JTCO strives for inheritance, creation and development of Japanese traditional culture.

JTCOJapanese Traditional Culture Promotion&Development Organization
日本語 | English
Newsletter Back Number

Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on November 30, 2020
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 120] November 30, 2020

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 120]
November 30, 2020
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal animal:
The savior of this world : Rooster

:: 1. Seasonal animal

"Niwatoriwa kakero to nakinunari. Okiyo. Okiyo. Waga hitoyozuma.
hitomokoso mire." (From"Saibara"-- an ancient popular song in Heian
period (8-12C))
Translation :(A rooster crowed "Kakero" (Hurry and run). Wake up. Wake
up, my dear temporary lover. People may look at us.)

Chicken and eggs are indispensable food for our dietary life now. However,
chicken was not popular food until modern times in Japan. What is the reason for
the difference?
Roosters are thought to have been brought from China to Japan in Yayoi
period (BC10-3). Numbers of cock-shaped Haniwa (clay images) were found
in the remains of the time.
Ancient people called roosters "Kake" from the sound of crowing, and
also called "Niwatsutori" that means "a bird in a yard" in Japanese.
The latter name remained and was taken over to the present name, "Niwatori".

In literature, the name, rooster first appeared in the famous Japanese
legend, "Amano iwado (The Rock Cave in Heaven)" in "Kojiki" (The oldest
historical record in Japan) and in "Nihon Shoki" (Chronicles of Japan).
The goddess of the sun, Amaterasu Ohmikami was angry at the wild behavior
of her younger brother, Susanoh no Mikoto, so she shut herself in the
rock cave. Then the world was cloaked with darkness and lots of misfortune
occurred one after another.
It was a rooster that is known as legendary "Tokoyono Naganaki Dori"
(literally, Gallus in the heaven), which were gathered by myriads of
gods and were made to crow in order to entice Amaterasu Ohmikami out
of the cave.

The unique symbol of a shrine,"Torii (the front guard frame)" is said
to derive from the perch of Tokoyono Naganaki Dori.
Also, the custom that some shrines keep roosters in the precincts is
taken from the belief that a rooster is a messenger of gods.
In the inner shrine of Ise where Amaterasu Ohmikami is worshipped,
beautiful roosters, such as Onagadori (long-tailed cocks) and Shokoku
(one of long-tailed Japanese breeds), that are called "Shinkei (Gods'
roosters)" walk freely around. It is interesting that the most important
ceremony in "Shikinen Sengu" (periodical rebuilding) which is carried
out every 20 years in Ise shrine, called "Sengyo no gi" (the transfer
ceremony of symbol of Amateresu Omikami from the old shrine to the new
shrine) starts with shouting "Kakekko". The shout of a shinto priest
is called "鶏鳴三声" (Keimei Sansei) which is repeated three times. Even
now, Amaterasu will come out with crowing sound of a rooster.

Thus, roosters are deeply connected with gods. In Nara period(8C),
chicken meat as well as meat from cows and horses and even eggs, were
prohibited to eat. Therefore, roosters were mainly kept by people as
pets and were valued as holy birds that tell the hours.
And as in the poem in the beginning, in Nara and Heian period, there
are lots of poems written about regrettable feelings in the daybreak
when roosters crow.

There is an interesting description about poultry raising in "Genpei
seisui-ki", a war story and the rise and fall of Geiji and Heike in
Heian period. A man whose name was Nobutaka lived in Kyoto Nanajyo and
was a chief repairman in the imperial palace. Once he heard that a
person who keeps 1000 white roosters will have an emperor in his family
in the future. So Nobutaka decided to breed 1000 cocks. But immediately,
the number of roosters increased up to 4500, and Nobutaka was at a loss
because the roosters wasted the rice field. However, the bad luck turned
to good luck. Finally, the roosters brought him success in the palace.
In Heian period, cockfight was popular as entertainment and gamble,
however, aside from wild birds, roosters had not been regarded as food
meat. Nobody knows whether Nobutaka bred roosters only for his luck,
and there is no information about what became to the overpopulated
roosters after his success. Anyway, this story tells us that roosters
are thought to be birds that bring us luck.

After Sengoku era (the age of civil wars in 16C), European sweets made
of eggs were brought to Japan by Portuguese. Japanese people started
to adopt eggs as daily food after early Edo period (17 C) when infertile
eggs became known. People did not have to kill animals if the eggs were
infertile. Poultry raising also started to spread from this time.
However, picking eggs was the main purpose of initial poultry raising.
People started to raise poultry for the meat after mid Edo period (17 C)
when samurai quit hunting and started to live in the city area. Until
then, wild birds such as ducks, pheasants and geese were hunted for
the meat, and yet it is strange that chicken was not bred as food meat.
Perhaps, the belief that roosters were the messengers of gods had been
taken over, and people had attachment to roosters as pets.

Since ancient times, roosters that broke darkness and brought the Sun
Goddess out of the cave with the crowing sound have been believed as
holy birds.
We need to bring to our mind how roosters were valued by ancient people
and there was even a time that eggs had been prohibited to eat. Moreover,
we would like to thank for the animal lives that keep us alive.

Translation by: Naoko Yamashita, reviewed by: Chan Yee Ting

Copyright by Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion and
Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

To subscribe/unsubscribe to our Newsletter, or to change your
registered email address, please visit:

JTCO Newsletter "Delivery of Seasonal Tradition"Experience Japan with you tour guide!Find us@Facebook