Have you ever wondered about the creative origin of so many Pokemon? Although it took a great deal of creative genius and ingenuity to come with certain Pokemon like bird, rat or even rock, other Pokemon were ripped straight from the depths of traditional Japanese folklore and tradition.
Magikarp and Gyarados – 登龍門 (Tōryūmon)
Magikarp, an oversized, wide-eyed carp that does nothing but flop on its side, is one of the most useless pokémon in the entire series. It’s completely unable to defend itself in battle and isn’t even good for eating. However, those that decide to take on the challenge of raising their own magikarp will be rewarded with one of the most shocking and awe-inspiring pokémon evolutions. When magikarp reaches a certain level, it will transform into one of the most fearsome and uncontrollable pokémon there is, the mighty gyarados.
As it turns out, both magikarp and gyarados are actually based off of an ancient Chinese legend that had been passed down to Japan many centuries ago. Magikarp’s transformation from an utterly useless fish into a mighty dragon is embodied by the Japanese phrase 登龍門 (Tōryūmon) which means Climbing the Dragon’s Gate.
According to legend, the Dragon’s Gate was a formidable waterfall located on the Yellow River in China. It was said to have been originally placed there as a test of strength by Yu the Great, a legendary emperor. The waterfall was so treacherous, that any carp that could manage to swim up against its current all the way to the top would be rewarded by being transformed into a dragon.
As a result of this legend, the term Dragon’s Gate (龍門 –Ryūmon) has come to proverbially refer to any obstacle or hurdle standing in the way of your own success in life. The only way to achieve greatness is through overcoming adversity.
Who would have guessed that there was so much hidden depth and ancient wisdom in Pokemon?
Ninetales – 九尾の狐 Kyūbi no Kitsune
Ninetales is an elegant and powerful pokémon. The evolved form of Vulpix, Ninetales is a fire type, fox-like pokémon with nine tails. As you might have already known, foxes, called kitsune in Japanese, hold a very special place in Japanese culture, and show up in various forms in Japanese media.
Depictions of kitsune have varied over the ages. At times they were depicted as wise and powerful benevolent beings, while at other times they were seen as mischievous trickers.
Virtually all depictions of kitsune portray them as having incredible magical abilities such as fire breathing and shapeshifting that advance with age. Kitsune were also said to be able to live for hundreds of years. The more tails a kitsune had and the whiter its fur, the older and more powerful it was. This is why Vulpix originally only has six tails and is portrayed as having a deep reddish brown fur, and grows more tails and paler fur after it evolves.
Additionally, Ninetales was specifically chosen to have exactly nine tails because nine was traditionally considered to be the maximum number of tails a kitsune could grow, representing the fact that they have achieved an unparalleled level of strength and wisdom, like a deity.
This incomparable, god-like nine tailed fox is known as 九尾の狐 (Kyūbi no Kitsune) in Japanese. To the right you can see a traditional representation of one of these foxes terrorizing a prince.
So don’t let yourself be fooled by Ninetales’ regal and dignified appearance. Underneath that coy and graceful exterior is a highly intelligent, devious and mischievious predator. It might just be the most powerful pokémon there is.