What Does the Crane Symbolize in Japanese Culture: Exploring the Meaning Behind this Iconic Bird

When it comes to Japanese culture, the crane is a symbol that you’re sure to come across. It’s a regular feature in traditional art, literature, and even in daily life. But have you ever wondered what this long-legged bird signifies? The crane represents a lot of things in Japanese culture, from luck and longevity to wisdom and perseverance. You name it, and the crane is sure to have a special place in it. In fact, a lot of Japanese legends and folklore revolve around this graceful bird.

One of the most fascinating things about the crane in Japanese culture is how it’s tied to the art of origami. According to legend, if you fold a thousand paper cranes, you’ll be granted a wish. Today, the art of folding origami cranes is a popular pastime in Japan and around the world. People fold cranes not just for good luck, but also as a way of expressing their creativity and honing their motor skills. It’s a low-cost and fulfilling hobby that anyone can enjoy, even if you’re not particularly “arty.” So if you’re curious about Japanese culture, why not get started with some origami cranes?

Another interesting aspect of the crane in Japanese culture is how they’re often depicted in artwork. You might have seen paintings or woodblock prints showing a group of cranes flying over a landscape, or a lone crane standing beside a calm pond. These images are powerful metaphors for life, reminding us of the beauty and fragility of our world. They remind us to appreciate what we have and live in harmony with nature. As you explore more about Japanese culture, you’ll discover that the crane is just one of many symbols that embody the country’s rich heritage and values.

Origins of the crane symbol in Japanese culture

The crane holds a special place in Japanese culture as it is considered to be a sacred bird that symbolizes good fortune, longevity, and fidelity. The bird is also associated with myths and legends that date back to ancient Japan. The origins of the crane symbol can be traced back to these myths and folk tales that have been passed down from generation to generation.

  • One of the most well-known myths is the tale of the Crane Wife. It is said that a man once rescued a crane that was caught in a trap. Later that night, a woman appeared at his doorstep and asked to become his wife. The man agreed, and she took care of him and their home. However, she always asked to be left alone to weave fabric. Eventually, the man became curious and peeked into her room, only to find that she was not weaving fabric, but plucking her own feathers to weave with. When she discovered that he had violated her privacy, she left him and flew away. This tale is often interpreted as a warning against human greed and the importance of fostering trust in relationships.
  • The crane is also associated with long life, as it is believed that it can live up to a thousand years. This belief is rooted in the story of the Tsuru no Ongaeshi, which tells of a crane that repaid the kindness of a man who freed it from a hunter’s trap, by taking him to a special island where he lived for many years before returning to his own village. The tale is a reminder of the rewards of kindness and the importance of living a long, fulfilling life.
  • Another example is the legend of Kaguya-hime, a moon princess who was sent to Earth as a punishment for her pride. She was found by a bamboo cutter, who took her home and raised her as his own daughter. When she grew up, many suitors came to ask for her hand in marriage, but she rejected them all. In the end, she revealed that she was actually a crane sent from the moon, and flew away. This story is often interpreted as a warning against the dangers of pride and the importance of humility.

These stories demonstrate the important role that the crane has played in Japanese culture, as a symbol of fortune, longevity, and morality. In addition to these tales, the crane has also been used in traditional artwork, including origami, paintings, and kimono designs. It is a beloved creature that continues to inspire awe and admiration in modern-day Japan.

The significance of cranes in Japanese art

Cranes are an important symbol in Japanese culture and have been featured frequently in Japanese art throughout history. The elegant and graceful bird represents longevity, good luck, and fidelity. One particular crane species, the red-crowned crane, also known as the Tancho bird, holds a special meaning in Japanese art and culture.

  • Longevity: In Japanese culture, cranes are often associated with longevity due to their lifespan averaging around 1,000 years. This association is said to have originated from a Japanese legend where a crane granted a wish to an old man, asking for a long, healthy life.
  • Good luck: Cranes are also believed to bring good luck and fortune. In traditional Japanese weddings, couples often fold a thousand origami cranes as a symbol of good luck and a prosperous life together. These cranes, known as senbazuru, are then displayed at the wedding ceremony and later hung in the couple’s home.
  • Fidelity: The Tancho bird is known for its lifelong commitment to its mate, making it a symbol of fidelity and devotion. This characteristic has been depicted in various forms of Japanese art, including woodblock prints and paintings.

Japanese art frequently features cranes, from Japanese ukiyo-e and woodblock prints to contemporary art. The Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai, for example, featured the bird in some of his most famous works, including “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” The Tancho bird has also been a popular subject matter in Japanese art, with artists capturing the bird’s elegant movements and striking red cap.

Artist Artwork
Kawanabe Kyōsai Tancho Crane
Ohara Koson Red-crowned Cranes in Snow
Utagawa Hiroshige Snowy Landscape with a Flock of Cranes

Cranes have a long-standing cultural significance in Japanese art and continue to be celebrated in modern times. The bird’s symbolism of longevity, good luck, and fidelity makes it an important cultural icon and a beloved subject matter for many Japanese artists.

