Deities, Kami, Shinto

Kami Focus: Ryujin (龍神)


Name meaning: 龍神 “Dragon god”

Other names: Ryojin (Dragon god), Ryuo (Dragon king), Ryugu (Dragon palace), Watatsumi (Sea god)

Kami of: the Ocean, agriculture, fishermen

Themes: Water, agriculture

Enshrined at: Watatsumi jinja (Kobe and Kitakyūshū), Daikai jinja (Osaka) to name a few.

The Katase-Enoshima station in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture was also designed with Ryujin’s palace in mind.  These beautiful architectural designs pay tribute to the unique culture, customs, and traditions of Japan.



Ryujin, also known as Owatatsumi, is the patron deity of the sea. This Japanese dragon symbolises the power of the ocean, has a large mouth and is able to transform in to human shape. Ryujin is thought to live in Ryugu-jo, his palace under the sea which is made out of red and white coral, or sometimes solid crystal. Ryujin’s family and loyal servants live in this famous castle. From here he controls the tides using his magical tide jewels. Sea turtles, fish and jellyfish are often depicted as being Ryujin’s servants.

Ryujin was the father of the goddess Otohime who married the hunter prince Hoori. The first Emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu, is said to have been a grandson of Otohome and Hoori’s. Thus, Ryujin is said to be one of the ancestors of the Japanese Imperial family.

An iconic story recounts how Empress Jingū succeeded in her attack into Korea with the help of Ryūjin’s tide jewels. When Jingū had to deal with the powerful Korean navy, she threw one of the jewels,the kanju (干珠, tide-ebbing jewel) into the sea, making the tides recede. This left the Korean fleet stranded and the men were forced to get out of their ships. Once they were out, Jingū then threw down the manju (満珠, tide-flowing jewel), releasing a torrent of water that drowned her enemies. The annual festival, Gion Matsuri at Yasaka Shrine, celebrates this memorable victory.


Ryujin Shinko

Ryujin shinko (dragon kami faith) is a religious thought and practice associated with dragons, a mythical sacred animal. Although Japanese Ryujin worship was influenced by China, the Japanese dragon as an object of faith was a deified snake, a symbol of a water kami (suijin).

The dragon kami is connected with agriculture because of the characteristic as a water kami. Prayers for rain were performed at rivers, swamps, ponds and deep pools which were regarded as abodes for Ryujin.  Agricultural rituals such as prayers for rain and rope pulls, were carried out using a straw rope shaped like a serpent-like dragon.

As a water kami, Ryujin is connected with Raijin, the kami of thunder, who brings forth rain and lightning. It is thought that a tornado occurs when Ryujin ascents to heaven.

Further, umi no kami (kami of the sea), thought to reside on the other side of the ocean and to rule over the sea, is connected with water kami belief and is frequently used as a synonym for Ryujin. Fishermen prayed to the dragon kami for an abundant catch and calm seas. They carried out festivals for Ryujin, celebrated as the kami of the sea and the kami of the dragon palace.

These festivals are referred to by such names as uramatsuri (“inlet festival”), isomatsuri (“beach festival”) and shiomatsuri (“tide festival”).

From the belief that metal nullified the magical powers of a snake, there developed the idea of refraining from actions that would anger the snake. Hence, fishermen believed it was taboo to drop metal into the ocean. This was the background to the idea of the equivalence of the snake kami, the dragon kami and the sea kami. The motif of interaction between the sea kami and humans often appears in folk tales such as Urashima Taro and Ryigu Doji. The belief that wealth and treasure is brought from the other side of the ocean derives from this source.


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