Body of water even has a connection to the creatures’ traditional role in Japanese mythology.
Japan’s high-tech, high-speed trains and convenient overnight buses are great ways to get about the country, but it also has an extensive domestic air travel network. Seeing the country from the air can be a real treat, since between its distinct coastlines and compact size it’s easy to pick out landmarks such as cities, islands, and dragons.
Yep, when Japanese Twitter user @chicago0812 was recently flying over Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, he glanced out the window and was met with the image of a majestic mythical serpent.
▼ “There’s seriously a dragon in Shikoku!”
雷門獅篭CHICAGO (@chicago0812) September 01, 2017
Of course, this isn’t a real actual dragon, but a twisting body of water in Kochi Prefecture that happens to look just like the fantasy monster.
The dragon’s tail and body are actually the serpentine Yoshino River, a 194-kilometer (121-mile) waterway that flows from Mt. Kamegamori to Lake Sameura, which forms the dragon’s head.
However, while legends often speak of dragons living in ancient times, the one in @chicago0812’s photo only came into being recently. While the Yoshino River has existed for centuries, Lake Sameura owes its shape to Sameura Dam, which was constructed in 1975.
▼ The Lake is a popular tourist destination, with a cycling course lined with 2,000 sakura cherry blossom trees.
This means that we’ll have to give up on our fantasy that long ago a dragon passed away in Shikoku, and when the rains fell on its final resting place, they formed the geographic feature seen in @chicago0812’s snapshot. However, there’s still a mythological connection to be made.
While dragons are typically presented as fire-breathers in Western folklore, in Japan the element they’re most commonly associated with is water, with tales crediting the creatures with causing rainfall in ancient times. As fate would have it, Lake Sameura is a functioning reservoir, and in addition to hydroelectric power from its dam, it also supplies the local communities with drinking and irrigation water, meaning that Shikoku’s dragon is still providing water for the island’s people.