No Dragon Queen?

Question raised by: Royall Tyler

Discussants: Anthony J. Bryant, Denise O'Brien, Wayne Farris, Hugh de Ferranti, Kazuko Suzuki, Rokuo Tanaka, William Bodiford, Peter David Shapinsky, Brian Ruppert, Susanne Nishimura-Schermann, Nobumi Iyanaga, Charlotte von Verschuer, Lawrence Marceau, Robert Khan, Roberta Strippoli, Robert Morrell

This archive contains related discussion under the subject line "Ancient kinship" as well as Ancient kinship/Dragons, Dragon Queens, and other variants.

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From: Royall Tyler
Date: Tue, 9 Oct 2001 12:43:20 -0400
Subject: No Dragon Queen?

At the bottom of the sea (not to speak of lakes, rivers, ponds, puddles) is the magnificent Dragon Palace inhabited by a/the Dragon King and his daughter. This extremely important motif is illustrated by the story of Hikohohodemi and Toyotama-hime, who gives birth to the future Jinmu Tenno.

Can anyone explain why nothing is ever said about a Dragon Queen? Wild speculation welcome.

Royall Tyler

Dragon Palace = ryûgû Dragon King = ryûô
Date: Tue, 09 Oct 2001 18:26:56 -0500
From: Anthony J. Bryant
Subject: No Dragon Queen?

Well, since we know from the "12-rui emaki" that the zodiacal dragon was married to the zodiacal serpent, it was obviously a mixed marriage and therefore in some other literature, especially that related to the future emperor, something that shouldn't be mentioned, so she (the wife/serpent) was probably off visiting the folks when the story took place.

Well, you welcomed wild speculation... <G>


Date: Tue, 09 Oct 2001 20:27:59 -0400
From: Denise O'Brien
Subject: No Dragon Queen?

What a terrific question!! The Dragon King's daughters have certainly eclipsed their mother's (OR mothers' , allowing for polygyny) identities. Perhaps that's because we don't know who the fathers of the Dragon King's wives are. Assuming that there was a continuous matrilineal/patrilineal squishing around of traditional genealogies in actual Japan culture---from say early times to the 6th or 7th C----by the time that the Devadatta chapter of the Lotus Sutra became popular in the late 10th/early 11th centuries-----there was a patrilineal overlay [as articulated against women's owning property that they had inherited from their mothers]----and so it was possible to ignore Dragon Queens. But, it remains an intriguing question---why did daughters survive but not mothers/wives/Queens? Who were the fathers of the potential wives of the Dragon King and the mothers of his daughters?
Regards, Denise O'Brien

Denise O'Brien, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA

From: Hugh de Ferranti
Date: Wed, 10 Oct 2001 00:03:21 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [pmjs] No Dragon Queen?

Well if it's wild speculation you're after: In chuusei and kinsei performed narratives, dragons and serpents that live in lakes, ponds and the sea are strongly associated with Benzaiten, the only female among the shichi fukujin. The nature of that association is highly variable and obscure, but always tangible. Now She is renowned for her jealousy. (The musicians who treated her as their patron deity never bequeathed her a spouse, as they wanted her all for themselves, it seems ... But at a price: male musicians are still warned against going to a Benten shrine with their partners!) Perhaps she fooled everyone, having been wedded to the Dragon King all along. Or else, being the female aspect of Him, she was perfectly self-sufficient.

I'd be very interested to hear about how Myoo-on Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of Miraculous Sound), another Benzaiten alias - but a rather androgynous one in many sources - might be connected with the Dragon King.

Hugh de Ferranti
Asian Languages and Cultures/ Musicology
University of Michigan

Date: Wed, 10 Oct 2001 03:57:36 -0400
From: Wayne Farris
Subject: Ancient kinship

Dear Royall and folks,
I don't know where Ms. O'Brien gets her info, but ancient kinship in most parts of the archipelago was neither patrilineal nor matrilineal. There is now a general consensus that it was bilateral, allowing the tracing of descent through EITHER the male or female line. So Royall's question stands: where is the mother? Since mothers were quite powerful and could inherit and hold property, it would not make sense to leave her out.
Just a point of information.
Wayne Farris

Date: Wed, 10 Oct 2001 10:21:53 -0400
From: Royall Tyler
Subject: No Dragon Queen?

