a dragon or fish whereas the giraffe had horn-like "ossicones" on its head and a tessellated coat pattern that looked like scales. Even today the giraffe is still called girin by Koreans and kirin by the Japanese.

Back then the Emperor had proclaimed the giraffe as a magical creature, whose capture signified the greatness of his power. By the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) the original Qilins were long gone. In subsequent legends their appearance took on a more stylized representation of the giraffe, becoming mixed with some attributes of the tiger, dragon and other animals. The Ming artisans represented the Qilin as an oxen-hoofed animal with a dragon-like head surmounted by a pair of horns with flame-like head ornaments and a scaled body. Sometimes the creature is depicted with a single horn on its forehead, a multicolored back, and hooves of a horse, body of a deer and the tail of an ox.
During the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644–1911) the Qilin was depicted as having the head of a dragon, the antlers of a deer, the skin and scales of a fish, the hooves of an ox and tail of a lion.

The Qilin’s attributes are:

Though fearsome, the Qilin only punish the wicked. Its manifestation bespeaks of a wise and benevolent leader in a country or even a household. Being such a peaceful creature when it walks on grass or vegetation it takes care not to trample a single blade or step on any living thing. A Qilin is said to also be able to walk on water. If a pure person is threatened by an obvious culprit the Qilin transforms into a fierce creature, spouting flames from its mouth and displays other fearsome aspects.
In legend Qilins are linked to children and childbirth. Couples who desperately want children appeal to the Qilin and the Qilin grants them their wish. The Qilin is said to take special care of those children abandoned on hillsides by their birth parents, such is its compassionate heart.

The birth of the great sage Confucius was also presaged by the appearance of a Qilin who appeared in the courtyard of his parent’s home on the night Confucius was born, bearing a scroll in its mouth. This scroll announced the Will of Heaven: that a baby will be born who will be “a man of extraordinary good moral character and talent, an exemplar of human excellences. Although he is not on the throne, he has the virtue of a king.” When Confucius was 71 years old he was informed that an elk had been wounded and left to die just outside the city. When he went to see the stricken animal he found it was a Qilin and set down his sorrow over the killing of such a magnificent creature in his work “Spring Autumn” and ceased writing. Two years after the Qilin’s death, saddened by the death of his son and the auspicious animal Confucius died in 479 B.C. and since then the Qilin has been closely associated with his teachings.

Qilin Dance; Eye-dotting Ceremony

In this video the Buddhist monk is dotting the eye in a ceremony for the Qilin dance. When a drought ravaged China in times past the Earth Diety and Laughing Face Buddha tried to find a solution to the disaster. Buddha knew that the Qilin had the power to stop disasters and, with the help of the Monkey, they came upon its cave. When the Qilin arrived on Earth it began spitting fire and distributing serenity and prosperity upon the people. The drought ended, people and animals recovered and bountiful harvests resumed once more. The dance created from this story is performed during festivities and celebrations and is called “Tristar meet a friend, qilin leaves his cave.” This dance is said to be particularly hard to perform due to its rapid, jerky movements that are full of energy and tax the dancer’s muscles.

Sunday 8 January 2012

The Centipede and the Dragon Princess

 The Centipede and the Dragon Princess
(An Alternate Version of Rice-bag Toda (Tawara Toda) 

Once upon a time a warrior called Fujiwara no Hidesato was crossing the Seta Bridge at Lake Biwa. Suddenly a monstrous serpent appeared and lay across the roadway just ahead of him.  The hero was not least bit perturbed and, shrugging his shoulders, calmly stepped over the giant snake and continued on his way. No sooner had Fujiwara passed than the serpent slid into the lake only to reappear again a few feet in front of him in the form of a beautiful woman, blocking his way.


