Group Naga: really getting the ball rolling

Happy Tuesday! Hearing the wind whistling outside my window really has me thinking of soaring dragons (already found some pretty good dragon sounds for our podcast today!). Today our group really began cementing details for our podcast and began a fairly extensive outlined script of sorts. Our enthusiasm is well spread through the group. Sili is really interested in the Chinese influences on the snakes and dragons, as well as, how their views differed or aligned with how the japanese began to represent dragons and snakes in folklore and everyday culture. Caitlin is interested by the overarching themes and influences that Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shintoism had on the interpretation of dragons and snakes, as well as, specific interpretations regarding water and life. Will, having already had some classes that covered other aspects of Asian cultures  and regions, is excited to delve more into the similarities and what laid the foundations that then influenced cultures of East Asia. He is also particularly interested in how pop culture has evolved with these interpretations of dragons and snakes as key influences. I am focusing on the relationships between gender, power, and sexuality as it is portrayed in folklore/tales concerning dragons and snakes. With Sili’s help, we will break down the historical context of this central themes and why they may have been interpreted using dragons and snakes as the embodiment or symbol of how gender, power and sexuality were being defined in early Japanese and Chinese history. We will present several tales concerning the representation of snakes and dragons as they align with those themes. Excitement for our final results grows as we continue to iron out the little details together.


-Team Naga!

Group 5/Naga Day 5 Update

Group 5 Finally decided that although “5” was a good name and treated us well, it was time to choose a new name that was a bit more personal and connected to our final project.  With this in mind, we agreed on the name “Nāga”.  The Nāga were mentioned in Caitlin’s update, but upon more reading, we found that the integration and influence from the Indian/Buddhist Nāga into Chinese, and particularly Japanese myth, is quite prominent.  This further reading comes primarily from the book The Dragon in China and Japan, written by M. W. de Visser.  This book is an example of stumbling upon a near perfect source for this part of our research, a phenomena that is quite satisfying to any researcher.

Although the Buddhist Nāga of India are not intended to be the main focus of our final project, they are still crucial to analysis due to how their myth has integrated into local lore, and from the historical context the myths give to the transfer and shaping of ideas.  The integration of myth and lore can be seen more heavily in Japan than China because Buddhist influence was stronger in Japan, however, both nations incorporated these Buddhist creatures.  This may not have been a radical change though, because the Nāga and the local dragons and serpents shared many of the same qualities, mostly pertaining to water and strength.  The influence from Buddhist myth in japan can then be seen clearly by de Visser’s attention to their reverence of the Buddha and his teachings, showing that the Buddha can be even more powerful than dragon gods.  Seen below is an image of the Buddha riding a Japanese dragon, showing the relationship of the Buddha with the dragons who are known to “supplicate” before him as de Visser states.

Kunisada II Utagawa, ”The Dragon” From the series, Modern Illustrations of Buddhist Precepts.

Research into the historical context of Chinese and Japanese dragons is making me even more excited to flesh out the rest of the project, and to analyze what dragons and snakes may indicate about China and Japan through their stories.

-Will Sarros

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!)

Snack, dragon and their mystery

As mentioned in our first class, Japanese tales involve the thought of animism, the symbolizing, mutually influenced, and sometimes metaphorical spirits, which is often represented by living animals. Upon reading the introduction of Japanese tales, my group members show interest in the figures of snakes and dragon. We were first drawn by their similarity in their serpentine physical gestures and subtle distinction in nobility. The book says, “the boundary between dragons and snakes is often vague, but on the whole dragons are nobler and are more likely to be thunder beings than snakes, while snakes are more likely than dragons to stand plainly for lust”. Will points out, lust for snakes implicitly refers to the fatal attraction from women, and the thunder for dragon refers to a brighter and clearer sign of masculinity. The pair of snake and dragon may include the thought of the antagonistic pair of harmony in the religion Shintoying and yang, which could be traced back to Chinese Taoism. The following pictures seem to indicate the solid ying position of snake, as two snake ghosts nure-onna(the right, and sara-hebi(the left, in Japanese tales both have women heads. Christina further points out that both snake and dragon associate with water and power for life, especially the dragon seems to have more power on water since “any water body harbor a body king”. The water-related dragon seems to challenge the previous topic as snake-dragon corresponds to ying-yang, since the dragon yang fire which restricts water. However, the occurrence of water directs us to another animal, the turtle, which we may also talk about in our further study.