[In response to Hugh de Ferranti]
No question about that. But Benzaiten is still all by herself, not one of a couple, and she tends to be a water's-edge land creature--a dry land serpent--rather than a dragon of the deep. In the noh play Chikubushima, and indeed in the Chikubushima engi, she's the serpent who inhabits the heights of the island and sometimes comes down to the water's edge; while the dragon-namazu may come up (at the same time) from the deep to sport at the surface. They're mirror images of each other. In Chikubushima art, Benten-san is a white serpent coiled around the summit of the island-rock. She has nothing to do with any Dragon Palace, which more a Buddhist matter and also a motif associated with ama. Moreover, she has no son or daughter.

These are deep waters!

Royall Tyler

Date: Wed, 10 Oct 2001 12:02:42 -0500
From: Melanie Trede
Subject: No Dragon Queen?

Dragon Queens might not appear in written texts, but painters made up for the missing female part in later painting.

I am particularly thinking about pictorial narratives such as the Taishokan that deal with the dragon kings of the sea. In some 17th century depictions of that story--such as the one in the Cologne Museum of East Asian Art or the screens in the Chicago Art Institute-- the dragon king is supplemented by a dragon queen to form a gorgeous, exotic couple.
Obviously, we are not the first to miss the women.
melanie trede

Institute of Fine Arts
1 East 78th Street
New York, N.Y. 10021

Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2001 20:51:34 +0900
From: Kazuko Suzuki
Subject: Dragon Queens

Hajime mashite.
It is very interesting to read the posts on PMJS, and I've been wondering how much I can contribute. Now some of you are talking about dragon queens, and I'd like to tell about female dragons, though I can remember only those in fiction in modern times, not pre-modern.

A female dragon appears in Orochi ga Ike by Kyoka Izumi (1873-1939). I need to do research to know when it was out, but the short story got famous some years ago when Tamasaburo played the dragon in a movie.
The other story I can tell without reference is Tatsu no Ko, Taro (Taro, the Child of a Dragon). His mother takes the shape of a dragon to help him when he had a huge problem. Both dragons come out of the deep.

As you know, there still are many festivals all over Japan, where the deity is Ryujin, a dragon god who brings rain over rice paddies and fields.

Kazuko Suzuki
Website: <
(An English website on a prehistoric period of Japan, the Jomon Period)

Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2001 11:38:08 -0400
From: Denise O'Brien
Subject: Ancient kinship

We simply don't have the kind of information necessary for a cultural anthropologist to be happy making very definite statements about kinship and descent in ancient Japan---however one might define "ancient". I think the situation is pretty murky for premodern Japan in general, as it is for many premodern cultures. Anthropologists developed their theories about kinship and descent from intensive fieldwork with living peoples where one can obtain both good linguistic and behavioral evidence. Having made that caveat, I will engage in some wild speculation.

The most ancient inhabitants of Japan were hunters and gatherers who probably lacked any unilineal descent groups, had very shallow genealogies, and did indeed trace descent---or perhaps, more specifically---recognize kin relationships with both the mother's and father's sides of the family (assuming that paternity was recognized). I assume by "ancient" Japan, though, that Wayne Farris is referring to a later period when we begin to get some written records and references to uji. The usual translations of uji as lineage or clan often do not specify patri- or matri- and they could have been formed via cognatic or bilateral recruitment, though the more common assumption is that they were patrilineal. The debate now seems to be whether the 5th century uji was a basic kinship group at all or whether it was a more broadly defined group that used political factors, for example, to incorporate members.
"Assuming that there was a continuous matrilineal/patrilineal squishing around of traditional genealogies in actual Japan culture---from say early times to the 6th or 7th C----"---this hasty phrasing from my original message reflects the screening of actual Japanese usages by Chinese language and culture (patrilineal) and the evidence, despite this veiling, of elements that some scholars regard as "matrilineal". The term is in quotes because like patrilineal/cognatic/bilateral it can refer to a range of behaviors that do not necessarily indicate the presence of corporate kin groups. A culture can transmit property from mothers to daughters (a kind of matrilineal inheritance) without having matrilineal descent.

