Dragons in Asiatic History
Legends of dragons are found all around the world, but perhaps without the same level of fanfare that is reserved for dragons of Asian origin. Often seen as beings with a magical wisdom as well as awesome physical power, the dragon is recognized in all its forms around the world with great respect and admiration.
The Chinese and Japanese each have their own unique take on this incredibly powerful mythological beast, with some unique differences that help to differentiate them.
What is the difference between a Chinese dragon and a Japanese dragon?
China may lay claim to being one of the world’s oldest civilizations, but Japan has taken some of the aspects of Chinese myths and incorporated them into their own versions of dragons as mystical beings. The shared wisdom of each is evident, and there are a number of other differences that can help you differentiate between the two if you’re unsure of them.
China can lay claim to some of the oldest dragon myths in the world. Also known as “long” or “lung”, the Chinese dragons is best recognized as a near serpent-like creature on four legs, with characteristic long whiskers and a mane.
Chinese folklore shows the dragon as having power over the weather, most specifically typhoons and oceanic weather patterns. As such, sailors often paid a spiritual homage to dragons in the hope for good weather on their journeys.
These “Lung” have inherent wisdom and physical power, and were often used in the past as representative of the emperor’s imperial power. Capable and strong individuals would be referred to as “dragons”, with lesser as legless “worms” that were seen as inferior.
The legendary Japanese dragon is perhaps the most recognized of contemporary dragon mythology. The Japanese have a long history of mythology regarding dragons, which were seen aggressive water gods. Similar in their serpent-like shape, the Japanese dragon tends to have a more varied color scheme dependent on the area in which they live or the element that they represent. Many of these are represented in their art with sleeve tattoos.
While they carry a lot of the same traits as their Chinese cousins, the Japanese dragon tends to have a more extensive connotation with the sea. Various named sea monsters are shown to be dragons on ancient Japanese scrolls, further cementing their association with the sea.
One important physical difference between the two Asian countries is the fact that Chinese dragons tend to have five fingers while in Japan they typically only have three.
Contrasts to European Dragon Myths
Probably the most important difference between Asiatic dragons and their European counterparts is the fact that western dragons tend to breathe fire or some other element, while Chinese dragons do not. As well as this, the physical properties of Asiatic dragons are far more serpent-like in their appearance and much more graceful.
European dragons are much more varied in size and shape depending on the country they are from. Most often, they look like lizards or dinosaurs with bat-like wings, and are inherently evil and deserving of death, preferably by a paladin or otherwise virtuous knight. In medieval times, dragons could be seen as representative of Satan, the ultimate evil, so the various myths about them revolved around being slaughtered in order to prevent the mass destruction of a town or castle.
The obvious difference between these various countries is that Asiatic dragons were not exactly feared as much as respected for their power, and the inevitability of their control over the weather was the biggest aspect of that fear.
The fear found in Europe was based more in the inherent evil of these creatures, which is probably why they were always depicted as incredibly frightening and worth of death.
What does Japanese dragon symbolize?
Like their Chinese counterparts, Japanese dragons embodied a wisdom not found in the European variety. More so than their Chinese counterparts, however, Japanese dragons are emblematic of the sea and oceanic elements. Many different types of sea monsters can claim to be dragons, controlling the currents, tides, weather, and the waxing and waning of the moon.
Popular tattoo designs for Japanese dragons include scroll-like and colorful sleeves that run up across the arm, perhaps with other symbolic pieces that help to effectively convey the aquatic element of these creatures.
As well as this, a smaller dragon design can serve as a tasteful reminder of its power despite its size. The ever present koi fish surrounding it can show that the dragon is not remiss to accept help and respect from the lesser beings. In mythology, the koi desire to become dragons, and even attempt to by swimming up the Yellow river.
Does Ryu mean dragon?
In the Japanese language, “ryu” is typically emblematic of the traditional dragon of that country. Similar to the Chinese “Loong” and Korean “yong”, the ryu is the prototypical Japanese dragon, having the same incredible power over the oceanic areas of the world and other aquatic environments.
Despite being known as gods of the sea, ryu can also be symbols of good fortune. For sailors, paying respects to the ryu of the ocean was paramount in receiving a blessing of good weather so they could make it home safely.
Yin and Yang
Chinese culture has always placed an emphasis on mythical creatures that represent strength and wisdom. Yin yang effectively practices this with the Asian dragon, as it is powerful yet clever.
Yin is the female or “moon”, while “Yang” symbolizes the sun and male. Dragon tattoo design can work well together, whether you’re designing a Japanese dragon or Chinese dragon tattoo.
East Asian Culture Tattoo Ideas
The dragon represents many different aspects of power and wisdom. Tattoo artists who have a grasp on the intricacies of dragon tattoos will most likely have an extensive portfolio of designs for you to look through. You can create your own dragon to symbolize whatever you want, whether that may be the more traditional design or something more contemporary and abstract with different subject matter with the design such as flowers.
Ready to Explore Your Own Dragon Tattoo?
At Chronic Ink Tattoo, our talented artists are ready to help you explore Dragon and other tattoos to make sure you find something you’ll want to show off for decades to come. If you’re in the Toronto, Markham, Mississauga, Kitsilano Vancouver area drop by our shop and check us out for yourself.
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