Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tsuru in the Japanese Tradition

The Japanese Crane

© June 2010 Mukesh Williams

There is a saying in Japan that the tsuru (crane) lives for one thousand years while the kame (tortoise) for ten thousand. Both symbolize longevity and endurance. The crane is a strong and elegant bird which also represents honor and loyalty in Japan. It travels far and wide looking for food. It is believed that if someone folds one thousand cranes he can fulfill any wish.

The red-crowned Japanese crane is a migratory bird and is also called the Manchurian crane. It has a total population of 2700 in the world. In Japan where most cranes live, their population went down in the nineteenth century. In 1920 their number was recorded as 20. In Japan new protection measures including artificial breeding in winter has once more increased the population of cranes to 1200. The cranes feed on deep water marshes and often wander into dikes and agricultural fields foraging for food.

In Japanese tradition cranes are believed to bring prolonged existence and good fortune. They are therefore usually associated with weddings, family crests, tea ceremonies and traditional dresses. It is quite common to find cranes woven or crafted on kimonos, obis, temple wood carvings, chinaware, teapots, cups, stone and calendars. One of the Second World War Japanese victims Sadako Sasaki popularized the idea of folding one thousand cranes to fulfill a wish.

There is a legend in Japan of a crane wife symbolizing gratitude and skilled perfection. Once a young man freed a captive crane and in return she turned into a beautiful woman to marry him. Her only wish was that he would not look into her room at night what she was doing. Every night she would weave beautiful kimonos that everyone wanted. One day her husband out of curiosity peeped into the room and discovered she was a crane and was using her feathers to weave those beautiful kimonos. The story has different versions and one of the most popular ones is that of Osamu, the poor sailor and Yukiko the crane wife. Osamu takes care of a wounded crane that returns to him as Yukiko and weaves a magic sail that helps the couple to become rich temporarily. But one day he peeps into her work and she flies away.

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