Have you ever wondered how to say “dragon” in Japanese? It’d be no surprise if so on account of how popular the symbolism and imagery of the dragon can be in East Asian cultures. Frankly, they’re everywhere!
Today, we detail a few different Japanese words to say “dragon,” as well as explain some of the backstory of the mythical beasts in ancient times.
Do you know how to read in Japanese? If not, this article has romaji versions of the vocabulary to help you out. However, we encourage you to learn the Japanese alphabet so you can read the words in hiragana and katakana, too.
So kick back and get ready to have some study fun!
- 1 The different ways to say “dragon” in Japanese
- 2 Origins of Dragon in Japanese
- 3 What do dragons symbolize?
- 4 Famous Japanese Dragons
- 5 What’s the difference between a Japanese dragon and a Chinese dragon?
- 6 Other Words Related to Japanese Dragon
- 7 Final Say
The different ways to say “dragon” in Japanese
There are three ways to say the word “dragon” in Japanese. Each is used slightly differently and is pretty easy to grasp.
- りゅう (ryuu | 竜) – dragon
- ドラゴン (dragon) – dragon
- たつ (tatsu | 辰) – dragon
Let’s take a look at each definition below.
How to say “dragon” in Japanese language
りゅう (ryuu | 竜) is the standard Japanese word for dragon that most people think about when they think of dragons at all. Picture Shenron from Dragonball or Kaido’s beast form from One Piece.
This is the original Japanese word for dragon and reflects the traditions of old, where they’d appear as long, snake-like, and very powerful.
The character used above is the standard in Japanese writing, but the traditional Chinese characters like 龍, which takes the same reading, can also be used.
Japanese name for Western dragon
ドラゴン (doragon) is a Japanese word borrowed from the English language. This is another popular (katakana) word for dragon that has made its way onto the Japanese tongue! As this word is taken from the West, so are the types of dragons that are referred to when using the Japanese word.
These “western dragons” are those which tend to be smaller and have wings. Their stature is more like that of a vertebrate lizard than a snake. Have you ever seen a Western dragon and noticed the difference before?
Aside from that, the Japanese word (doragon) is more frequently used for names and titles, like in the famous game ドラゴンクエスト (doragon kuesuto | Dragon Quest), of which the creator of Dragon Ball is also a part!
Japanese name for Chinese dragon
The last and final version of “dragon” in the Japanese word is たつ (tatsu | 辰), which is only used to refer to the dragon of the Chinese Zodiac sign!
Back when the very hours of the day corresponded with astrological significations, this Japanese word would have also been the dragon used to refer to a specific hour, but that isn’t the case anymore.
Origins of Dragon in Japanese
Like many of the cultures surrounding it, the Land of the Rising Sun is one whose mythologies and spiritual navigation revolve around the forces of nature. However, the dragon was not originally a part of the mythological entourage for the Japanese.
Dragons are mythical beasts known to have developed distinctly in China and the Indian subcontinent long before ever reaching Japan. Due to China’s heavy influence on current Japanese culture, the adoption of dragons in Japanese mythology likely comes directly from there.
Nonetheless, the Japanese did a great job at using the dragon’s power, altering reverence to fit more accordingly into Japanese Buddhism, Shintoism, and folklore traditions. According to Japanese creation myth, they are essentially the children of the kami, or Gods. They first appear in The Kojiki, or the Japanese Record of Ancient Matters, in the late 7th century A.D.
What do dragons symbolize?
Since their inception, dragons have been honored as magical creatures of a benevolent nature – they are the offspring of dragon god deities, after all! Originally, they are said to derive from the sea and, therefore, guardians over large bodies of water and rainfall.
They have been known to shapeshift into humans or animals and back into dragon form again. They can lengthen or shorten themselves or even turn invisible. They are defensive and sometimes fight another dragon god, too. By and large, dragons symbolize success, strength, and great wisdom.
Dragons also represent longevity and even immortality, which explains why so many tropes play off this fact.
