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Like other creatures called dragons, the Ryū is a big, fantastic animal that looks similar to a serpent, and is related to the Chinese lóng and the Korean yong. Like all these Asian dragons, it is shown without wings, has legs with claws, and usually lives in the ocean, the clouds, or heavens. Japanese dragons do not fly as often as the Chinese one, which is the reason why they usually appear much more like serpents. The ryū in art has only three toes, instead of the lóng's five or the yong's four.
Ryū originated from China and is one of the four creatures from heavens of Japanese mythology (the other three are the phoenix, turtle and tiger). It has often been the symbol of the Emperor or of a hero.
Dragons in Japanese mythology
In Japanese mythology, one of the first dragons is the Yamata-no-Orochi, a very big serpent with eight heads and eight tails. The serpent ate girls, and it was killed by Susanoo after Susanoo tricked the creature into becoming drunk on sake.
Dragons in later Japanese folklore were often good, perhaps because of influence from Chinese culture. In Urashima Tarō, the main character rescues a turtle which turns out to be the son of Ryūjin, the dragon king of the ocean.
Mythic Texts and Folktales: