(Also Ryo-Wo, Rinjin)

"Luminous Being"
"Dragon King"

Ryujin was the dragon god of the sea in Japanese mythology. He was symbolic of power and the ocean. The specifics of his physical nature are unclear, but it can be assumed that Ryujin, like other Japanese dragons, did not often fly, had a serpentine body and three clawed toes on each foot. He had a very large, open mouth and was able to transform into a human shape. His messengers were the sea turtles. From his undersea palace Ryugu, he controlled the tides with magical Tide Jewels.

Once, the dragon god gave the jewels to Isora, the god of the beach, so that he could pass them on to the Empress Jingo. The Japanese fleet (including the empress) was sailing towards Korea with the intent to invade, when the Korean fleet confronted them. When she saw the enemy fleet approaching, she tossed the Low-tide Jewel into the water, making the tide recede and thus beaching the Korean fleet. The Koreans jumped out of their boats onto the mudflats to attack, but at that moment, Jingo tossed the High-tide Jewel onto the flats. A tidal wave rushed over the Korean soldiers, drowning them all and pushed the Japanese fleet to the Korean harbor thereby assuring victory for the Empress Jingo and her fleet. Some time after that, Ryujin presented the Tide Jewels on a beautiful pink shell to Prince Ojin, the empress’s son.

Another tale featuring Ryujin is concerned with how the jellyfish (sometimes the octopus) lost its bones. The story takes place long ago when the jellyfish still had fins, feet and bones and was a servant of the dragon god. In differing versions, either Ryujin himself, his daughter Otohime (Toyo-Tame) or his bride had a craving for a live monkey’s liver*. The dragon sent the jellyfish to the land to find and bring back a monkey. The monkey was easily lured with the promise of seeing the wonderful undersea palace of Ryujin, but along the way, the jellyfish felt guilty and told the monkey the real reason that he was being invited to the palace. The quick-thinking monkey told the jellyfish that he had taken out his liver, left it in a jar on the land and would be happy to go get it. After waiting for a time, the jellyfish went back to Ryugu and explained why the monkey would be late in coming. Ryujin got so angry that he beat the jellyfish until its bones were crushed and so it came to look like the jellyfish we know today.

Each year at the Gion Matsuri (an annual festival of the Yasaka Shrine) thirty-one historically themed floats called Yamaboko form a long procession that is pulled through the streets. One of these floats is in the shape of an ancient ship. According to one tale, this ship was called Jingu Kogo and was used to carry the Japanese empress. The main figures on the elaborately carved float are the Empress Jingu and Ryujin.


*In some stories, the monkey liver is needed to heal an incurable rash.

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