By the mid-Heian lineage membership was patrilineal but this was not a very strong patrilineal system given the post-marital residence norms, some matrilineal inheritance, and the lack of lineage exogamy (e.g., a man's marriage with a brother's daughter or father's brother's daughter). {And these generalizations do not necessarily apply to the vast majority of the non-elite.}

Rather than trying to characterize any period of Japanese culture as uniformly patri-, matri-, or whatever, it makes more sense to be willing to look at specific behaviors and try to understand their constituent elements. That is why I'm interested in the Dragon Queen's father---if she had one.
Regards, Denise O'Brien

At 03:57 AM 10/10/2001 -0400, Wayne Farris wrote:

Dear Royall and folks,
I don't know where Ms. O'Brien gets her info, but ancient kinship in
most parts of the archipelago was neither patrilineal nor matrilineal. There
is now a general consensus that it was bilateral, allowing the tracing of
descent through EITHER the male or female line. So Royall's question stands:
where is the mother? Since mothers were quite powerful and could inherit and
hold property, it would not make sense to leave her out.
Just a point of information.
Wayne Farris

Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2001 16:21:19 -0400
From: Royall Tyler
Subject: Ancient kinship

Thanks, Denise. I find it difficult, though, to think about the Dragon Queen's father when (except in the pictures mentioned by Melanie Trede) we don't seem to have a Dragon Queen in the first place. Maybe dragons reproduce by parthenogenesis, if that's the word. Seriously, I suspect that the absence of a female counterpart has something to do with the Dragon King's otherworldly power.

Royall Tyler

Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2001 17:45:07 -0400
From: Denise O'Brien
Subject: Ancient kinship/Dragons

Does anyone else remember?---there was a session at the '99 Association for Asian Studies meetings on The Dragon Palace: Exoticism, Sexuality, and Power in Premodern Japan. Participants included Fabio Rambelli, X. Jie Yang, and Melissa McCormick. Robert Kahn was the discussant and one of his general points was that the Dragon Palace is an ambivalent place; reflects tensions in the sexual order. Perhaps there is no Dragon Queen because she would impinge on the King's power as Royall suggests. Also, perhaps we are seeing another example of Fujiwara cultural hegemony in that a key myth portrays the Dragon King whose daughter becomesthe mother of an emperor as analogous to all those proud Fujiwara papas who were the grandfathers of emperors. Maybe Michinaga thought of himself as a Dragon King (in the wild speculation realm).
Regards, Denise O'Brien

As explained below, "The discussant of that 1999 AAS panel (The Dragon Palace: Exoticism, Sexuality, and Power) was in fact Max Moerman. The panelists were Melissa McCormick, Fabio Rambelli, X. Jie Yang, and [Roberta Strippoli]."


Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2001 11:55:16 -1000 (HST)
From: Rokuo Tanaka
Subject: Dragon Queens

One Yen-worth of contribution.

The word association of 'Tamasaburo^' and 'Ryu^jin' in Ms.Suzuki's message incites me to write this:

One act Kabuki play, NARUKASMI, performed by Tamasaburo^ and Danju^ro commbi, was/is an absolutely superb one. This one act play, first performed in 1742, is one of the Ichikawa family's 'The Kabuki Ju^hachiban' (the eighteen repertoire), is very popular even today, more so when performed by Tamasaburo^/Danju^ro^ commbi.

