Basic informaiton

Alternative names: yamakagachi, ja, [7] senja [2]
Translation: Uwabami can be translated as 'python' [10] or 'boa constrictor.' [13]
Origin: Japanese Legend

About Uwabami

Sometimes the word 'uwabami' is used in a singular context as a proper noun, usually in reference to Heita's Uwabami. [4] However, uwabami, as a term, is more often used to describe a giant serpent [1] or giant python [11,14] in the legends of Japan. In other instances, the term simply means python [10] or boa constrictor. [13] In all cases, uwabami refers to a snake of large size. [7]

According to the Shosan chomon kishu, serpents of every size were considered a part of the dragon species in Japanese myth. The uwabami could ascend into the sky, [2] or even fly through the air, with or without wings. [9] They sometimes swoop down and surprise wayfarers [6,9] or capture prey from above. [9]

These elusive beasts conceal themselves by hiding in the mountains or in the water. [7] Due to their great size, many have seen an uwabami in the countryside and wilderness, [10] though sightings were rare. [7] Their spectacular size has inspired many stories, [10] and whenever one is caught, much money can be earned by displaying it. [7] In many tales of the uwabami, the serpent is very predatory toward humans, [9] but stories also claim that they gobbled up stags, bears, [1] and both horse and rider in a single gulp. [8,9]

Uwabami had power over the wind and rain, [2] and some were worshipped as deities of fertility and water. [3] Though uwabami can be found in the traditions of Japan, [9] some of the stories may be relics of traditions from the cultures of China and Korea. [1]

Artwork Featuring the Uwabami

There are several pieces of art that feature uwabami.

In the nineteenth century, Minamoto no Oko painted a series of hand scrolls entitled the Seven Calamities, the first of which was the uwabami. [12] The scroll depicts the uwabami rearing up and terrifying nearby travelers, while those farther off spot the gigantic serpent from its hiding place. [1]

Utagawa Kuniyoshi created a piece (circa 1839-1841) depicting Heita Tanenaga, Izumi Kojiro Chikahira, and Wada Kojiro Yoshishige battling a giant python. [11,14]

Katsukawa Shuntei created a woodblock print (circa 1806-1807) of Heita Tanenaga slaying the giant uwabami. [15]

Encounters with Uwabami

The most famous uwabami was Yamata-no-orochi because the Kojiki and Nishonshoki both describe him as the eight-headed serpent slain by Susanoo. [3]

Another uwabami plagued the province of Settsu. [15] It was so larger that it would swallow riders on horseback. [10] Heita Tanenaga fought the monster and slew it by a waterfall. [15]

Three heroes battled an uwabami while on a hunt. The beast swallowed Heita Tanenaga, who then cut himself out of its belly while Izumi Kojiro Chikahira and Wada Kojiro Yoshishige controlled him. [11,14]

Physical Description

Uwabami are huge snakes, larger than any tree, [5] or whose girth exceeds that of a forest tree. [1] Sometimes they have wings but often do not. [6,9]

Known Uwabamis

Quick Facts

  • Uwabami appear in many traditional sources of Japanese mythology, including the Shosan chomon kishu, Kojiki, and Nishonshoki. [2,3]
  • They are sometimes referred to as ja (meaning 'dragon'), [7] senja, [2] or yamakagachi. [7]
  • Artists such as Katsukawa Shuntei, [15] Minamoto no Oko, [12] and Utagawa Kuniyoshi have created pieces that depict uwabami. [11,14]

Related Articles


  1. Anderson [Paintings] 444
  2. De Visser 223
  3. Hiroyuki 364
  4. Joly [Legend] xli
  5. Joly [Legend] 383
  6. Joly [Legend] 384
  7. Kaempfer 73
  8. Piggott 97
  9. Rose [Dragons] 379
  10. Volker 146
  11. Warrior triptychs 1839-1841, Part II
  12. Part of the seven calamities showing giant serpent
  13. Uwabami - boa constrictor
  14. Yegara Heita Tanenaga Cuts his Way Out of a Giant Python
  15. Egara no Heita slaying the giant uwabami or python

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.