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Agatamori battling mizuchi in the pool. From Zenken kojitsu (1878)

Mizuchi (?) is a name for a Japanese dragon or legendary serpent-like creature, which is aquatic or somehow related to water. Some commentators perceived it to have been a water deity.

At one level, mizuchi seems to have been the Japanese name for such a creature, but besides one mention in the ancient chronicle Nihon Shoki, and one Manyoshu poem, there is a dearth of information regarding the original mizuchi.

At another level, the name mizuchi (midzuchi) is the kun-yomi or Japanese equivalent name applied to several mythological creatures of the dragon kind in Chinese literature (Shinmura 1976, Kojien dictionary, 2nd. ed.[i] Thus the Japanese reading mizuchi has been applied to the jiaolong (; Ja: ; pinyin: jiāo) or "4-legged dragon"), the qiulong ( or ; Ja: kyū; pinyin: qiú) or "hornless dragon", and the chilong (; Ja: chi; pinyin: chī) or "yellow dragon, which some say is hornless".

It should be borne in mind that in actuality, no simple coherent picture of the appearance and nature of this dragon can be given for even just the one type, the jialong dragon above, since different Chinese sources provide inconsistent and contradictiory descriptions of its morphology, life cycle, etc. Daniels (1960:157) notes that rain-controlling Japanese snake deities are sometimes called dragons, but cautions that for okami and mizuchi, "it is unsafe to deduce their forms from the Chinese characters allotted to them."

Early references[edit]

The ancient chronicle Nihongi contains the earliest references to mizuchi. Under the 67th year of the reign of Emperor Nintoku (conventionally dated 379 A.D.), it is mentioned that in central Kibi Province, at a fork on Kawashima River (川嶋河, old name of Takahashi River (高梁川) in Okayama Prefecture), a great water serpent or dragon (大虬)[ii] dwelled and would breathe or spew out its venom, poisoning and killing many passersby.

A man named Agatamori (県守?), ancestor of the Kasa-no-omi (笠臣?) clan, came up to the pool of the river, and threw in three calabashes which floated to the surface of the water. He then challenged the beast, saying he would quit the spot if it could sink these gourds, but slay it if it failed. The beast transformed into a deer and tried unsuccessfully to sink them, whereby the man slew the monster. The record goes on to say: "..He further sought out the water-dragon's fellows. Now the tribe of all the water-dragons filled a cave in the bottom of the pool. He slew them every one, and the water of the river became changed to blood. Therefore that water was called the pool of Agatamori" (tr. Aston 1896:1,299[iii]) (orig. JHTI 2002[iv]) (mod. Japanese tr., Ujiya 1988)

Another entry under Nintoku 11 (323 CE) records a somewhat connected cirumstance. The Mamuta dikes[ja] built along Yodo River kept getting breached. The Emperor then had an oracular dream, which prescribed two men, Kowa-kubi from Musashi Province and Koromo-no-ko from Kawachi Province to be sacrificed to the River God or Kawa-no-kami (河伯?). One of the men, who resisted being sacrificed, employed the floating calabash and dared the River God to sink it as proof to show it was truly divine will that demanded him as sacrifice. A whirlwind came and tried, but the calabash just floated away, and thus he extricated himself from death using his wits. This entry mentions River God, but not the precise word mizuchi. Therefore, in spite of Aston who in another work discusses the River God (Kawa-no-kami) mentioned here and mizuchi in the same breath (Aston 1905:1, 150-151), one must caution against automatically equating one with the other.

De Visser (1913:139) concludes, "From this passage we learn that in ancient times human sacrifices were made to the dragon-shaped river-gods." Foster (1998:1) suggests this is "perhaps the first documented appearance of the water spirit that would become known popularly in Japan as the kappa." In Japanese folklore the kappa is a water sprite often considered benignly mischievous, in contrast to the deadly dragon. However, the kappa can also be seen as sinister, reaching in and extracting the liver or the shirikodama from humans (see also #Name for kappa below).

In the Man'yōshū, Book 16, a tanka poem composed by Prince Sakaibe (境部王?) reads:"虎尓乗 古屋乎越而 青淵尓 鮫龍取将来 劒刀毛我" (Yoshimoto 1998), interpreted to mean, "Oh if I only had a tiger to ride to leap over the Old Shack, to the green pool to capture the mizuchi dragon, and a (capable) sword (in hand)".[1][2][need quotation to verify](in English) The Old Shack, Furuya, may actually signify a place name,[2][3][v] with a possible double-entendre involved.[4]

Folklorist study on mizuchi[edit]

Minakata Kumagusu, in the opening section of his Jūnishi kō: mi(hebi) (『十二支考・蛇』 "A Study of Twelve Animals of Chinese Zodiac: Snake"?) states "Even in our country (Japan), the various snakes that dwelled by water and were feared by people seemed to have been called mizuchi, or 'master of the water'"(Minakata 1917[vi]).

