Mizuchi

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

Mizuchi, Midzuchi (?) is a type of Japanese dragon or legendary serpent-like creature, either found in aquatic habitat or otherwise connected to water. Some commentators perceived it to have been a water deity. It is described in the ancient chronicle Nihon Shoki, and one Manyoshu poem.

Mizuchi is also the Japanese transliteration for several types of Chinese dragons (Shinmura 1976, Kojien dictionary, 2nd. ed.[a]), and may refer to the jiaolong (; Japanese: kōryū) or "4-legged dragon", the qiulong ( or; Japanese: kyūryū) or "hornless dragon", and the chilong (; Japanese: chiryū) or "yellow dragon".

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 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 in Okayama Prefecture), a great water serpent or dragon (大虬) dwelled and would breathe or spew out its venom, poisoning and killing many passersby.[b]

This mizuchi was exterminated by a man named Agatamori (県守?), ancestor of the Kasa-no-omi (笠臣?) clan. He approached the pool of the river, cast three calabashes which floated to the surface of the water, and challenged the beast to make these gourds sink, threatening to slay it should it fail. 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; orig. JHTI 2002[c]).

A river-god reported seen in Nintoku 11 (323 A.D.) is also regarded by commentators to be a mizuchi, due to paralleling circumstances. On that year, the Mamuta dikes (ja) built along Yodo River kept getting breached, and the Emperor guided by an oracular dream ordered two men, Kowa-kubi from Musashi Province and Koromo-no-ko from Kawachi Province be sought ought and 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. Although River God is not called mizuchi in the source, Aston has regarded the River God (Kawa-no-kami) and the mizuchi as equivalent (Aston 1905: 1, 150-151).

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).

A mizuchi is also mentioned in the Man'yōshū, the ancient collection of Japanese poems. The tanka poem composed by Prince Sakaibe (境部王?) can be paraphrased 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)" (Man'yōshū, Book 16; Yoshimoto 1998).[need quotation to verify](in English)[d]

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. Minakata mizuchi's suffix -chi signifies nushi, i.e., "den-master" of lakes, etc., a re-interpretation of the view by historian Motoori Norinaga that -chi signified an honorific (Minakata 1916).

To be precise Motoori (Kojiki-den, 1822)[e] 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 and Yanagita 2004, 32;573[f]).

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[g]) 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)
(novels)
(manga, anime)
(games)

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Shinmura 1976 under "mizuchi" gives "" as applicable Chinese characters.
  2. ^ The text designates the creature as as a qiulong (虬/虯) in Chinese prose (kanbun), but the annotation gives its Japanese reading as mizuchi (水父?).
  3. ^ 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".
  4. ^ Original poem: 虎尓乗 古屋乎越而 青淵尓 鮫龍取将来 劒刀毛我". Interpretation: Man'yōshū chūshaku (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。 .
  5. ^ 『記伝』9-2(神代七之巻【八俣遠呂智の段】
  6. ^ 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。」
  7. ^ Minakata quotes from this book the discussion on the water snakes of Mogami River and Sado, Niigata, which is relevant to mizuchi.

References[edit]

(Nihongi / Nihon Shoki)

→See under Nihon shoki for fuller bibliography.

(Secondary sources)
  • Aston, William George (1905). Shinto: (the Way of the Gods). Longmans, Green, and Co. 
  • Daniels, F. J. (1960). "Snake and Dragon Lore of Japan". Folklore 71: 145–164. doi:10.1080/0015587x.1960.9717234. 
  • Foster, Michael Dylan (1998). "The Metamorphosis of the Kappa: Transformation of Folklore to Folklorism in Japan". Asian Folklore Studies 56: 1–24. doi:10.2307/1178994. 
  • Visser, Marinus Willern de (1913). The Dragon in China and Japan. Asian Folklore Studies (J. Müller). 
  • Shinmura, Izuru (新村出) (1976). Kōjien (広辞苑). Iwanami. 
  • Minakata, Kumagusu (南方熊楠) (1916), "十二支考(3):田原藤太竜宮入りの話" [On the Zodiac (3): Story of Tawara Tōta's entry into Ryūgū palace], 太陽 . Aozora Bunko No.1916
  • Minakata, Kumagusu (南方熊楠) (1917), "十二支考(4):蛇に関する民俗と伝説" [On the Zodiac (4): folklore and legends of the serpent], 太陽 . Aozora Bunko No.2536
  • Motoori, Norinaga(本居宣長) (1822), 古事記伝  : 雲の筏. "『古事記傳』(現代語訳)". 雲の筏. Retrieved April 2012. 
  • Takeda, Yūkichi (武田祐吉) (2005). Manyōshū zenkō (萬葉集全講) 下(3). Shueisha. p. 475. 
  • Yanagita, Kunio (柳田國男) (2004), Kappa no hanashi, Yanagita Kunio Zenshū 32, p. 573