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A dragon calling on its roots from ancient cultures.

Let’s be content about the fact that there are multiple scriptures and articles that have been written about dragons 「龍」「竜」throughout the past centuries. So what’s the use of a new entry and what will this one add? 

Well, in total this article is about dragons and their usage in Horimono, the art of large scale tattooing in Japan. 

The superstition and a legend passed on over generations. Documented in multiple cultures, it seems to keeps its roots in the draconian empire. Serpents, gargoyles and dragons all from the same faraway tree?

In this new post we will not be discussing the Dragon from China too much. You can read about it in different parts of the net, rather let’s focus on the Japanese version. 

Let’s start off and clarify a few things.

view between doors of Unryuzu painted at Tenryu-ji Temple grounds near Arashiyama, Japan. Dragon painted on wall.
Unryuzu painted at Tenryu-ji Temple grounds near Arashiyama, Japan.
side view of a Bronze Dragon Fountain in Nikkō, with trees in the background.
At Toshogu-ji temple.
Bronze Dragon Fountain at the Toshogu Temple in Nikkō. Picture taken by Gordon Claus in 2015.

Learning about dragons from a Japanese master.

In Japan, the shishi, snake, carp, cherry blossom and maple leaf are of big importance. 

These are the traditional folk animals and flora that are mostly incorporated into carving of the Japanese underground. 

Gordon Claus, Second generation Kisaragi, having learned from a man who was long term affiliated with the Japanese underworld, therefore our family steps back from romantic looking work.

Let’s bear in mind that there are specific Japanese tattooers who only decorate their clients bodies with traditional Japanese imagery. However, Sensei Kisaragi1st (Horikoi1st.) from Toyohashi was open minded and loved to step away from stereotypes.

In this context, Initially having 10 scholars from around the globe, one of them was actually from China. It’s a rocky road, and not everyone makes the path. Due to mentality differences it was a good Choice to separate ways. 

With this little fun fact I want to introduce the idea that China and Japan are close to each other but couldn’t be further apart. 

Anyway, the use of the Dragon is of course embedded in Japanese tattooing. 

Let’s take into consideration that it’s better to use images of the snake rather than those of the dragon when possible.  Please be aware that there is also a fact that dragons are expressed as snakes without limbs. Literally for those who are studying old prints and literature will find that there are numerous specimens of dragons that actually don’t have limbs. 

Full view of a tattooed Japanese Dragon across a mans complete back.
Irezumi, Horimono, Princess Kannon
Kannonryu by Shodai Horikoi – Kisaragi 1991.

Things to ask yourself about Japanese Dragons?

How are the rules determined for fictional creatures? What is correct and what is not? What are the rules? 

Not only dragons, there are many unidentified creatures such as whales and ghosts.

We don’t want to engrave tattoos that are too unbalanced and that are just poor cartoons, so we will need refinement here and there…

Dragon fingers/claws and scales should be simple. 

In Japanese classic tattooing the dragon is depicted with three toes.

You have to study your face many times.

Let’s talk about a few different types dragons that are important for Horimono (Jap. One big carving).

Japanese Dragon – Ryu Characteristcs

In general, Japanese dragons are at home in the water, some like the yellow blaze are in the sky.

Dragons embody wisdom and have the power to manipulate earthly things such as the weather and even as far as the forces of the universe.

The body of a Japanese dragon consists of a number of different animals. Do you know how many in total? 

Dragons take on the characteristics of the animals that they usually encounter during there life. 

It has the body and belly of a snake, arms of a tiger, claws of a phoenix, scales of a carp, horns of a deer, eyes of a pig, The ear of a cow or goat and so on. The eyes are usually that of the rabbit, boar or a Demon! 

The Japanese dragon is known as the bearer of blessings. Similar to other Japanese tattoo designs, the choice of a dragon is usually an aspiration to qualities of great wisdom and power.

The Japanese dragon with its mouth closed (un-gyō),  is shown to not let evil in, the mouth open (a-gyō) is used to let evil out. 

Japanese dragons can also be depicted clutching a pearl or a jewel, also known as “the closed-lotus”.

essentially the essence of the universe in order to control the winds, rains, fire and even the planets. 

You can observe this it at Shinto shrines throughout Japan.

Japanese Dragon surrounded by element as part of the temple complex at Mt. Takao.
Beautiful wooden Dragon element as part of the temple complex at Mt. Takao.

Japanese Dragon Types

To avoid confusion the Japanese, English and partly Chinese names are listed here. It will be helpful for your own overview when studying. The content here is not intended as copy and paste. Rather the list finds its help in clarifying which nature the Dragon, we intend to use on your body, will have. No matter if you are a member from the Japanese community in Düsseldorf or happened to be a local from nearby, feel free to contact Second-generation Kisaragi at any time. 

Please enjoy.

Ouryu / Yinglong Some call it “Hiryu” is actually a spirit beast unlike a dragon. Dragon with wings.

Shouryu / Sheng Long, 

Climbing Rising Dragon

Kouryu / Xiang Long, 

Falling dragon 

Souryu / Zou long, 

Running dragon on roof ridges

Shōmenryu / Front faced dragon used by riders

Unryu / Yun Long 

Follow the clouds in the sky

Seiryu / Blue dragon 

Kokuryu / Black Dragon 

Kouryu / Yellow Dragon, Yellow Blaze

Sekiryu / Red Dragon

Hakuryu / White Dragon 

From white snake to white dragon Suiju White Ruiju According to Chinese mythology, it is the messenger of the Emperor, the ruler of the heavens, and it flies the fastest of all dragons.

Kurikara Ryu Ou / Sword of Fudo Myoō

Sword that cuts off the sword Ryushoku traditional dragon swallowing sword figure A dragon that is said to be the genus of Fudo Myo, or the incarnation of Fudo Myo itself. 

Leaving you here today with the question: What about green dragons?

With the multiple versions that lay at choice we are confident that this way we won’t get bored even after years!

The Kisaragi/Horikoi family will continue to think and make wonderful tattoos!