Mythological Animals of Japan

Sacred Mythological Animals of Japan and Their Meanings

Last Updated on May 11, 2023 by Avia

Enter the enchanting world of Japanese mythology, where ancient legends and mystical creatures come to life. From soaring phoenixes to fantastic dragons, Japan’s mythological animals have long been revered for their awe-inspiring power and sacred symbolism. This post on sacred mythological animals of Japan takes an in-depth look at some of these incredible creatures and explores the fascinating myths behind them. So get ready to journey through time as we uncover the mysteries of Japan’s most iconic mythical beasts!

Mythological Animals of Japan Hoo Phoenix
Japanese Hoo Phoenix

History of Animal Worship in Japan

Animal worship has been a part of Japanese culture for centuries. Animals have been seen as symbols of power, strength, and fertility. In many cases, they have been seen as gods or goddesses in disguise.

One of the most famous examples of animal worship in Japan is the case of the white snake. According to legend, a white snake fell in love with a human man and took on the form of a woman to be with him. The man eventually discovered her true identity and she was forced to leave him. However, the white snake continued to visit him in his dreams, and he soon realized that she was an incarnation of the goddess Kwannon. We’ll talk about that more later in this article.

Another popular example is that of the fox. Foxes are often associated with trickery and deception, but they are also seen as being very intelligent and cunning. In some cases, they are even worshipped as gods.

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One of the most important things to remember about animal worship in Japan is that it is not limited to any one religion or belief system. Shintoism, Buddhism, and even Christianity have all had instances of animal worship at one time or another.

No matter what your beliefs may be, there is likely an animal out there that is considered sacred. With that said, let’s look at creatures and animals of Japan that are often honored in various spiritual beliefs.

Sacred Animals in Shintoism

In Shintoism, there are a few animals that are considered sacred. The first is the fox, which is said to be the messenger of the god Inari. Foxes are often seen with statues of Inari at shrines dedicated to him. Other animals that are considered sacred in Shintoism include the deer, the crane, and the tortoise. These animals are often seen as symbols of longevity, wisdom, and good fortune.  Keep reading, because I’ll go into more about Inari and Kappa further along in this article about sacred mythological animals of Japan

Mythological Animals of Japan Tiger Buddhist Spirit Animal
Mythological Animals of Japan Tiger Buddhist Spirit Animal

Sacred Animals in Buddhism

Buddhism is a religion that originated in India and spread to other parts of Asia. It teaches that all beings are equal and have the same potential for awakening. There are many different types of Buddhism, but all share the goal of ending suffering.

One of the ways Buddhism does this is by teaching compassion for all beings, including animals. In fact, some of the most important figures in Buddhism are spirit animals.

One of the most important animals in Buddhism is the elephant. Elephants are seen as symbols of strength, wisdom, and peace. They are often used in Buddhist artwork and sculptures.

The tiger is another important animal in Buddhism. Tigers are symbolic of power and ferocity. They represent the qualities of courage and fearlessness. Tigers are also recognized in Buddhism for their patience and quiet movement.

Buddhists also believe that all animals have Buddha-nature and can achieve enlightenment just like humans can. This belief leads to a great deal of respect for animals within Buddhism.

Sacred Animals in Confucianism

In Confucianism, the dragon symbolizes good fortune and power and is often depicted in temples and other buildings. The Phoenix, or Fenghuang, is a mystical bird representing virtue and grace. It is said to be the king of all birds and is often seen in royal iconography. The Tiger is considered aligned with the deities of war and is worshiped as such by many samurai warriors.

A Word About Kami Spirits and Japanese Animals

The kami spirits of Japan are thought to inhabit everything in the natural world, from rocks and trees to animals. In Japanese folklore, there are many stories about animals that have been possessed by kami or have taken on human form. These sacred creatures are often seen as messengers of the gods, and they play an important role in the Shinto religion.

Kitsune

One of the most notable kami-infused animals is the Kitsune, or fox spirit. Kitsune are said to be able to shape-shift into human form, and they are known for their cunning and trickery. In some stories, they take on the role of guardian spirit, while in others they are more mischievous. Either way, they are respected for their connection to the spirit world.

Kitsune are one of the most popular and iconic creatures in Japanese folklore. They are often portrayed as intelligent, mischievous foxes with the ability to shapeshift into human form. In some stories, they are also able to use their powers for good, making them revered as guardian spirits.

While Kitsune are often associated with positive traits, they can also be malicious in some tales. Some believe that if a Kitsune is treated poorly, it will seek revenge by playing tricks on the offender or even harming them. Whether they are seen as tricksters or guardians, Kitsune remain an important part of Japanese culture and folklore.

Mythological Animals of Japan Tanuki
Japanese Tanuki Spirit Animal

Tanuki 

Another popular creature in Japanese mythology is the tanuki. Tanuki are raccoon-like animals that are also said to be able to transform into humans. They are known for their shapeshifting abilities, and they often use this power to trick people. Like kitsune, they can be either good or bad, depending on the story.

Kappa

Finally, we have the Kappa. Kappa are water creatures that live in rivers and ponds. They are also kami spirits that are said to govern water. They look like a cross between a monkey and a frog, and they are sometimes shown to have a bowl-shaped head that holds water. Some depictions show the Kappa as a tortoise or turtle-like creature.  Kappa are said to be very mischievous, and they enjoy playing tricks on humans. But if you treat them with respect, they are sometimes known to grant good luck.

About the Japanese Oni

The Oni is a popular creature in Japanese folklore. It is typically portrayed as a large, fearsome, and demonic creature with sharp horns, claws, and teeth. However, there is some debate as to whether the Oni is truly evil or simply a misunderstood creature.