The priest Narukami, who holds a grudge against the Emperor, cages up the Dragon god of rain in a cave beneath a waterfall and confines himself to a stone hut. As a result, a drought afflicts Japan; in order to save the suffering farmers, the Imperial court despatches the beautiful Princess Kumo no Taema (of course by Tamasabur^o!). She urges the priest to drink sake and seduce and arouse him sensually. The priest then is depraved and releases Ryu^jin from the cave. Ryu^jin mounts to heaven
and a cloudburst occurs. The highlights of this play is the seduction scene in the first half of the play, and the angry priest after his realization that he has been duped, acts in the bravura 'aragoto' style in the second
half. (quoted in part from _Samueal L. Leiter's _Kabuki Encyclopedia_, London: Greenwood Press, 1979, p269.)

I am cluttering your e-mail since this is not related to Prof. Tyler's initial issue. As I always say "You may always hit DELETE key without any guilt." But then my question is why is a spatial difference: The Dragon king in the Deep and The Dragon god of rain in Heaven?

With Aloha,

Rokuo Tanaka

Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2001 16:11:25 -0700
From: William Bodiford
Subject: No Dragon Queen? (from Royall Tyler)

Since this discussion has branched out to concern Dragon Queens in general, let me add that Dragon Queens are healthy and well. I have seen many of them in Japan. Buddhist temples that offer rituals for making it rain frequently enshrine sacred dragons. I have seen talismans that I have seen from several such temples and, as far as I can remember, they always depict an anthropomorphic pair ---- husband and wife ----- of dragons. They are labeled as the dragon king and the dragon queen (i.e., Buddhist Naga).

.......William Bodiford

William Bodiford
Dept. of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA
Los Angeles CA 90095-1540

Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2001 13:41:44 +0900
From: Susanne Nishimura-Schermann
Subject: No Dragon Queen?

As for the missing Queen, it seems to me that from the point of view of storytelling and dramaturgy, it is convenient to have only one parent. It is easier to handle this one-to-one relation, and gives probably stronger results. Fairy tales, theater pieces, and films are full of this pattern. Of course, the pattern with both parents exist too, sometimes one parent is barely visible, sometimes one takes the good part, the other the bad part, more complex stories have elaborated parents. Conclusion? The Dragon Queen is missing because she is not
needed in the story. If she would be here, the Dragon King would be missing... (and the daughter would be probably a son)

Sorry for not speculating wildly

Susanne Schermann

Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2001 22:25:45 +0900
From: Nobumi Iyanaga
Subject: No Dragon Queen?

My wild guess is that dragon symbolism has a strong erotic connotation -- so that, while male dragons are to be married with (or, perhaps rather, they commit adultery with...??) human girls, female dragons are to be married with human guys. This would be why there is no room for dragon wifes (queens)...??

Best regards,

Nobumi Iyanaga

Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2001 10:38:14 -0400
From: Royall Tyler
Subject: Ancient kinship/Dragons

Many thanks to all the dragonophiles who have have responded. The evidence that people imagined a queen anyway (Melanie Trede's illustration, William Bodiford's paired rain dragons) is helpful, and Susanne Nishimura's suggestion has a convincing ring. Rats! No parthenogenesis, just happy dragon families--dragon moms and dads, as George Bush would say.

But I doubt that the MichiNAGAs of the day would not have thought of themselves as dragons. They were, so to speak, latter day bearers of Kamatari's fuji-wrapped kama, given him as a baby by a fox (Dakini).

Royall Tyler

Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2001 17:29:24 -0400
From: Lawrence Marceau
Subject: Ancient kinship/Dragons

I always connected the Urashima legend with the Dragon King and Dragon Princess. I know that in the Tango Fudoki version, Urashima goes to the island/mountain of Penglai on a tortoise/princess, where he meets the princess' father and mother both. This doesn't seem to be the Dragon Palace, though. However, in the MYS version by Takahashi no Mushimaro, he meets the daughter of the mighty deep (Watatsumi no kami no otome=Cranston translation). They go hand in hand to the Realm of Everworld (Tokoyo), the palace of the god of the great deep (Watatsumi no kami no miya). No mother here.

