Dragon lantern (ryuto) (龍燈)

Dragon lantern (ryuto) refers to a fire of mysterious or suspicious origin, passed down across Japan. Mainly it appears from under the sea and floats above the sea and some of them are lined up or stay on seashore trees.


It is a mysterious fire which appears from sea or brink of river, which is said to be a habitat of dragon. It is called ryuto in the sense of the fire put on by dragon god and deified.

It is seen in various regions in Japan, but in particular the ryuto seen from Itsukushima-jinja Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture is well-known. From New Year's Day to the day six in an old lunar calendar it appeared above the sea in front of shrine gate at quiet night, where firstly the one fire appeared and it gradually increased to about fifty and they aggregated into one fire again and disappeared at dawn. Many people visited and looked at it at night in Itsukushima and it was seen well especially from Misen (Hiroshima Prefecture) which is highest peak of the island. The name of ryuto is named after the Palace of the Dragon King by Itsukushima Myojin (the great deity of Itsukushima) which is enshrined in Itsukushima-jinja Shrine for Watatsumi (tutelary of the sea).

Iwaki Province (currently Fukushima Prefecture) is also known as a haunting area. About 16-20 kilometers eastward from the temple on the summit of Mt. Akadake in Iwaki Province, the sea was seen and at dusk a red mysterious fire like a paper lantern or a ball of firework appeared about three meters above the sea, which was very visible. The 7 or 8 fire appear every night, but they always appear in pairs. The first ryuto appears and wafts about 327-436 meters and after that the second one appears and wafts following the trajectory of the first one.

In "Shokoku satobitodan" (Talks on people of all countries) in Kanpo era, for example, ryuto dedicated a fire to a temple. In Kamisho Kumano Gongen Deity of Suo Province (currently Yamaguchi Prefecture), ryuto is said to appear on New Year's Eve. In Monju-do in Amanohashidate in Tango Province (currently the north part of Kyoto Prefecture), a lone pine tree called 'ryuto's pine' stands and at midnight on the day sixteen every month, ryuto flies to put a divine fire on this pine from offshore.

The tradition of pine or Japanese cedar which is said to be lightened up by ryuto exists across Japan. Due to the writings dealing with travel "Journey to East" during Edo period by Nankei TACHIBANA, on July 13 every year in Mt. Sakka Ryusenji-temle in Nakaniigawa-gun in Ecchu Province (currently Toyama Prefecture), both from the top of Mt. Ryusen and from the sea, each one of ryuto is said to fly to put a fire on the treetops, which is called santoryuto. Once upon a time when Daitetsu Zenji, one of Dogen's disciples, opened this temple, Yamanokami (God of the Mountain) and dragon god are said to collaborate to dedicate a sacred flame to the temple, which is regarded as a very rare thing. Also, for many pines and Japanese cedars in the other regions, Dragon god is said to dedicate a sacred flame to temples and shrines.

It is called okiryuto in Osaka Prefecture and is said to be a fire put on by fish for enshrining the dragon.

According to the legend in Niibo-mura, Sadogashima Island, Niigata Prefecture (current Sado city), ryuto flew to Japanese plum tree in Negoro-ji Temple every night and someone shot it with a bow and arrow and it was proved to be a heron.

[Original Japanese]