Dragonflies are the national emblem of Japan. In fact, Japan is also known as the Island of the Dragonfly or Akitsushima (akitsu is the Japanese word for dragonfly and shima means island). How did this name come about? Legend has it that a divine emperor of Japan was sitting atop a high mountain looking down on the islands of Japan. Three versions of the legend recount what the emperor saw:
Whatever the correct version, it is clear that the Japanese people revere dragonflies as they feature prominently in poems, songs, paintings, and pottery. Many Japanese companies use a dragonfly in their logo and incorporate dragonflies as a decorative element in their products (pencils, pens, harmonicas, machine parts, tools, clothing, and more).
Japanese parents have viewed the dragonfly as a protector for their children. If dragonflies were present, you did not necessarily need mosquito netting to prevent your child from being bitten. Dragonflies would eat the mosquitoes that could make your child sick.
The Japanese Samurai honored the dragonfly in many ways. In the 17th century, high raking Japanese lords used dragonfly shaped helmets so they could be easily identified on the battlefield. The dragonfly image was often emblazoned on the hilts of swords, breastplates and arrow quivers. Because dragonflies were thought to be fearless, swift and courageous, they were believed to bring soldiers strength and protection.
The dragonfly was known as the "victory insect" because it would quickly advance towards its target and efficiently kill a pest (e.g. mosquitos and horseflies) without hesitation or retreat. In a Japanese legend, an emperor had a horsefly bite him on the arm while out hunting. Before the horsefly could bite him again, a dragonfly swooped down and ate the offending insect. The emperor was so impressed by the dragonfly that he named the region he was in Akitsu-no or Dragonfly Plain.
Rice is one of the staple crops of Japan. Rice paddies, with their standing water and aquatic plants, provide the perfect habitat for dragonflies. This is part of the reason that dragonflies have been closely linked to rice farming. Centuries ago, Japanese farmers believed that a dragonfly was the spirit of the rice plant. They were a sign of a good rice harvest.