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The Monk and The Dragon

Updated on February 18, 2019
The Blagsmith profile image

Japanese folklore is often mystifying, its tales are often related to how Japanese society and respective status were expected to behave.

The Snake

There once lived a water dragon that lived in the mountains of central Japan. Its home was at the bottom of a deep lake that was fed from the water that cascaded down its peaks. The sun was shining and the dragon sought for some warmth, so it headed to the surface. Before it reared its head, it changed into a small snake so it can slither onto the bank undetected.

Demons and dragons in mythical Japanese folklore have the ability to change form.
Demons and dragons in mythical Japanese folklore have the ability to change form. | Source

The Tengu

However, unknown to the dragon, a tengu in the form of a black kite, was hovering overhead. Its voracious eyes instantly spotted the snake. It plunged, picking it up in its vicelike talons, and then it deposited the snake into a small hole in its lair.

The tengu was mildly satisfied with its catch until it saw a presence emerge onto the balcony of the reclusive monastery that lay snug into the rock of a nearby peak. It pained his existence to see those monks extolling their virtues. Their incessant chanting, often stabbing like sharp tanto blades, when it drifted in on an errant wind.

A tanto is a small straight Japanese dagger often carried by samurai alongside a wakizashi.

The tengu's capricious mind played with torturous thoughts until it resolved to capture the presence without further ado. It changed into its normal malevolent form and swept a monk into its arms and deposited it close to the captured snake.

The Japanese Tengu is a demon that can transform itself into a black kite (bird).
The Japanese Tengu is a demon that can transform itself into a black kite (bird). | Source

The Monk

The monk was not bound, nor did it need to be. The perch was high and without wings, the tengu knew the monk could not escape. The monk came to the same realisation and resigned himself until it heard a deep but quiet voice penetrating through his consciousness. The snake revealed to the monk that it was really a water dragon but it could not escape without water which powers its ability to transform. The monk said it had at least a drop or two in its suito but was doubtful of the snake's intentions. The snake vowed to protect and return the monk if it could spare the water.

Buddhism and the ancient Shinto religion are often practised alongside each other in Japan.
Buddhism and the ancient Shinto religion are often practised alongside each other in Japan. | Source

The Death of a Demon

The monk was torn in his thoughts but he also knew how cruel the tengu was, so he emptied the last of his water on the snake. The snake rumbled and writhed, its slippery back scaled and so did its size. Limbs appeared and then as its huge form grew it shielded the monk, raking its talons onto the tengu.

(Water in Japan is often carried in a suito, in medieval Japan - these were made of bamboo.)

The dragon's wrath embedded with its mighty strength instantly killed the tengu. The body was left, unpicked by insects and vultures, eroded only by the ravages of time, nature and death's consumption. Until it was mere dust in the wind.

Japanese dragons, alongside some of their gods, are mostly associated with water.
Japanese dragons, alongside some of their gods, are mostly associated with water. | Source

A Lifelong Friendship

The dragon kept its promise. It returned the monk to the monastery, and visited frequently. The monk in his later years became leader of the monastery and a strict prohibition forbid anyone to fish snakes from the lake of the sea dragon.

The pictures used within my Japanese folktales are illustrated by my Japanese wife, who is also a reference point for the content used within.

© 2019 The Blagsmith

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