I agree that for the purposes of the narrative, no mother is necessary.

Lawrence Marceau

From: Charlotte von Verschuer
Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2001 22:05:52 +0900
Subject: No Dragon Queen?

For the Dragon, do not miss the following title:
Yasuda Yoshinori, Ryuu no bunmei, taiyou no bunmei
PHP Shinsho, 2001 (September)

Charlotte von Verschuer

for a short but intriguing summary of this bunkobon (600 yen) see

Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2001 17:33:44 +0100
From: Robert Khan
Subject: No Dragon Queen?

Regarding the Dragon Queen, the actual submarine Dragon Queen that is, she does at least appear in folktales if we are to believe Yanagita Kunio, and even in a thirteenth-century setsuwa anthology.

I just this afternoon opened the anthology translated by Geneviève Seiffert, 'Yanagita Kunio: Les Yeux précieux du serpent' (Publications Orientalistes de France, 1983; rpt. Paris: Le Serpent à Plumes, 1999) - apologies if the accents are not coming through properly - and the second tale is 'La méduse désossée' ['The deboned jellyfish'].

According to the tale, 'Sa Majesté la Reine, épouse du Dragon-Roi dont le Palais se trouve au fond des mers' ['Her Majesty the Queen, spouse of the Dragon King whose Palace is located at the bottom of the seas'], being about to give birth, has an extraordinary urge to eat monkey liver.

A hapless monkey is lured there under false pretences through the agency of the turtle, but the jellyfish tips the monkey off, and he cleverly devises a ruse to return him to dry land ('sorry, just remembered I left my liver hanging up to dry on a tree'), and then makes good his escape. The jellyfish is deprived of her skin and bones as a punishment, thereby explaining her present appearance.

The original source is apparently the thirteenth-century setsuwa anthology 'Shaseki shû', vol. 5 (Seiffert's reference).

Interesting, in the light of the discussion on this list, that the Queen makes an appearance in association with imminent childbirth.

Forgive me if I have failed to notice that someone has already pointed this tale out on this list - I have tried to check as many of the messages with 'Dragon Queen' in their titles as I could.

Best wishes,

Robert Khan
(not the discussant referred to in Denise O'Brien's message)

Robert O. Khan

Assistant Professor of Japanese
Department of Asian Studies
University of Texas at Austin

(Currently on leave in England)

Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2001 11:10:27 -0700
From: Roberta Strippoli
Subject: No Dragon Queen?

The discussant of that 1999 AAS panel (The Dragon Palace: Exoticism, Sexuality, and Power) was in fact Max Moerman. The panelists were Melissa McCormick, Fabio Rambelli, X. Jie Yang, and myself.
Just to set the record straight :)


Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2001 13:50:26 -0500
From: Robert E Morrell
Subject: No Dragon Queen?

The original source is apparently the thirteenth-century setsuwa anthology 'Shaseki shu, vol. 5
(Seiffert's reference).

Yes, it's there all right. Cute story. See WATANABE Tsunaya, Shasekishuu NKBT 85 (Iwanami Shoten, 1966), pp. 216-217. The creature is referred to as a kiku (with a lengthy note to the Wamyoushou).

Also, FWIMBW, in my translation in Sand and Pebbles (SUNY, 1985), p. 160. I can't swear that this "kiku" is our Dragon Queen, but see note 243 for additional info on possible sources: the Fa-yuan chu-lin (Houonjurin, T 2122) as Chinese source, and Japanese folk variants in Yanagita's Japanese Folk Tales (Mayer, tr.), pp. 202-21, "Why the Jellyfish Has No Bones," cf., Ichinose, Nihon mukashibanashi kou, pp. 214-17; Seki, Nihon mukashibanashi shuusei, pp. 229-34.

Bob M

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