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Translation: dragon palace
Alternate names: tatsu no miyako (“dragon capital”), suishōkyū (“crystal palace”), Watatsumi no miya (“Watatsumi’s palace”), Tokoyo (“the eternal world”)

Appearance: Ryūgū is a fantastical palace that appears in many legends and folktales. It is the primary residence of the dragon god of the sea and his daughter Otohime, and is home to the ocean’s royal court. The palace is populated by aquatic creatures who wear human clothing and have a society which mirrors that of the human world.

Ryūgū is a complex of many buildings. It is composed largely of coral, pearl, and crystal, while other precious materials such as gems, gold, silver, and fish scales are used in its construction. One of its most famous features is its gardens, which contain all four seasons at the same time. The eastern gardens are in perpetual spring. Cherries, plums, and willows are always in full bloom, swaying in the spring breeze, and the songs of nightingales can be heard from within the cool mist. The southern gardens are in endless summer. Dew-covered hydrangeas and lotus blossoms decorate the gardens, and waterfowl playing in the ponds send cool waves to lap the shores. The trees are thick and lush, and the sky reverberates with the ringing of cicadas and the singing of cuckoos. In the western gardens, autumn reigns. The trees display brilliant yellows and reds, while white chrysanthemums decorate the ground. Deer graze in the dewy grass, and call out into enveloping fog. In the north it is always winter. The treetops are barren, their dead leaves twinkling with frost. The mountains are covered in a blanket of powdery snow, and thin wisps of charcoal smoke rise out from distant chimneys.

The location of Ryūgū varies from story to story; it can be accessed through caves, at the bottom of rivers or lakes (such as Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake), along the coast, or on a floating island in the distant ocean, but most often it is said to lie on the bottom of the sea. The palace can be seen on the ocean’s distant horizon, in mirages made from clams’ breath—or shinkirō.

Interactions: Despite being separated from the human world, there are plenty of stories about humans and inhabitants of Ryūgū visiting each other, such as when a jinja hime appeared off the coast of Hizen Province in 1819 to foretell a bumper crop followed by a cholera epidemic. Fabulous treasures from the dragon palace are sometimes given to human visitors—such as kanju and manju, the pearls which control the ebb and flow of the tides, and the tamatebako of Urashima Tarō’s legend.

Time passes at a different rate in Ryūgū compared to the outside world. Although the rate differs from story to story, one day spent at Ryūgū is usually equivalent to several years or more on the surface. Humans who visit Ryūgū for an extended period return to the surface world to discover that it has changed dramatically since they left.

Origin: In early Japanese mythology this palace was called Watatsumi no miya, named for Watatsumi—the god of the sea. Like other Japanese deities, Watatsumi was depicted with a human-like form. During the middle ages, as aspects of Chinese mythology and Buddhism were absorbed into Japanese mythology, the idea that the ocean was ruled by ryūō—dragon kings—became popular. The name Ryūgū and the depiction of the god of the sea as a dragon have since became the popular standard.

Legends: The most famous account of Ryūgū comes from the legend of Urashima Tarō, the young man who rescued a turtle and was brought to the palace as a reward. He spends some time there and even falls in love with the beautiful princess Otohime, but his story ends tragically when he returns to the surface world only to find that centuries have elapsed and everyone he ever knew is dead.

Alphabetical list of yōkai