The Oni is said to live in the mountains and forests of Japan, and it is often associated with disease and death. It is said that the Oni can kill with just a glance, and that its breath is poisonous. In some stories, the Oni is even said to be able to shape-shift into human form.

Despite its fearsome reputation, the Oni is also said to have a kind side. In some stories, the Oni helps people who are lost or in trouble. And in other stories, the Oni appears to be more mischievous than truly evil.

Top Mythological Animals of Japan

There are many different mythological animals in Japanese folklore. From lions, to fox, to odd three-legged crows – let’s check out these common and enchanting animals of Japan:

Japanese Komainu, the Guardian Lions

Komainu are a type of guardian lion that originated in China and were introduced to Japan in the 6th century. They are commonly found guarding shrines and temples, and are believed to ward off evil spirits. Komainu come in pairs, with one lion typically having its mouth open, symbolizing courage and strength, while the other has its mouth closed, symbolizing wisdom and prudence.

Inari, the Japanese Fox Spirit

As mentioned earlier, Inari is the Japanese fox deity. The fox is often seen as a trickster figure in many cultures, and Inari is no different. Inari is known for playing tricks on humans, but also for helping them out when they need it. Inari is also the deity of rice and fertility, and so the fox is often seen as a symbol of good luck.

Mythological Animals of Japan Kylin
Japanese Kylin

Kirin the Kylin

The kirin is a lion-like sacred, mythical creature that is often described as a unicorn, but it is sometimes depicted with antlers or horns.  It is a mystical creature that is said to bring good luck and fortune.  In Japan, the kirin is known as the kylin, and it is considered to be a symbol of good great prosperity. The kirin is said to be an auspicious animal that brings good fortune to those who encounter it. It is also associated with longevity and wisdom.

Yatagarasu the Three Legged Crow

The Yatagarasu is a three-legged crow that is considered to be a sacred symbol in Japanese mythology. The name “Yatagarasu” literally means “eight-span crow”, and it is said to have been created by the gods to help guide Emperor Jimmu on his journey to conquer Japan.

The Yatagarasu has also been associated with the sun, and it is said that it can bring light to even the darkest of places. In some stories, the Yatagarasu is also said to be able to transform into a human form.

The Yatagarasu is often seen as a symbol of hope and new beginnings, and it is believed to be a bringer of good luck.

Ryu the Japanese Dragon

There are many sacred mythological animals in Japanese culture, but one of the most well-known is Ryu the dragon. Ryu is a powerful creature that is often depicted as a benevolent protector. In some stories, Ryu even takes on human form to help those in need.

Ryu is said to have the ability to control the weather, and is often associated with water. This is because dragons are believed to live in rivers and lakes. In fact, there is a famous story in which Ryu saves a village from a severe drought by creating a rainstorm.

Because of their power and strength, dragons are greatly respected in Japanese culture. They are seen as symbols of good luck and fortune, and are often invoked in times of need. 

Hōō the Honorable Japanese Phoenix

The phoenix is a symbol of rebirth, hope, and new beginnings. In Japan, the phoenix is known as hōō, and it is often associated with the sun and fire. The phoenix is said to live for a thousand years before it dies in a burst of flames. It then reborn from its own ashes, rising up stronger than before.  I dive into these concepts on the post about my hōō (ho-oh) tattoo here

For the Japanese people, the phoenix represents strength in the face of adversity. It is a symbol of hope and renewal, reminding us that even after the darkest of times, there is always the possibility for a new beginning. In mythology, the phoenix is often seen as a guardian spirit, watchfully protecting us from harm.

Mythological Animals of Japan White Snake
Japanese White Snake

Hakujya the White Snake of Japan

Hakujya the White Snake is one of the most popular and well-known sacred mythological animals in Japan. She is a beautiful white snake who lives in a lake near Mt. Fuji. Every year, on the first day of spring, she comes out of the water and sheds her skin. The local people then use this shed skin to make a special type of paper.

The White Snake is said to be a very kind and benevolent spirit, and she is often depicted in art and literature as helping humans in need. In one famous story, she saves a young boy from drowning in a river. In another, she helps a farmer whose crops have been destroyed by drought.

The White Snake is also known for her great wisdom, and it is said that if you ask her a question, she will always give you an honest answer. If you treat her with respect, she will bring you good luck and fortune.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mythological Animals of Japan

What are some of the most popular mythological animals of Japan?

Some of the most popular mythological animals of Japan include kami (deities), yokai (monsters), and oni (demons). These creatures often have supernatural powers and are often associated with folktales and legends.

What do these animals represent in Japanese culture?

These animals often represent aspects of Japanese culture, such as Shinto beliefs, samurai values, and traditional folklore. They may also represent natural phenomena or serve as protectors of specific places or objects.

How do these animals figure into Japanese mythology?

Many of these animals are featured prominently in Japanese mythology. In some stories, they may help or hinder the protagonists; in others, they may be the focus of the story itself. Often, these creatures embody important cultural values or teach important lessons.

Conclusion About Mythological Animals of Japan

Sacred mythological animals of Japan have been a source of wisdom and inspiration for generations. From the noble fox to the fierce lion-dogs, these creatures represent strength and protection in Japanese culture. While many of these animals remain part of legends and stories, their presence is still felt in everyday life throughout Japan today. Whether it’s through shrines or artwork or even just simple greetings from friends, these sacred mythological animals will always maintain a special place within the hearts of all who encounter them. As always, thanks for reading!

Oh, and if you liked this article on mythological Japanese animals, don’t miss my page on the Japanese Maneki Neko Cat Meaning and Symbolism here!

Mighty brightly,

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