Tsuru - Japanese Origami Crane

Have you heard about the tsuru and its many legends in Japanese culture? I believe that several people know what origami is. Yes, those folds that are already a part of, or rather a part of, Japanese culture.

When we think of origami, in turn, comes the figure of several different animals and shapes. Tsuru, is one of the most popular among them, and is often involved with the country's folklore. So, it is about this folklore involving Tsuru that we are here.

What is the tsuru?

Tsuru is a Japanese sacred bird that in Brazil is known as Crane or Crane. To begin with, Tsuru can be seen as a designation for certain types of birds. They are, in their overwhelming majority, large birds, with long necks and legs.

Their feather color varies between blue and white gray, and most of them have a type of crest on the top of their head like a dark red crown. They usually prefer the plains, and because of their long windpipes, their sounds are loud.

Despite knowing that Tsuru is a group, they all have similar characteristics. So we will not use a particular species. So let's consider Tsuru as a unit so as not to confuse anyone.

Tsuru - folklore stories and legends

Tsuru culture

It is possible to identify Tsuru in various cultures, such as in Greece, India, the Aegean, South Arabia, China, Korea, Japan and the Native American cultures of North America.

Such that we will give details below. But it is important to point out that their beauty and their spectacular mating dances have helped these birds to become highly revered and well-known symbols in various cultures since a long time ago.

tsuru in mecca

Even in Mecca, in pre-Islamic southern Arabia, Allāt, Uzza and Manat were believed to be the three main goddesses of Mecca. Nothing important?

Well, we can quote then that they were called "three exalted crane" (gharaniq, an obscure word in which "crane" is the common gloss). I advise you to take a look at “The Satanic Verses” for the best known story about these three goddesses. Don't worry, there is nothing like satanic rituals.

Just a philosophical discussion about some excerpts from the Qur'an, book of Muhammad's religion.

tsuru in Greece

Yes, even in one of the largest and most influential cultures in the world, the Tsuru meet. The Greek for crane is gerερανος (geranos), which basically means crane or resistant geranium.

In this culture, the Tsuru was an omen bird, but it does not define whether it was a good or bad omen. In the tale of "Ibycus and the Cranes" or "the Cranes of Ibycus", a thief attacked Ibycus and left him for dead, but it was not the reality.

So, Ibycus called a flock of cranes that were passing by, they in turn followed the thief to a theater and hovered over him until, taken by guilt, he confessed to the crime.

tsuru in China

The Tsuru was considered an ancient Chinese legend. Tsuru is a symbol of auspiciousness and longevity, and has been used in usual ornaments, for high-level employees since ancient times.

And we have to ask that several styles of kung fu are inspired by the movements of these birds in nature. And the movements are well known for their fluidity and grace. The most famous of these styles are:

  • The Wing Chun
  • The Hung Gar (tiger crane)
  • The Shaolin Style Five Fighting Animals
Tsuru - folklore stories and legends

tsuru in japan

Throughout Asia, the Tsuru is a symbol of happiness and eternal youth. And as expected, the Tsuru appears in folk tales in Japan. Where the crane is one of the mystical or sacred creatures, along with creatures like the dragon and the turtle. And it symbolizes good luck and longevity because of its fabulous thousand-year life.

This all adds up to the fact that the Tsuru is a favorite in the tradition of folding origami or paper. For an old Japanese legend says that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will receive this bird's wish.

That is, fold a thousand sheets of paper and make a thousand Tsuru with them in order to fulfill a wish. Anyway, I don’t know if it works, but be patient to fold a thousand sheets, it wouldn’t make sense if it didn’t work.

This bird, after World War II, came to symbolize peace and the innocent victims of war. This through the real history of the schoolgirl Sadako Sasaki and her thousand origami cranes. Story that I will put in the last topic of the article.

History, Fables and Tales of the tsuru

And to conclude our article on Tsuru, let’s put the legends that have formed over time, involving this bird. Recalling that the stories can differ since they are easily modified by the folk tale.

But I do not believe that there is a great distortion in the stories to the point of taking away all their original meaning. So, if you know of any variation of the stories that are here, comment below. Anyway, let’s go to the stories.

The return of the tsuru

Once upon a time, an elderly couple lived in a certain place. On a snowy winter day, the old man was going into town to sell firewood when he found a Tsuru who was caught in a hunter’s trap.

Feeling sorry, he released the bird from the trap. That night, while the snow was falling violently, a beautiful girl came to the couple’s house. According to her explanation, since her parents died, she traveled among relatives she had never met before, when she was lost and, as a result, she would like to stay for one night.

The couple enthusiastically welcomed her into their home. The snow had not stopped the next day, and the next day, while the girl stayed with the elderly couple. Meanwhile, the girl tirelessly took care of the couple, making them happy.

