Qilin depicted in the Gujin Tushu Jicheng


The rich tapestry of Japanese mythology, the Kirin stands as a testament to the enduring fascination with mythical creatures.

Originating from ancient Chinese folklore, the Kirin’s journey to Japan has seen it evolve into a unique and revered entity, distinct from its counterparts in other cultures. Tracing its origins to Chinese mythology, the Japanese Kirin has diverged significantly in both physical appearance and attributes.


The mention of the mythical creature Kirin can be found in the “Complete Classics Collection of Ancient China,” also known as the “Gujin Tushu Jicheng.” This monumental work, compiled during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912), is a comprehensive anthology of classical Chinese literature, covering a wide range of subjects including history, philosophy, poetry, and mythology.Within the vast expanse of the “Gujin Tushu Jicheng,” references to the Kirin can be discovered in various texts that explore ancient Chinese myths and legends. One notable source is the “Classic of Mountains and Seas” (Shan Hai Jing), which is included in the collection and is one of the earliest known Chinese texts documenting mythical creatures and fantastical landscapes.


Unlike the fierce and aggressive dragons or the majestic phoenixes, the Kirin is renowned for its benevolence and gentle nature. In Japanese belief, the Kirin is believed to be even more potent than dragons or phoenixes, yet it rarely resorts to aggression, preferring instead to embody the virtues of protection and compassion.

The Kirin is revered as a celestial guardian, a protector of the innocent and a beacon of justice. Despite its incredible power, the Kirin adheres to a strict code of conduct, refraining from harming any living creature unnecessarily.

Legends speak of its ability to move without disrupting even the grass underfoot, a testament to its reverence for all forms of life.

Described as a divine amalgamation of various creatures, the Kirin possesses the head of a dragon, the body of a deer, and the legs of a horse. Its form is often adorned with the scales of a fish or dragon, symbolizing its connection to the elements. Antlers or a single horn adorn its forehead, serving as a reminder of its sacred nature and divine lineage.

While the term “Kirin” means giraffe in Japanese, its physical appearance bears little resemblance to the earthly creature. Instead, it is believed that the Kirin’s serene disposition was inspired by the giraffe’s peaceful nature.


Legends abound with tales of the Kirin’s appearances in lands ruled by just and virtuous leaders. Its presence is considered a harbinger of good fortune, particularly for the ruling family, as the Kirin is a fierce adversary of deceit and cruelty. Some myths even portray the Kirin as a sacred pet of the gods, entrusted with the task of safeguarding the mortal realm from malevolent forces.

Despite its peaceful demeanor, the Kirin possesses formidable powers when provoked. When angered, it roars with the sound of thunder and can unleash torrents of fire, becoming an unrivaled defender of the innocent and a relentless force against injustice.

Throughout history, the Kirin has been immortalized in various forms of art, from ancient scrolls to temple murals. Its image serves as a reminder of the enduring power of compassion, justice, and the eternal quest for harmony within the natural world.

‘Hôô and Kirin’ 1837 Kuniyoshi

‘Japanese Decorative Designs’

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Library.

Houon-ji temple of Morioka (Iwate).


Davis, F. Hadland. “Myths and Legends of Japan”. Dover Publications, 1992.

Ashkenazi, Michael. “Handbook of Japanese Mythology”. ABC-CLIO, 2003.


Drawing anatomy

Struggling to draw anatomy?

“Anatomy for Sculptors” by Uldis Zarins is a practical guide that simplifies human anatomy for artists.

Dr. Zarins, an orthopedic surgeon, breaks down complex anatomical structures into easy-to-understand concepts, complemented by over 300 illustrations. The book focuses on how sculptors can apply anatomical knowledge to their craft, emphasizing gesture, proportion, and movement. Zarins’ expertise offers insights into the mechanics of human motion, enabling artists to capture dynamic poses realistically.

In essence, “Anatomy for Sculptors” equips artists with the tools to understand and depict the human form accurately, enhancing their sculptural abilities (a favorite subject of mine) with scientific precision.