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Kinryu no Mai



Kinryu no Mai (金龍の舞)
Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo (東京 浅草寺)

The golden dragon dance is held at the Sensoji temple whose mountain name is Kinryuzan (Golden Dragon Mountain). Most Japanese temples have an honorary mountain name. Temples were often built on sacred mountains since it was believed that the native gods of these mountains were also manifestations of Buddhist divinities. Pilgrimages to the mountains bring favours from both deities.
The golden dragon dance of Sensoji celebrates a tiny gold image of Kannon found by two brothers from their fishing net in the Sumidagawa River. Later a wealthy landowner built a small temple for the statue. Due to the discovery the man became a convinced believer and the brothers converted to Buddhism. Legend tells that one thousand pine trees suddenly appeared overnight around the temple and three days later a golden dragon descended into the pine trees from the heaven. 
In Japanese mythology the dragon guards the eastern cosmic direction. A tortoise guards the north, a red bird the south, and a tiger the west. The dragon dance dates back to the Heian period. Large-scale dragon compositions were painted on the walls of imperial buildings and of temples and later in Zen paintings dragons and tigers were frequently paired. Dragon paintings reached their apogee in the 17th century. Then the dragon calling forth rain was a metaphor for the enlightened ruler seeking able ministers. 
The eight great dragon kings are said to hear the Lotus Sutra expounded by the historical Buddha. Legend has it that the deity Fudou fought a representative of different religion. He changed himself into a flaming sword but the opponent did the same and the fighting went on without a winner. Then Fudou changed himself into a dragon which wound around the opposing sword and started eating it from the top. Fudou is a special protector of the mountain ascetics (yamabushi). The deity is portrayed holding a two-edged sword with a three-pronged hilt in his right hand and a coiled rope in his left hand. With the sword the deity cuts through deluded and ignorant minds and with the rope he binds those who are ruled by their violent passions and emotions.

Dragon king’s palace
The dragon king's palace is located at the bottom of the sea near the Ryuku Islands. The palace is known as the evergreen land. The many-storied mansion is built from red and white coral guarded by dragons. It is full of treasure, especially the jewels, which control tidal waters. Fish and other sea life serve the king as vassals. The turtle is the dragon’s main messenger. On the northern side of the palace snow falls all the time. On the eastern side butterflies visit cherry blossoms while crickets chirp on the southern side. On the western side maple trees glow in bright colours. For a human a day in the palace equals 100 years on earth. 

Long ago the dragon king's daughter Toyo-Tama married a hunter named Hoori who lived with her for three years in the underwater kingdom. Longing for his own country Hoori returned to the upper world. Later their son had four children. One of them was the first Emperor of Japan, Jimmu Tenno. Hoori himself was the child of Ninigi and Ko-no-Hana. Ninigi was the grandson of Amaterasu. Hoori and his children thus trace their line back to Japan's earliest gods and goddesses. 

Once there was a young fisherman named Urashima who caught a tortoise in his net. The turtle was the dragon king's daughter named Otohime. The turtle-princess invited the young man to her father's court where she married him. After three days Urashima wanted to visit his aging parents. But when he returned to his land he discovered that 300 years had passed. Urashima was hit by grief and desired to return to Otohime. Hesitantly, hoping to find a way back to the wife, he opened the magic box and immediately became old and fell dead upon the ground.

Tide jewels
Long ago the Empress Jingo sent the spirit of the seashore to the dragon king's palace to request the tide jewels. With the magic jewels the empress sailed to Korea. When she saw the Korean fleet confronted them she quickly threw the low tide jewel into the sea and the tide receded immediately beaching the Korean fleet. As the Koreans jumped out of their vessels onto the mud flats the empress threw the high tide jewel into the water and a tidal wave came along drowning all the Korean fighters.