Sporting an enchanting smile, she bowed to him in formal greeting and said, “For two thousand years sir, it’s been my unfortunate fate to be kept away from my home, held prisoner under this bridge. In all that time, I have never before seen such a courageous man as you. It is for that reason that I dare ask this favour.”  In a sorrowful voice she related her tragic story to the hero. She told him how once she’d been a Dragon Princess from a far away sea. Wanting to see more of the world, she had forsaken her safe home, snuck away and travelled far and wide. After many years, as she grew older and matured, she relented and wished to go back home but could no longer find her way no matter how hard she tried. Alone and forlorn, constrained to remain in human form, she had been fortunate enough to meet a brilliant scholar and married him.
For a time they lived happily with their three children, but then one unfortunate day a monstrous centipede emerged from a valley beyond the ridge of hills and, having spotted her, abducted her and hid her in a cave where no one could find her. While she was captive, the centipede had gone back and murdered her loving husband and children. Claiming the region around their old home and the river as his own, he’d brought her back to that precise spot and, from that time on, condemned her to the life of a captive slave. He used his power to endlessly torment her. She had made her home in the depths of the river, forsaking solid land as it had reminded her too much of what she had lost. Still she could not attain any solace. She was forced to give him whenever he wanted each time he came to call on her. She had been most miserable since then, powerless to escape the clutches of the trickster centipede. The few times she’d sought help from wandering warriors, or anyone courageous enough to be willing to help, it had ended disastrously. The monster, delighting in torture, had eaten each champion slowly and painfully in front of her.
“I have been most frank and now you know just what is at stake. Dare I hope for your help, for salvation from my nightmare?” She cupped her face in her hands and sobbed tragically. As he had not taken to his heels in fright and still hung about, she came to believe that he might be the one to save her and again implored the hero to do all he can to destroy the centipede and rescue her from this dire predicament.
Fujiwara was as compassionate as he was brave and he consented after only a very brief consideration. “Rest assured dear lady, I’ll do all I can within my power to help you.” he promised her. “Please go home to your place in the lake and await the results.”
That evening armed with a bow and arrow he planted his feet solidly in the centre of the bridge and waited patiently for the arrival of the centipede. It was a particularly cold night, cumulous clouds rode the sky, driven by strong winds that buffeted his sleeves and thrashed at his face. Often they hid the moon’s rays, leaving him in pitch darkness. Adding an ominous choir to this dramatic scene were the continuous cries of the wild beasts. 
Suddenly from the top of Mt. Mikami, following in the wake of a flash of lightning, two enormous lights burst into the black sky. The vast blinding light, resembling two hundred lit torches, had suddenly turned night into day. It took Hidesato only an instant to recognise the two beams of light as the centipede’s eyes.

Unafraid, Hidesato sightlessly launched three consecutive arrows directly at the blinding lights. Being a great marksman, he hit his mark and the blinding lights were instantly snuffed out; the monster was no more.
The Dragon princess was overjoyed at the news of his decisive victory. Filled with gratitude, she invited Hidesato to be her guest for a time at her own Dragon abode. With her powers now at full capacity after the death of the centipede she was able to transform the simple dwelling into a palace more befitting a Dragon Princess. There she regaled him with music, tasty, delectable dishes and rewarded him with fine gifts: a roll of fine silk, a temple bell, a sword and armour, as well as a tawara bag of rice. She told him in no uncertain terms that these were magical items; that the silk roll, no matter how much he cut from it, would not diminish in size, nor would the bag of rice ever empty no matter how many scoops he took from it, and that the magic would last as long as he lived.
Hidesato returned home and lived comfortably till a ripe old age.  At one point, he did come to know how the Dragon Princess, with her continually growing powers, had eventually attained her ultimate goal of returning home. She was eventually reunited with her parents, who forgave her after learning of all that she’d gone through, had married another dragon and they both lived happily ever after.
 Before the end of his life Hidesato saw fit to donate the bell to Mii-dera temple at Mount Hiei. Unfortunately it was stolen by a priest from rival Enryaku-ji temple. When the bell spoke to the culprit priest he took fright and threw the bell over a cliff and into a valley. The long drop and the landing on hard rock made a long crack appear in the side of the bell. Eventually when the cracked bell was returned to Mii-dera a small snake, perhaps an offspring of the Dragon Princess, used his tail to repair the damage. She was known to visit the lake from time to time, to pay homage to her late human husband and deceased children, whom she’d never forgotten.

Note: In another version of the story, set during the Genpei War, when Hidesato encounters the Dragon Snake on the bridge it is transformed, instead of a beautiful woman, into a “strange small man” instead, who was none other than the Dragon King himself. There is a Shinto shrine near the Seta Bridge at Lake Biwa where, even to date, people worship Tawara Toda, “Rice-bag Toda”.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Japanese Dragons and Lore - Urashima Taro

Japanese Dragons and Lore: Urashima Taro

Japanese dragons are huge, wingless serpentine creatures with tri-clawed feet. They are often depicted as water deities; beings associated with seas, rivers, and ponds or with storms and rainfall. Almost always the Japanese dragon myths amalgamate the native legends with imported dragon stories from China, Korea and even as far as India.

I shall endeavour the retelling of one of these folktales.

