Karasu - Symbol of the crow in Japan

If you like anime for sure you must have noticed that in some of them you have the presence of the crow (鳥, Karasu). Have you ever wondered if this bird has any meaning in Japan?

Many animals, plants, and symbols do not appear at all when it comes to Japanese culture. With the crow it is no different! In Japan the crow symbolizes gratitude, family love and the most common is the divine messenger who represents the good omen. But in other cultures, for example, it has negative symbologies.

How did the crow become a symbol?

There is not much evidence of how the crow came to be considered a messenger symbol, but the most common story is that a giant crow saved the Emperor Jimmu (神武) during a military campaign in another country. 

Emperor Jimmu is considered a descendant of the Sun Goddess according to Shinto tradition. But, like the story of the messenger crow, it does not have much information about its representativeness.

Jimmu's older brother was killed in a battle in which he also took part. Upon losing Jimmu perceived that the fight was against the sun, then he resolved to wait for the right moment to attack. After resting at night, he had planned to fight while passing through Kumano he found a Yatagarasu (three-legged crow). That crow guided him to go to Yamato and there he emerged victorious. 

Currently, it is said that when there is a crow crying at night it means more news.

Karasu - symbolism of the crow in Japan
Karasu - Symbol of the crow in Japan

Yatagarasu, the three-legged crow

The '' three-legged crow '' or '' messenger of the sky '' is popular in Japanese mythology and is called Yatagarasu (八咫烏). The three legs represent Heaven, Earth and Humanity. The three legs can also be linked as three classes: Enomoto, Suzuki and Ui. and yet the meaning of periods of the day: dawn, dusk, and dusk.

The crow has a very sharp sense of direction and symbolizes protection. It is further believed that the Yatagarasu possesses the three main characteristics of the gods: wisdom, benevolence, and courage.

In Shinto legend it is said that the Yatagarasu was sent from heaven by the goddess Amaterasu to guide Jimmu so that the emperor could take the initial steps towards the founding of Japan.

Karasu - symbolism of the crow in Japan

The crow and Japanese football

For those who are lovers of Japanese football must have noticed that the symbol of the Japanese Football Federation is a three-legged crow.

The symbol is a shield with an open-handled crow dominating the soccer ball with one of its legs. The color red and yellow is related to the representativeness of the sun. 

Because of the legend the Yatagarasu is also considered a bird that carries victory. So for sure it makes all the sense it will be football symbol, after all the goal of the pet is to bring luck to time and represent.

Karasu - symbolism of the crow in Japan

The writing of crow and bird

For those who are interested in learning Japanese mainly part of the ideograms, that is, kanji know that it can be challenging in the end to learn another language has its difficulties. This happens mainly when there are very similar words and terms and they can end up generating confusion.

Many confuse the ideograms of bird (鳥, Tori) and crow (烏, Karasu). The writing is pretty similar right? But if you pay attention to the difference it is hardly a trace that appears in Tori and in Karasu no. 

Professor @kayoshodo (she explains kanji in the most didactic way possible, I recommend) explained in one of her twitter posts the reason for the tracing. 

She explains that the stroke in the word bird exists to represent the eye because when it has a relatively light color it is possible to see the eye clearly. This does not happen with the crow, because it has a dark color so the eye is almost invisible.

Karasu - symbolism of the crow in Japan

The crows portrayed in anime

Can you remember any anime you've ever seen with crows? I will cite two anime in which the crow is well symbolically represented: Naruto (ナルト) and Kimetsu no Yaiba (鬼滅).

Naruto Uzumaki is a young orphaned ninja who lives in Konoha. He dreams of becoming a Hokage, the highest and most powerful leader of his village. Despite having that goal, he is a good starter. Naruto possessed within himself the nine-calf fox that was sealed by his father when he was still a baby, and for that he ended up losing his own life. Because of this Naruto is seen by the people of the village as a strange being.

Karasu - symbolism of the crow in Japan

The crow in Naruto is often used in scenes where the battles of members of the Uchiha family, one of the most famous being the Itachi. He uses the genjutso technique, where in the Japanese animated series it is about manipulating the Chakra to deceive the opponent through illusions by confusing one of the five senses (palate, smell, vision, hearing and touch). In this case the illusion created is that of a body fragmented into several crows.

Já Kimetsu no Yaiba tells the story of Tanjirō, who had his family murdered. The mother and her siblings were killed by a oni that is a race that preys on humans, threatening the well-being of the community. The only one who manages to survive is her sister Nezuco, but she transforms into an oni. The development of the anime is   Tanjirō tries his best to make his sister a human again. 

In the anime, the crow has a messenger function for onyx hunters, including Tanjirō himself. Each member who passes the tests earns a crow to accompany him and report the guidance they receive from the master. 

Karasu - symbolism of the crow in Japan

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