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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on December 24, 2019
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 109] December 24, 2019

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 109]
December 24, 2019
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal creature:
A hasty bird who brought us light: Crow

:: 1. Seasonal creature

Here is a Waka, Japanese traditional poem, from the Waka collection
"Man'yoshu (the oldest extant anthology)" No 3521 in volume 14, written
by an unknown poet in 8c.
"Karasutou oosodori no Masadenimo Kimasanu kimiwo Korokutozo naku"
Interpretation: A hasty bird, crow is crying "Koroku Koroku (Your
lovely boyfriend is here!)" although it is not true at all.

In the evenings between late autumn and winter in Japan, we sometimes
hear the noisy cry of birds. And then, looking up the sky, we realize
it is from dozens of crows lining up closely on electrical wires. They
usually inhabit separately in their families to give their chicks
parental care in the summer, however, they flock with large numbers in
the winter. It is why many crows can be seen in places like parks during
winter in Japan.

Crows tend to be hated by Japanese people due to their behaviour such
as dumpster diving or stealing crops in people's gardens or fields. As
crows are extremely clever, it seems that quite a few people struggle
to fight against them in their daily lives.

The word "oosodori" in the opening paragraph is the old name for the
crow, written as "大軽率鳥" meaning "thoughtless". It is not known who
named it but the crow must have been thought of as an impatient bird
among the ancient Japanese people from their sharp eyes. People usually
recall them with the image in which crows gather near their nests and
cry to each other in the evenings or mornings. There are in fact, scenes
depicted in the "Man'yoshu" in which, a crow tells people of the arrival
of a boyfriend in the evening or his departure in the morning.

The crow has always been a familiar bird for Japanese people and it
appears in many mythologies and folk stories. The most famous legendary
crow is a giant crow called "Yatagarasu (八咫烏)" which is used as a
symbol mark by The Japan Football Association, and also the emblem of
the Japan national football team.

"Ata (咫)" is an old measurement for the length of a stretched thumb
to the middle finger (about 18cm). "Yata" is a derived word from the
measurement as a meaning of "long" or "large". In the "Kojiki (the
oldest existing chronicle in Japan)" and also in the "Nihon Shoki (the
second-oldest book of classical Japanese history.)", this giant crow,
"Yatagarasu (Yata crow)" is sent by god and gave directions for the

"Yatagarasu" is normally known as a crow with three feet but there is
no such a description in Japan's oldest literature neither "Kojiki"
nor "Nihon Shoki". It seems that "Sansokuu (Three-legged crow)" in
Chinese and Korean mythologies was gradually adopted by Japanese people
over time. In the Chinese myth, the "Three-legged crow" is the incarnation
of the sun. It is no wonder that the belief has been absorbed in Japan,
as Japanese people are heliolithic.

There are still Shinto shrines that hold a ritual called "Obisha" at
the beginning of the year. A bow is shot aiming at a crow drawn on
the target board and people determine how fortunate they will be with
the year's harvest. There are a few theories about how the event started
and one of them is that it is related to the Chinese myth that an arrow
is shot towards the sun and then a crow with three feet falls down.
Besides "Obisha", there are many more events related to crow are held
many places, for example people use a crow picture in a festival, or
throwing food to crows as an offering to wish for a big harvest. Not
only "Yatagarasu" has been deified but also the ordinary crow has been
worshipped by people as an emissary of god.

Interestingly, the crow is an animal deeply involved with the sun in
various Myths not only in Chinese culture but also Northern parts such
as Ainu or Inuit culture and more Native American in North America.
What commonly written is that the crow pulls out the hiding sun, or
in other myths, the crow steals light or fire from the sun. The crow
brings light into the world at the risk of its life and the reason the
crow has black wings is that it burned itself while doing it. Also in
Greek mythology in the West, the crow is in charge of collecting
information for the Sun of Apollon, but then it burned itself as it
made the god angry. Moreover, Odin who is god in Germanic mythology
sends two migratory crows and gathers information from all over the

As you may see, the crow has been worshipped in numerous cultures all
over the world as a bird which leads humans and brings knowledge and
also lit our world. Unfortunately, crows today are usually seen as
crafty nuisance birds in Japan. What do you see in the crow in your

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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