Group 5 Day 4: Exploring Chinese and Indian Influences on Japanese Tales


Happy Friday everyone!

We wanted to thank everyone for the questions and input after the first presentation, we will definitely take your comments and ideas into consideration.

One thing that came up during our group discussion today was the fact that finding secondary sources, particularly monographs, has not been as easy as we expected for our broad topic of snakes and dragons within Japanese folklore. Internet searches we have done to familiarize ourselves with Japanese snake and dragon lore have brought up interesting tales, but often come from unreliable sources. Another concern is that many of these websites seem to confuse snakes and dragons, calling a creature a snake in one moment and then a dragon in another. Although Royall Tyler in his introduction to Japanese Tales notes that the “boundary” between the two creatures are often vague, distinctions do exist.

But what really interested me today was the idea that snakes and dragons in Japanese folklore not only have Chinese influences but also Indian influences through Buddhism AND Hinduism. Seeing as Buddhism originated in India, making its way to China, and later arriving in Japan, this makes a lot of sense. Due to the fact that these revelations come from non-peer-reviewed sources, we will, of course, have to find more credible sources that back up these statements, especially for specific connections.

But, I decided to do some investigations into snakes and dragons within Chinese and Indian mythology and this is what I found:

According to the Index of Chinese Names and Terms within Anne Birrell’s Chinese Mythology: An Introduction, snakes and dragons have very distinct connotations and associated motifs within Chinese mythology. Insights into the way Chinese mythology looks at these creatures could be beneficial when we look at their roles within Japanese tales. Snakes are associated with supernatural powers and often serve as the bottom half of a deity. They are also associated with motifs of “cosmic knowledge and power, divine creature, emblem and deity” (Birell 310). Dragons are also associated with knowledge of the cosmos as well as rain, which is something we have already learned about concerning Japanese dragons (Birell 299).

In regards to possible Indian influence, there was mention of the Nagas, an animal deity popular in Indian mythology, in our group discussion. Veronica Ions’ Indian Mythology describes the Nagas as a serpent-like race, often seen as demons and lovers of gems. They are associated with certain gods such as Vishnu and Shiva (Ions 109).

We look forward to investigating more the many qualities of snakes and dragons within Japanese mythology and their ties to other Asian cultures. Thanks for reading!


*** This is Caitlin Johnson’s post. I’m posting on her behalf (copying and pasting the wonderful stuff above from what she forwarded to me due to technical issues!)

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