Minakata here regards the suffix -chi to mean nushi (or "den-master" of lakes, etc.), a re-interpretation of the view by historian Motoori Norinaga that -chi signified an honorific (Minakata 1916, the "Dragon" essay in the same series[vii]).

To be precise Motoori (Kojiki-den, 1822)[viii] stated that the "-chi" root was a tatae-na (讃え名 "name of reverence"?), and that it occurred in the name of the great serpent Yamata no Orochi, as well as in the names of the serpent's victims named Ashinazuchi and Tenazuchi[ja].

Minakata was also tempted to regard the stem tsuchi and chi as meaning "serpent", including the example of the snake native to Japan named "akakagachi, i.e., yamakagashi)(Minakata 1916, "Dragon"). Whereas Minakata's acquaintance and celebrated folklorist Kunio Yanagita had a sublimated view of the word tsuchi, and saw it as meaning a "spirit" (Minakata 1916[vii] and Yanagita 2004, Collected Works 32, Kappa no hanashi, p. 573[ix]).

Name for kappa[edit]

Minakata also collected variants that sounded like mizuchi in local dialects, such as mizushi (Ishikawa prefecture), medochi (Iwate prefecture), mintsuchi (Hokkaido). Elsewhere, Asakawa Zenan (Essay, vol. 1, 1850[x]) mentions medochi (Ehime prefecture) and mizushi (Fukui prefecture). However these all turned out to be local names for the kappa or "water imp". Minakata observed however that the kappa legend started out as tales of the nushi (den-masters of water) transforming into human-like forms and causing harm to humans, but that these origins had become forgotten. Folklorists such as Yanagita and Junichiro Ishikawa inherit a similar view.

Minakata in this work has also collected local lore around Japan regarding aquatic snakes capable of killing humans. And he has made connection between these snakes and the lore around the kappa which has the reputation of extracting the shirikodama or a fabulous organ belonging to the human victim that the kappa is capable of yanking out through the anus. This connection seems to serve his conviction that the mizuchi though in later times identified with the kappa, originally referred to aquatic snakes.

Mizuchi as synonym for Chinese dragon names[edit]

Japanese scholars up to the Edo Period relied heavily on classical Chinese encyclopedic texts and natural history treatises. One extensively used reference is the Honzō Kōmoku or in Chinese Bencao Gangmu aka Compendium of Materia Medica (本草綱目), which mentions the "jialong dragon" as follows:

蛟龍【釋名】時珍曰︰按︰任 《述異記》雲︰蛟乃龍屬龍;有翼,曰應龍;有角,曰虯龍;無角,曰螭龍也。(Li Shizhen, 1596, Chapter:Scales (part 1))
Li Shizhen: The book Shuyi Ji by Ren Fang: The Jiao is a kind of dragon. As its eyebrows cross each other, it is called Jailong. The Jiao is a kind of dragon. As its eyebrows cross each other, it is called Jialong. (Jiao ≅ come across). The Jialong has scales. The variety with wings is called Yinglong. The variety with horns is called Qiulong. The variety without horns is called Chilong... (tr. Luo Xiwen 2003, p.3508)

When this purely Chinese text is "read as Japanese" using what is called kanbun kundoku (ja:漢文訓読?), this will be read "The mizuchi is a kind of dragon.." This is because the character 蛟 (jiao) can be read as "mizuchi" when read Japanese style (kun) reading.

Other Chinese dragon names such as qiulong ( or ; Ja: kyū; pinyin: qiú) and chilong (; Ja: chi; pinyin: chī) can also be read mizuchi in Japanese.

