Group Naga-Pop Culture

We got a lot of great recording done today and are getting ready to finish up our early draft of the podcast.  Although we are still getting used to recording ourselves and how this project differs from a standard presentation, we are starting to gain some momentum and cover all of the material we wanted to look at, I’m looking forward to tomorrow and having an equally productive day!

In this post I’m going to bring up two pop culture pertinent to our podcast, as a way to see the modern opinion and social importance of snakes and dragons.  To do this, I am looking at the Dragon Shen-long from Dragon Ball Z (a childhood favorite of mine), and Nagini from Harry Potter (a general favorite for many).

Shen-long appears in the Manga for Dragon Ball Z, and is significant in my mind for two reasons.  The first is because he is an impossibly powerful being in that he can grant wishes, and is the purpose for the whole general plot.  The second is because he is actually a Chinese dragon that appears in Japanese media.  This idea isn’t too far fetched as cultural exchange between the two countries often occurs (especially when dragons are involved) and is almost reminiscent of times when dragon lore was being brought in from china hundreds of years ago.  Moving to the TV show, the dragons name was changed to Shenron, and although the original Chinese Shen-long was an immensely powerful water god, common theme for dragons, the Shen long/Shenron in pop culture is seen more on the side of just being immensely powerful.  This fits with the more ancient narrative of powerful dragon gods.

Nagini is a particularly special use of a snake in pop culture, and is perfect for this discussion.  This is because of her name.  If you refer back to an older post that I’ve made, I discuss the Indian dragon kings which are known as Naga.  Heavily resembling cobras, the Naga are then co-opted into Chinese and Japanese lore.  As you may have been able to guess, Nagini is not only based on the term Naga, it is the feminine form of the word.  This is important because of the east Asian association between snakes and women, and often times have a malevolent intent.  In this way Nagini is a perfect representation of east Asian lore in Modern pop culture.

These are just two examples, however their are many more, particularly in Anime.  Modern pop culture has seen a rise in old myths, and has shown that the respectful and inventive use of old mythology can be executed quite well.

-Will Sarros, group Naga


Elgood, Heather (2000). Hinduism and the Religious Arts. London: Cassell. p. 234

Shuker, Karl. (1995). Dragons. A Natural History. Simon & Schuster, New York 1995

Group Naga-Let’s Talk Food

Group Naga is doing wonderful on this Friday afternoon, and we are in a great position to begin recording our podcast this Sunday.  With the script coming together and research going great, we are having a blast delving into our topic of dragons and snakes.  For this post though, I wanted to take a short break from studying the history and myth of these dragons and snakes, and look into something a little more topical-food.

This is actually about food and drink to be more exact, and just a couple ways out of many that snakes are incorporated into them in modern east Asia.  Although some of these practices can be quite old, they are still in use and some are even gaining popularity.  To begin, I’d like to mention soup.  A traditional soup called Irabu-jiru (sea-snake soup) is made in Okinawa and was a royal court food of the Ryukyu kingdom (15th-19th century).  It is known to have medicinal properties such as functioning as an analeptic, something which affects the nervous system and can cause states of heightened awareness.  The purpose of mentioning this dish is the snakes association with the water (as they often are in myth), and its ability to imbue some kind of power when consumed.

Sea snake soup (Irabu-jiru)

A lovely bowl of Irabu-jiru

Gaining strength from snakes is not out of the ordinary though, and is certainly not restricted to sea snakes.

This brings us to the other half of any good meal, drinks.  A custom that may date back quite a while, but has gained immense popularity since the rise of tourism to east Asia, is snake wine.  Snake wine, if you are not familiar with it, is essentially what it sounds like, take some wine, then add some snake.  This can be prepared in a few different ways, none of which actually contain true wine, opting instead for a strong rice liquor.  The preparation for this drink is very important, and can mean the difference between having a mildly noxious drink to invigorate the soul, and a foul smelling bottle which may contain dissolving snake guts.  Or, if you are truly unlucky, a still alive and incredibly angry poisonous snake upon uncorking it (sorta like a jack in the box, but the extreme edition), this phenomenon potentially being due to a snakes ability to hibernate.  No matter how you craft it though, you can bet it has medicinal properties.  This ranges from a stimulant affect similar to the snake soup, all the way to being especially good for men, if you catch my drift.  It is also used to help ailments such as arthritis and other daily aches and pains.

By Scott R – originally posted to Flickr as DSC03889, CC BY-SA 2.0,

I found the use of these often poisonous snakes in cuisine to be quite interesting, and a good reminder that analyzing a subject may require you to look at it in ways outside of more traditional research such as finding secondary sources.  Although I may never drink snake wine, I must say, the soup doesn’t sound half bad. If I ever find myself in Okinawa I’ll have to hunt down a bowl.

-Will Sarros, group 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!)