In Focus

Takenouchi no Sukune Meets the Dragon King of the Sea

The extraordinary Takenouchi no Sukune, a famous warrior-statesman, is said to have lived as long as 360 years and to have served as a counselor or minister to as many as six monarchs. Among these was the empress Jingo Kogo, whom he accompanied on an expedition to Korea. Upon their return, he became guardian to the empress's son, the future emperor Ojin, who ascended to the throne in the year C.E. 270.

The meeting between Takenouchi and the dragon king Ryujin was a popular subject in Meiji-period art. Takenouchi dreamed he was ordained by heaven to destroy a monster that was terrorizing the waters for humans and sea creatures alike. He accomplished the task with great valor, and Ryujin, emerging from the deep to thank him, presents Takenouchi with a jewel that promises him control over the seas.

A version of the story of Takenouchi no Sukune is as follows:

There once lived a great and courageous warrior in Japan named Takenouchi. It was rumored that he had lived to be 360 years old and, therefore, was very wise. Takenouchi was so wise that many of Japan’s rulers asked him for advice.

In Japan, a terrible and ferocious sea monster was terrorizing the waters and killing humans and sea creatures alike. In a dream one night Takenouchi learned that he was chosen by heaven to destroy the evil sea monster. He set out to rid the waters of the beast and accomplished this task with intense bravery.

Ryujin, the Dragon King of the Sea, was very pleased. He emerged from the deep waters of the ocean with his servant to thank Takenouchi for his help. As Takenouchi and the Dragon King met, all the other sea creatures came up to the surface to see the awesome warrior.

Ryujin presented Takenouchi with a beautiful and magical jewel that gave its owner control of the seas. Takenouchi thanked him and humbly accepted the wonderful gift. Both people and sea creatures rejoiced that the waters were now peaceful.

In this imaginative design, every detail of the figures, such as Takenouchi's armor and the ferocious fish-form mask and spiny lobsterlike girdle worn by the king's attendant, is elegantly and precisely defined. The rocks on which the figures stand teem with the life of the sea. An amazing tour de force of bronze casting, this piece is a great tribute to the artistry of Japanese metal craftsmen. From an inscription, we know that a bronze master and his two assistants labored fro two years to create the piece, which was displayed in 1881 at the Second Domestic Industrial Exhibition in Tokyo.

Adapted from

  • "Takenouchi Story," DMA Educator Blog.

  • "Takenouchi no Sukune Meets the Dragon King of the Sea," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997), 47.