In popular culture[edit]

(vehicles, vessels)
(manga, anime)

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ 新村出 (Izuru Shinmura) (1976). 広辞苑 (Kōjien). Iwanami.  2nd edition revised edition; quote under mizuchi "みずち 【蛟・虬・虯・螭】「み」は「水」、「ち」は「霊」で、「水の霊」の意。蛇に似て角と四脚とを具え、毒気を吐いて人を害するという想像上の動物。虬竜(きりょう)". Dictionary under chi reads: ち【霊】魂。れい
  2. ^ In the main text, which is in kanbun, or in Chinese style grammar, the creature is written using the kanji mizuchi (虬/虯?); but it is glossated also with Man'yōgana transcription mizuchi (水父 "water-father"?) as key to pronunciation.
  3. ^ Aston indicates in the margin the European calendrical dates, e.g. 379 A.D. for Nintoku 67, in Aston 1896, p.299.
  4. ^ original Nihongi quote "是歳於吉備中国川嶋河派有大虬令苦人時路人触其処而行必被其毒以多死亡", retrieved from web resource:
  5. ^ Katō Chikage (ja) (加藤 1926) conjectures that Furuya may have been a place name in Yamato Province, based on the following kagura song: "伊曾乃加美不留也遠止古乃多知毛可奈久美乃遠志天天美也知加與牟(Isonokami furuya otoko no tachi mo kana, kumi no oshitete, miyachika wo hamu)" 栗田, 寛 (Kurita, Hiroshi). "古謡集". 皇典講究所講演('Kōten Kōkyūjo kōen) 15 (149 (141~150)). p. 58]url=http://books.google.com?id=49QtAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA1-PA81.  Missing or empty |title= (help). However, Takeda (武田 2005) says that "Furuya is probably a geographical name but its location is unknown".
  6. ^ Original text in Minakata 1917:「わが邦でも水辺に住んで人に怖れらるる諸蛇を水の主というほどの意〔こころ〕でミヅチと呼んだらし」い
  7. ^ a b original text in Minakata 1916: 「本居宣長はツチは尊称だと言ったは、水の主〔ぬし〕くらいに解いたのだろ、また柳田氏は槌〔つち〕を霊物とする俗ありとて、槌の意に取ったが、予は大蛇をオロチ、巨蟒をヤマカガチと読むなどを参考し、『和名抄』や『書紀』に、蛟〔こう〕や虬〔きゅう〕いずれも竜蛇の属の名の字をミヅチと訓よんだから、ミヅチは水蛇〔みずへび〕、野蛟〔のづち〕は野蛇〔のへび〕の霊異なるを崇〔あがめ〕たものと思う。」
  8. ^ 『記伝』9-2(神代七之巻【八俣遠呂智の段】
  9. ^ Yanagita 2004 32:573-「今では虬と書くので、支那の知識を持っている人たちは蛇の類だろうと思っているが、字義からいっても水という言葉に、霊物とか何とかいう意味のチという字がっいているだけなのだから、水の霊ということに外ならない。」
  10. ^ Minakata quotes from this book the discussion on the water snakes of Mogami River and Sado, Niigata, which is relevant to mizuchi


  1. ^ 萬葉集釋注 (SNIPPET) 8. 集英社. 2005. p. 475. (三八三三)虎にまたがり、古屋の屋根を飛び越えて行って、薄気味悪い青淵で、その主..蛟龍を捕らえて来られるような、そんな剣大刀があればよいのに。 
  2. ^ a b 武田, 祐吉 (Takeda, Yūkichi) (2005). 萬葉集全講 (Manyōshū zenkō) 下(3). 集英社. p. 1. 虎に乗って古屋を越えて、青渕で竜を退治してくるような刀剣がほしいなあ; .. 古屋、地名だろうが、所在不明。 
  3. ^ 加藤, 千蔭 (Kato, Chikage) (1926). 萬葉集略解 (Manyōshū ryakkai) (NDL). 日本古典全集. 7. 日本古典全集刊行会. p. 211. 古屋と言ふ所大和に在りて、且つ昔名高き武士ありしか。 
  4. ^ With furuya construed with the common noun meaning "old shack", it has been speculated that this is reference to a pan-Asiatic story or saying that "a leak in the old roof is scarier than a tiger" (虎よりも古屋の漏がおそろしい) (谷川, 健一 (Tanigawa, Kenichi) (2006). 古代歌謡と南島歌謡: 歌の源泉を求めて (Nihon no mukashibanashi to densetsu) (SNIPPET). 春風社. p. 184. ISBN 4-861-10058-5. , 大島, 建彦 (Ōshima, Takehiko) (2004). 日本の昔話と伝説 (Nihon no mukashibanashi to densetsu) (SNIPPET). 三弥井書店. p. 77. )


(Nihongi / Nihon Shoki)

→See under Nihon shoki for fuller bibliography.

(Secondary sources)