In short, our tentative topics will surround snack and dragon, which may break into the following sections:

  • dragon-snake and masculinity-feminity, snake and lust;
  • dragon-snake and yang-ying in Shinto;
  • dragon, snake and water, and the stand-out turtle;

and as I am familiar with Chinese tales, I am also interested in comparing Chinese snake-women (in Calabash Brothers)with that of Japanese.

Overall, our reason into studying into snake-dragon is because we are interested in animism and the represented spirit behind it. Our topics and themes may be modified in the process of our study since we are far from knowing the excellence of these tales, but we will stick to our interest and enjoy our study.

Group 5: Official Name Pending

Hello! Yesterday we decided to put off our introductions in favor of an interesting class connection made by group member Will! It’s a good thing we did hold off on introductions, because we got an awesome new member today.

So without further ado…group 5!

William Sarros

Grade: Senior

Major: Anthro/Soc

Reason for taking class: “After reading the description it really just seemed interesting, but further reasoning is that I have found that religion myth and folktales apply to my major heavily as they show a major part of what forms a culture.  I am also taking it because I recently took a course involving the religions of south Asia, and this course seemed like a great way to learn about more Asian traditions and add to my current knowledge. ”

Fun fact: “At the end of my freshman year at Centre I managed to convince my parents to adopt a dog from the local humane society, and he drove home with me.  He is named after Odysseus’ dog Argos from the Odyssey.”

Sili Wu

Grade: Sophomore

Major: intended History

Reason for taking the class: “Felt it would be interesting.”

Fun fact: “I love jogging and just finished my first marathon last month.”


Caitlin Johnson (Excited to join group 5!!)

Grade: Senior

Major: History and Spanish

Reason for taking the class: “I am a history major with an interest in Asia and I found the topic of Asian ghost/spirits and folklore really intriguing.”

Fun Fact: “I have been playing violin for 15 years!”


Christina Stoler

Grade: Sophomore

Major: Psychology

Reason for taking the class: “I really love Japanese and Chinese culture. I thought it would be interesting to see how the culture and history connect through the folklore of East Asia.”

Fun fact: “I have been a vegetarian for 10 years!”


  • We have been having great discussions about where to go with our podcast. More details to come soon!


-Christina Stoler



Hello from Group 5!

It is day one and although this is the first post from our group, introductions from its members may have to wait until one of the coming days because we were immediately busy discussing how we wanted to approach our new project based on our individual experiences at Centre College, and in depth introductions were postponed.  Due to this, I am posting about something in discussion that got me excited for the class and our project.

As this is a class involving religion of east Asia and its place in history, my approach was to promptly relate it to religions of south Asia, having just taken Sacred Space in South Asia with Dr. Christian Haskett.  In this course, through discussion of space and place, we ended up using a significant amount of time discussing how Buddhism interacted and coexisted with other religions, primarily Hinduism.  This came to mind because Taoism’s small alterations to Buddhism seemed reminiscent of how Buddhism and Hinduism altered their own narratives to accommodate the other, or to focus on preexisting beliefs.  Being able to bring in information from previous classes is always exciting, because making connections can further ingrain the information.  It is particularly good in this case because these courses are outside of my major, and by utilizing information from this previous class, it is more meaningful and not just an elective that stands by itself, this can also help give the subject I’ve previously learned more context, while also providing at least some context for the class I am in currently.  I also hope that using previous class experience from other group members will strengthen and diversify the way we handle topics and ultimately, our analyses in our podcast.  With a mix of history, religion, and spirituality, this class is promising to be interesting, while also changing how I see a few other courses I’ve taken here at Centre, including Eastern Religious Traditions, also taught by Dr. Haskett, and my first years studies course about Confucianism in the Chinese court, taught by Dr. Harney.

More posts full of interesting new ideas are sure to come!

Will Sarros