This famous holy animal is of Chinese pedigree, but it has reportedly been seen in in Japan as well. Its descriptions are various, but it usually combines a dragon's face and scaley hide with the body of a hoofed mammal, either a horse or a deer. Its body is often wreathed in flames, and it can breathe fire. It is sometimes depicted with one horn, and thus thought associated with the unicorn in the West, but it is just as frequently adorned with two. The characters "ki" and "rin" are said to represent the male and female of the animal, although which is which is variable.
Though its appearance is fearsome, the kirin's demeanor is wholly pious and gentle, and it avoids harming any living thing, even the grass and insects beneath its feet. This heavenly beast lives for two thousand years and is only seen on earth once a millenium, to usher in a new era, and is said to appear at the birth of great and benevolent leaders. Confucius' mother also purportedly encountered a kirin before her child was born.
The kirin shares its name with the giraffe of the real world, and there is a possibility that the legends of this holy beast were inspired when specimens of that animal were brought back to China from Africa.