There seems to be no discrepancy in what dragons represent across the cultures in which they appear. Sure, their image and function have changed over time (as do all creatures of Japanese mythology), but for the most part, they are helpful and protective spirits – yay, dragons!
Japanese dragon tattoos have become a commonality today. These tattoo designs are seen especially in the Japanese art style.
In East Asia, such tattoos were solely worn by gangsters, especially those of rank. These days, a Japanese dragon tattoo might be nothing more than a cool image, but its symbolic power can be forever felt even by those unaware of the history!
Famous Japanese Dragons
As far as historical records can perceive, dragons grew in popularity along with well-known artwork that retold the stories of individual dragons on scrolls. These stories still thrive today in Japan, retold and recounted frequently.
Here are some of the more popular dragons in Japan and a brief run through their stories.
とよたまひめ (Toyotama Hime | 豊玉姫), also known as the Jewel Princess, is the descendant of a Japanese dragon who deceives her father and future husband by taking the form of someone she’s not.
She gets pregnant and asks her hubby not to look upon her while giving birth, but he cannot resist and spies on her anyway. Upon doing so, he discovers that she is a wani, the form she had to take to give birth.
This betrayal shakes her, and she leaves her child and husband to return to her homeland. She sends her sister to remain as company and aid for her abandoned family, who ends up marrying and having a child with her son.
わたつみ (Watatsumi | 海神) is a famous dragon king, also known as Ryujin. He is considered the dragon god of the sea in Japanese mythology.
He is said to live in a palace under the sea, which might save and welcome any human water deities who fall into the sea. He makes a special appearance in several folk tales and is a guardian of the Shinto religious belief.
Yamato no Orochi
やまとのおろち (Yamato no Orochi | 八岐大蛇) is the Japanese name of an eight-headed, eight-tailed Japanese dragon king who would devour the daughters of two Earthly Gods, Kunitsukami, one daughter each year. Another powerful God named Susanoo agrees to help the next daughter in line by disguising her as a hair comb.
He has the Earthly Gods prepare sake for the dragon upon his arrival, which he drinks heartily before falling asleep and being slain by Susanoo himself. Within the dragon, he finds a sword, which is considered an Imperial Regalia of Japan.
Note: These stories are all interwoven, and many of the dragons mentioned above share lore in some way. This does not dive into the details of their tales, but they are worth exploring if you’re looking for a fun read!
What’s the difference between a Japanese dragon and a Chinese dragon?
While they are highly similar, Japanese and Chinese dragons are subtly different in their appearances.
For one, Japanese dragons are more snake-like and slender than their Chinese counterparts. They also have three claws, while their predecessors conjured dragons with 4 or 5 feet.
Lastly, the roles of dragons in Japanese are sometimes heroic but often destructive or evil, which is not the case for the kind of Chinese dragons.
Regardless, the dragon retains its might throughout both Chinese and Japanese cultures.
Other Words Related to Japanese Dragon
Here are some of the Japanese words related to dragons:
- こくりゅう (kokuryuu | 黒龍) – black dragon
- かりゅう (karyuu | 火竜) – fire dragon; also read as かりょう (karyou)
- ひょうりゅう (hyouryuu | 氷龍) – ice dragon
- どらごんきん (doragon kin| 龍王) – dragon king
- はくりゅう (hakuryuu | 白龍) – white dragon
- せいりゅう (seiryuu | 青龍) – azure dragon
- りゅうのこ (ryuu no ko | 竜の子) – dragon child
- りゅうのちから (ryuu no chikara | 竜の力 ) – dragon powers
- りゅうきり (ryuu kiri | 竜殺り ) – dragon slayer
Understanding the three ways to say “dragon” in Japanese language will enrich your vocabulary, especially if you are starting to learn the language.
It also deepens your appreciation for the language’s cultural nuances, and Japanese beliefs, making your learning journey even more fascinating.
がんばってください (ganbatte kudasai)! ^^