Crane Symbolism in Japanese Literature

The Japanese have long considered the crane as a symbol of good fortune and longevity. This symbolism has existed in the country for thousands of years, where the crane was believed to be a messenger between the human world and the realm of the spirits. In Japanese literature, the crane has been used as a symbol in various ways, representing different aspects of life.

The Number Three

  • One of the most significant ways that cranes are used in Japanese literature is in association with the number three. In Japanese culture, the number three is considered to be auspicious, and the belief is that anything that comes in threes is bound to be successful.
  • The crane has been used to represent this belief in various works of Japanese literature. For instance, The Tale of Genji, written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, features a storyline centered around the love triangle between Genji, Lady Fujitsubo, and Lady Aoi. In the book, the author uses the image of three cranes to represent the three characters.
  • Another famous example of this symbolism is found in the story of the Tsuru no Ongaeshi (Crane Repays a Favor), where an elderly couple rescues a crane from harm, and in return, the crane transforms into a beautiful young woman who weaves wondrous fabric. The story culminates in the crane weaving three costly robes of various colors to show its gratitude to the couple.

Other Symbolic Meanings

Apart from representing the number three, the crane has many other symbolic meanings in Japanese literature. It is often associated with longevity, wisdom, and fidelity. The bird is also seen as a symbol of purity and nobility, often representing the ideal virtues of a gentleman or a lady.


In summary, the crane symbolism in Japanese literature is widespread and varied. The crane’s association with the number three represents success, while its other meanings contribute to the bird’s wider symbolisms surrounding nobility, purity, and gratitude. The longevity of this symbolism only adds to the crane’s significance in Japanese literature, and it is widespread importance continues to play a crucial role in Japan’s literature and culture.

Symbolic Meanings of the Crane in Japanese Literature Description
Number Three Three cranes often represent success and longevity
Longevity The crane symbolizes a long, prosperous life
Wisdom The crane’s intelligence and problem-solving skills represent wisdom
Fidelity The crane’s loyalty to its partner represents fidelity
Purity and Nobility The crane is seen as a symbol of purity and nobility, representing the virtues of a gentleman or a lady.

The crane’s versatility and depth of symbolism have made it a popular choice for Japanese writers for centuries. Cranes have been used to represent a variety of ideas such as respect, hope, and gratitude. The crane’s recurring appearances in Japanese literature is evidence of the bird’s significance in traditional Japanese culture and literature.

The crane as a symbol of longevity and good luck

In Japanese culture, the crane has a significant role as a symbol of longevity and good luck. It is considered to be one of the most auspicious birds, and its image is seen in art, literature, clothing, and various crafts. Their grace, beauty, and long lifespans have made them highly regarded creatures in Japanese culture.

  • Longevity: In Japan, the crane is believed to live for a thousand years, and it is an important symbol of longevity. They are often used in artwork to depict long life and good health. It is also common to see cranes on wedding items such as kimonos, where it represents the long life of the couple.
  • Good luck: The crane is a symbol of good fortune, and it is believed that if you fold a thousand paper cranes, your wishes will come true. This concept developed after the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who contracted leukemia as a result of the Hiroshima bombing. She believed that if she folded a thousand paper cranes, she could be cured. Though she passed away before completing her goal, now the folding of paper cranes has become a symbol of peace and good luck.
  • Artistic representation: The crane has become an important artistic symbol in Japan. They are often depicted in paintings, prints, and pottery, and even in dance and theater performances. The graceful movements of the crane have inspired many artists to represent its beauty in their art.

The crane’s symbolism is also present in various crafts, where its image is represented through intricate techniques such as origami (the art of folding paper) and Kirigami (a variation of origami that involves cutting the paper). Origami cranes, in particular, are incredibly popular worldwide, where it’s believed that folding them can bring good luck and prosperity.

Symbolism Description
Longevity The crane represents long life and good health.
Good luck The crane is a symbol of good fortune and believed to grant wishes when you fold a thousand paper cranes.
Artistic representation The crane is an important artistic symbol and is often seen in paintings, prints, pottery, and performances.

The crane is one of the most iconic birds in Japanese culture for its beauty and longevity. Its image has become a timeless representation of good luck and long life, inspiring individuals worldwide to fold paper cranes and represent its grace in various forms of art and crafts.

The Relationship between Cranes and the Shinto Religion

Japan’s indigenous religion, Shintoism, plays a significant role in the country’s cultural heritage and traditions. It emphasizes the veneration of spirits that dwell in natural elements and phenomena, including animals, mountains, and rivers. Among the creatures that have gained a special place in Shintoism’s pantheon of revered beings is the crane, which symbolizes a myriad of values and beliefs.

