Crystal Morey: The Japanese Kirin

By Crystal Morey
The Japanese Kirin traces its origins to Chinese mythology, but they have diverged quite a bit since then, both in physical appearance and attributes. In Japan, Kirin are believed to be more powerful than the dragon or phoenix, but are much less aggressive…

The Kirin is a benevolent creature (a protector) that, while incredibly powerful, will not harm another living creature unnecessarily. They do not hunt or eat meat and supposedly move without disrupting even the grass underfoot.

They are said to appear only in lands ruled by a just and virtuous leader, therefore the appearance of a Kirin is a very good omen, (particularly for the ruling family) as they are fierce adversaries of deceit and cruelty. Some legends portray Kirin as a sacred pet of the gods. They are said to have the head of a dragon, the body of a deer, often covered with the scales of a fish or dragon, the legs of a horse and the tail of a bull.

They usually have antlers or a single horn in the center of their foreheads. Kirin means giraffe in Japanese, and while the do not resemble a giraffe in appearance, it is believed that the Kirin was fashioned after the giraffe’s serene disposition.

While Kirin are peaceful creatures, when angered they roar with the sound of thunder and can spit fire. They are unrivaled defenders of the innocent. The images included are from my upcoming book, Japanese Mythical Creatures due out this Fall…

(Crystal Morey works for Gomineko Books and is a contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. For more info on Gomineko Books please visit their website:

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8 thoughts on “Crystal Morey: The Japanese Kirin

  1. I’m looking forward to my next tattoo which is oddly enough a Kirin. This is not a strange subject for a tattoo but considering this recent write up I thought I’d post something. In the past year or two I’ve become more and more interested eastern art . Not just Japanese but everything from India to Japan. How the Gita and its contents change or better put take on new meaning or slightly different sybolic characteristics from each culture. If someone portrays the images correctly be it a painting or my favorite medium tattooing, you can arrange ithe subject matter to reveal a persons personalty or at least tell somthing about the wearer or artist. Any way, I’m going to stop typing now.

  2. Firstly, since conceiving getting a tattoo of a kirin three years ago, I’m so glad to see such a staggering amount of reference material on the web now, compared to then.

    Actually, the reason that the kanji for kirin/quilin is the same as giraffe is because back in the 9th century, the Chinese king wanted to demonstrate the reach of his grasp, so he sent ships to Africa. Upon their return, they were unloading the animals obtained from the journey, much to the surprise and wonderment of the people fortunate enough to witness it. They’d never seen the likes of such creatures as lions, elephants, or rhinos, so on and so forth. However, when the two giraffes stepped off of the ship, everyone in attendance bowed down. Before them were an example of a fabled animal. Iean, think about it, from a ninth century perspective, they had the stag-like legs, which helped them to walk around without really pushing over the grass around them. Also, their pattern somewhat resembles scales, not to mention their bull-like tail and their antlers, sitting atop a long dragon-like neck, all adorned in such a golden hue. This worked out for the king for if one of them is such a great omen, then two must truly mean that he is a great king. Evidence of this confusion is still prevalent today, as referenced by the se kanji being used for both.

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