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Phoenix Art:

Phoenix Drum, Engaku-ji Temple 円覚寺
Located in the Bell Tower, Kita-Kamakura, Japan


In Japan, the mythical Phoenix was adopted as a symbol of the imperial household, particularly the empress. This mythical bird represents fire, the sun, justice, obedience, fidelity, and the southern star constellations.

According to legend, the Phoenix appears very rarely, and only to mark the beginning of a new era -- the birth of a virtuous ruler, for example. In other traditions, the Phoenix appears only in peaceful and prosperous times (nesting, it is said, in paulownia trees), and hides itself when there is trouble. As the herald of a new age, the Phoenix descends from heaven to earth to do good deeds, and then it returns to its celestial abode to await a new era. It is both a symbol of peace (when the bird appears) and a symbol of disharmony (when the bird disappears). In Japan, early artifacts show the Phoenix (female) as intimately associated with the Dragon (male) -- the two are portrayed either as mortal enemies or as blissful lovers. When shown together, the two symbolize both conflict and wedded bliss, and are a common design motif even today in many parts of Asia

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Japanese Crane
Tsuru no Ongaeshi

Tsuru no Ongaeshi (鶴の恩返し, lit. "Crane's Return of a Favor") is a story from Japanese folklore about a crane who returns a favor to a man. A variant of the story where a man marries the crane that returns the favor is known as Tsuru Nyōbō (鶴女房, "Crane Wife").

A man saves a crane that had been shot down by hunters. That night, a beautiful girl appears at the man's door and tells him that she is his wife. The man tells her that he is not wealthy enough to support them, but she tells him that she has a bag of rice that will fill their stomachs. Every day, the rice never goes down in the sack, and it always stays full. The next day she tells the man that she is going in a room to make something and that he is not to come in until she is finished. Seven days have passed by and she finally comes out with a beautiful piece of clothing, but she is very skinny. She tells the man to go to the markets the next morning and to sell this for a very large price. He comes back home and tells her that he sold it for a very good price. After that, they are now wealthy. The wife then goes back into the room, telling him once again not to come in until she is finished. The man's curiosity takes over and he peeks in, realizing that the woman is the crane that he saved. When the crane sees that the man has found out her true identity, she says that she can not stay there anymore and flies away to never come back.

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Japanese Dragon Art 

A mythological animal of Chinese origin, and a member of the NAGA (Sanskrit) family of serpentine creatures who protect Buddhism. Japan's dragon lore comes predominantly from China. Images of the reptilian dragon are found throughout Asia, and the pictorial form most widely recognized today was already prevalent in Chinese ink paintings in the Tang period (9th century AD). The mortal enemy of the dragon is the Phoenix, as well as the bird-man creature known as Karura. In contrast to Western mythology, Asian dragons are rarely depicted as malevolent. Although fearsome and powerful, dragons are equally considered just, benevolent, and the bringers of wealth and good fortune. The dragon is also considered a shape shifter who can assume human form and mate with people.

Dragons figure importantly in folk beliefs throughout Asia, and are dressed heavily in Buddhist garb. In India, the birthplace of Buddhism around 500 BC, pre-Buddhist snake or serpentine-like creatures known as the NAGA were incorporated early on into Buddhist mythology. Described as “water spirits with human shapes wearing a crown of serpents on their heads” or as “snake-like beings resembling clouds,” the NAGA are among the eight classes of deities who worship and protect the Historical Buddha. Even before the Historical Buddha (Siddhartha, Guatama) attained enlightenment, the NAGA King Mucilinda (Sanskrit) is said to have protected Siddhartha from wind and rain for seven days. This motif is found often in Buddhist art from India, represented by images of the Buddha sitting beneath Mucilinda’s hood and coils.

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Dragon Ryu & Serpent

Arguably the most recognizable creature in Japanese iconography is the Dragon. Ryu are seen as a symbol of profound blessing, wisdom, and strength — due to their ability to manipulate the elements for the benefit of the people. Dragons tend to differ from one another as they are said to take on the characteristics of many creatures — typically depending on the animals it will encounter on its journey. His head is usually that of a camel, with the neck and belly of a snake, the scales of a koi fish, the talons of a hawk, chicken, or eagle, and the horns of a stag.
Japanese dragons are tied directly to deities. Many of the Japanese gods shape-shifted into dragons. Japanese mythology has an abundance of stories about gods and dragons.

The serpent is a charming yet spine-chilling reptile, often seen as a cold-blooded symbol, both literally and figuratively. In Japan, the Hebi (snake) is also a popular tattoo subject. In traditional Japanese tattoos, the snake holds a wide range of meanings and performs a number of important functions. Among its many attributes are protection from illness, disaster, and bad fortune. Snake tattoos also represent wisdom and protection, particularly from the results of bad decisions. The snake can also embody regeneration, healing, and medicine as it was revered in Japanese culture in association with medicinal rites and remedies. As a symbol of good luck, it was also though to bring good health.


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Fujin: Japanese Legendary Lives by Gen-ichi NISHIO

Fujin is the god of wind, and Raijin is a the god of thunder, who are depicted in Chinese legends. Both are thought to live above the clouds. Fujin is usually depicted as a muscled man with a big cloth sack, which is filled with numerous winds. When he opens his sack, a blast of wind escapes.

Raijin (or Raiden) is usually depicted as a muscled man with a series of drums around him, with which he made the rumbling of thunder. Raijin looks like a Oni, and the two are often confused. A legend of Chinese Buddhism says that the two gods were originally evil demons who opposed Buddha. So Buddha ordered his heavenly army to capture the two demons. After a severe battle between demons and 33 gods, the two demons were finally captured. They have been working for heaven ever since. Raijin (or Raiden) got his name from the two Japanese words rai for thunder and den for lightening. According to the Japanese legend he saved Japan from a fleet of invading Mongolians in 1274 AD. The way he managed it was to sit on a cloud, throwing a shower of lightening arrows against the Mongolian fleet. As the god of thunder, Raiden is shown with a drum

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Tiger & Bamboo:
Momoyama-Edo Paintings, Kyoto National Museum

The flowers-and-birds paintings and flowering plants paintings of Ogata Korin often display a standard or formal approach, but there also exist many examples of his work that show his humorous friendliness. Two examples are Yuima-zu (Vimalakirti) and this work.

A tiger sits cozily in front of a bamboo grove, glancing off to one side, like a mischievous boy. Kano Sanraku used similar motifs in his work Dragon and Tiger, but unlike Sanraku's Chinese-influenced confrontation between two strong powers, Korin's tiger is almost comical.

This style has been called giga, or "cartoon style." If this were one of a pair, the counterpart dragon would certainly have been depicted with the same cute and humorous touch. The ability to paint this type of cartoon-like scene shows the freedom-of-thought of Ogata Korin.

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