Urashima Taro

Once upon a time in a small village by the Sea there lived a good hearted young fisherman, named Urashima Taro, and his aged mother. Every morning at dawn he would follow the narrow path to the seashore, where he had moored his boat in a sheltered spot and return at dusk with the day’s catch. This day being no different, he was following the narrow goat trail down when he spotted a group of children mercilessly torturing a small turtle trapped in some reeds by the shore. Rushing to the spot, he wrenched the poor thing from the hands of the biggest bully just before he was about to subject the distressed creature to yet another cruel prank.

“Leave the poor thing along, shame on you all. How would you like it if someone did this to you? ” He berated the rowdy children who responded with curses, protesting his intrusion. Eventually they dispersed, grumbling under their breath and promising dire repercussions.

After losing the bullies Taro carried the turtle to his boat and set it down on a soft cloth. Once the brief examination ensured that the turtle was not grievously injured, he commenced rowing.

When he was bit further out from the shore he stopped at an ideal spot, picked up the turtle and, gently lowering his hand over the side of the boat, watched as the poor thing slowly slid off of his hand and dove into the safety of the sea. Smiling, Taro turned back to the business of fishing.

On the next day when he was once more out at sea a rather huge turtle stuck his head out of the ocean and addressed him in human speech. This remarkable turtle told him how the small turtle he’d saved was none other than the daughter of Ryujin, the Emperor of the Sea.

“His highness wishes to see you and to thank you in person. Are you willing?” the giant turtle asked Taro.

Taro was elated to learn that the little turtle had returned to the safety of her home. This seemed enough and he was about to decline, saying no thanks were necessary, when his curiosity got the better of him and he acquiesced.

“First, you need to get into the water.” The giant turtle directed, and Taro readily complied. Even though he was a very good swimmer, Taro hung onto the side of his boat with one hand for safety sake. “Close your eyes.” the giant turtle instructed him then, once Taro complied, the turtle began an incantation.

Opening his eyes, Taro was elated to find that he had been endowed with gills. Hanging on tight to the shell, he rode the giant turtle to the bottom of the ocean. Along the way the wonders he saw delighted his senses and immeasurably lifted his soul.

At the spectacular palace of the Ryugu-jo he was granted an audience with the Dragon King attended by all his courtiers. After the formalities he was properly introduced to the small turtle, who appeared in her true form as the beautiful Princess Otohime. So taken was Taro by the Princesses’ charm, poise and beauty that he agreed to stay for a few days as their honoured guest.

For three days he experienced such wondrous things, delectable foods, fruit, drinks, music, colours, and entertainment that he entirely forgot the human world above. Besides which, he reminded himself, there were enough reserves of dried fish, beans and rice , to last his mother until his return.

Being a conscientious boy however, his worry about the welfare of his mom soon soured all his experiences. Reluctantly he asked Princess Otohime’s permission to leave and return to his home in the village. Of course the Princess was saddened by this request; however she understood his desire and wished him well. As a parting gift she gave him a magic box called a tamtebako. He was told that the box will protect him from all harm but that he must never, under any circumstances, open it. Securing the box, Taro with tearful eyes bid the Princess farewell and climbed onto the same giant turtle to begin his swift ascent to the surface. He was carried up close to the shore and was able to swim the rest of the way to the beach.

A great shock awaited him when he finally arrived where his home had once been, for everything was completely different. The house had been reduced to rubble, and the little sapling he had once planted was now a huge tree. Making his way to the village which, in three days had grown into a sizeable town, hoping against hope, he inquired after his mother and his relatives. But no one had ever heard of her, nor did they recollect the other acquaintances he named. In his desperation, he asked dozens of people, if anyone had ever heard of a young man by the name of Urashima Taro. The response was always a baffled look and a resounding “No, no, no!”

Finally an investigation of the temple records revealed the existence of someone named Urashima Taro who had perished at sea 300 years ago. Dumbstruck, his head in a daze, he groped his way back to the seashore, collapsed on the sand and, covering his face, began to sob. As he watched the sun setting on the horizon, grief-stricken and dismayed, his hand chanced on the box. In his confused state, he withdrew it from his pocket and absentmindedly opened it. Almost immediately he began to grow old. His hair turned all white, his smooth skin began to wrinkle and sag and his back became bent. As he continued to decay, just before he felt his body turn to dust, the sweet, sad voice of the Princes reached his ears. “All is lost now; I warned you not to open the box. It held your old age.”

The End.