One day the girl asked the couple instead of sending her to find relatives she had never met before, to please their daughter. The elderly couple was delighted to accept.

As she continued to help the old couple, one day she asked: "I would like to weave a cloth, so please buy me yarn". When she handed over the purchased yarn, she said, "Please never look at the room" for the couple.

Shortly thereafter, he hid in the room and wove for three straight days without a break. "Sell this and buy me more yarn," she told the couple. The fabric was very beautiful, and it became the talk of the city immediately, and it was sold at a good price.

Tsuru - folklore stories and legends

With the new yarn that was purchased with the money from the sale, her daughter wove another fabric with an impressive finish, selling at a higher price and making the elderly couple rich. However, when she isolated herself in the bedroom to weave a third piece, the couple who continued to keep their promise, began to wonder how she wove such a beautiful fabric.

Unable to fight curiosity, the old lady peeked inside. Where there should have been a girl was a Tsuru. The Tsuru plucked his own feathers to weave between the threads to produce a shiny cloth.

Large portions of the wing had already been pulled out, leaving Tsuru in a pitiful state. In front of the shocked elderly couple, the daughter who finished weaving approached, confessing that it was the crane that was saved.

And as her true identity was discovered, she had to leave. So she turned into a crane and flew into the sky, leaving the sorry old couple behind.

The Tsuru wife

This story is a kind of alternative to the previous story, but some things are changed drastically.

In "The Crane Wife", a man marries a woman who is actually a Tsuru disguised as a human. And to earn money, she plucks her own feathers to weave a silk fabric that the man sells, however she gets sicker every time she does it.

When the man discovers his wife’s true identity and the nature of his illness, she leaves him in the same way as in the previous story.

There are also several Japanese stories about men who married kitsune, or fox spirits in human form. Where the fox disguised as a woman, they willingly stay until the husband finds out the truth, and it is at this moment that she leaves him.

Tsuru - folklore stories and legends

Fables and Tales

In one of Aesop’s Fables, geese and Tsurus were feeding in the same place when a hunter captured them in their nets. The cranes, having light wings, fled with the approach, while the geese, having slower and heavier bodies were captured.

Pliny the Elder wrote that the Tsurus selected among them, one to stand guard while the others slept. The chosen one held a stone in his claw, in a way that, if he fell asleep, he would drop the stone and wake up.

Thus, a crane holding a stone in its claw is a well-known symbol in heraldry and is known as a Tsuru in its watch.

Greek and Roman myths, on the other hand, often portrayed the dance of cranes as a love of joy and a celebration of life. So much so that Tsuru was often associated with both Apollo and Hephaestus, gods of mythology.

The story of Sadako Sasaki

Sadako was a girl who was two when the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima. And unfortunately, it was only two kilometers from the site of the explosion. However, for some reason, she was not visibly injured while her neighbors died.

As it turns out, until 1955, she was a normal, happy girl. However, after a while she began to have several experiences with nausea and fatigue in her routine. So, at one point, Sadako was dizzy to the point of falling and unable to get up.

And after an appointment at the hospital, Sadako discovered that she had leukemia. Shortly thereafter, her best friend, Chizuko, paid a visit. Bringing some paper with you. And he told Sadako about the legend of the thousand Tsuru. After hearing the legend, Sadako decided to double 1,000 cranes, with the desire to be well again.

After 500 Tsuru folded, she got better and the doctors said she could go home for a little while. However, at the end of the first week of discharge, the dizziness and fatigue returned and she had to return to the hospital.

But despite being in a lot of pain, she continued to fold origami. However, shortly afterwards, Sadako fell into a sleep from which he would no longer wake up. At that time, she had folded a total of 644 Tsuru’s of paper.

Tsuru - folklore stories and legends

Monument in honor of Sadako Sasaki

Thirty-nine classmates from Sadako, saddened by the loss of a friend, decided to form a Tsuru origami club in honor of her. Soon, students from 3,100 schools and 9 foreign countries gave money to the cause.

On May 5, 1958, almost 3 years after Sadako’s death, the money raised was sufficient to build a monument in his honor. Such a monument is now known as the Children’s Peace Monument, and is located in the center of the Hiroshima Peace Parknear the location where the atomic bomb was dropped.

What do we learn from cranes?

This shows how much Tsuru has infiltrated cultures around the world. And in Japan it is an even more special case because of the story that has just been told. There are several fables and tales that involve this bird. But the symbolism varies as much as the stories.

But I believe that most are listed in the article. With a major focus on culture in Japan, of course. But anyway, the important thing is that we clarify how much this bird is linked to culture.

And if you have any questions regarding Tsuru, just leave your comment. Don’t forget to share the site on social media. In addition, thank you for reading the article to the end, bye.

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