  • The Crane in Creation Mythology
  • The Crane’s Symbolism in Japanese Art and Literature
  • The Crane’s Role in Traditional Japanese Weddings

One of the prominent interpretations of the crane’s significance in Shinto religion is its association with creation mythology. According to Shinto beliefs, eight million gods and goddesses exist in the world, and the creator god Izanagi and his consort Izanami are responsible for the formation of Japan and its deities. The pair stood on the “floating bridge of heaven” and stirred the primordial waters, creating the islands of Japan. As they pulled up the dripping spear from the water, the drops formed the first island and Kisaragi-no-Hama (Beach of the Month of April) in Awaji Island. The collision of the two objects caused the birth of a crane, which served as a messenger between the deity and humans.

The crane’s symbolism in Japanese art and literature has also contributed to its status as a sacred creature. For centuries, artists and poets have depicted the crane in paintings, scrolls, and poems, interpreting it as a symbol of longevity, elegance, and purity. The famous “Tsuru-no-Ongaeshi” legend, or “The Grateful Crane,” portrays the creature as a selfless being that repays kindness with loyalty and love. The story tells of a crane that disguises itself as a woman to weave beautiful cloth, grants wishes, and eventually sacrifices itself to the fire to save its rescuers.

Moreover, the crane’s role in traditional Japanese weddings has further cemented its sacred status. The bride and groom often incorporate paper cranes in their wedding attire, signifying good luck, fidelity, and longevity. During the ceremony, they drink sake from three cups of different sizes, symbolizing the past, present, and future. The bride usually wears a white crane-shaped headdress, representing happiness and faithful love.

Symbolism Meaning
Longevity The crane is believed to live for a thousand years and is therefore associated with a long and healthy life.
Purity The crane’s snowy plumage and graceful movements signify innocence, sincerity, and freedom from impurities and negative energy.
Loyalty The crane’s role in the “Grateful Crane” legend illustrates its loyalty to those who showed kindness and compassion towards it.
Good Fortune The crane is often associated with auspicious events such as weddings, birth, and new beginnings, symbolizing good luck and happiness.

The crane’s symbolism in Shinto religion permeates various aspects of Japanese culture and society, from mythology and art to weddings and daily life. Its spiritual significance reflects the values and beliefs that have shaped Japan’s unique identity and heritage.

The Symbolism of the Crane in Japanese Weddings

The crane is a powerful symbol in Japanese culture, representing good fortune, longevity, and fidelity. It is closely associated with weddings, where it symbolizes a happy and lasting marriage. There are several ways in which cranes are incorporated into Japanese wedding traditions and decorations.

  • Origami Cranes: Origami paper cranes are a common sight at Japanese weddings, as they are believed to bring good luck to the couple. The bride and groom may fold cranes together to symbolize their commitment to each other, or guests may create an origami crane and write a wish or blessing on it before placing it in a display or hanging it from a tree.
  • Crane Motifs: Cranes are often used as a decorative motif in Japanese wedding attire, such as the bride’s obi (a sash worn with a kimono) or as embroidery on the groom’s haori (a traditional jacket). In addition, they may be featured in the floral arrangements and centerpieces used to decorate the wedding venue.
  • Crane Dance: A traditional Japanese dance known as tsuru no mai, or “crane dance,” is sometimes performed at weddings. The dance mimics the movements of cranes and symbolizes the hopes and dreams of the new couple for a long and happy life together.

In addition to these specific traditions, the crane’s symbolism of good fortune and longevity is carried through all aspects of a Japanese wedding ceremony. From the food served to the colors chosen for the decorations, every element is carefully chosen to symbolize the couple’s hopes for a prosperous and joyful future together.

Color Symbolism Meaning
Red Good luck, joy, happiness
White Purity, sacredness, new beginnings
Gold Wealth, prosperity, good fortune
Purple Royalty, luxury, wealth

Overall, the crane’s symbolic significance in Japanese culture is a testament to the importance of tradition and meaning in celebrating life’s milestones. As a powerful symbol of love, fidelity, and good fortune, the crane continues to play a central role in Japanese weddings and other celebrations.

The use of cranes in Japanese origami

Origami, the art of paper folding, is an important part of Japanese culture. One of the most popular origami designs is the crane, which is considered a symbol of good fortune and longevity. The crane has a rich history in Japanese folklore and mythology and is deeply symbolic in both Shinto and Buddhist traditions.

The significance of the number seven in crane origami

Crane origami is believed to have a special significance when 1,000 cranes are folded and strung together. This act denotes endurance and compassion when folding so many cranes, and the cranes strung together represent hope, healing, and peace. The number seven is also significant in crane origami because it takes seven folds to create the head and neck of the crane. Additionally, there is a story of Sadako Sasaki, who after surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima developed leukemia. She believed that folding 1,000 cranes would grant her a wish, and spent her time in the hospital folding cranes. Sadly, Sadako passed away before completing her mission, and her classmates folded the remaining cranes in her memory. Today, the cranes are a symbol of peace and are often sent as a wish for healing after tragedies.

The cultural significance of cranes in Japan

The crane is a symbol of luck, longevity, and fidelity in Japanese culture. It is considered to be one of the most auspicious animals in Japan and is often depicted in paintings, clothing, and other art forms. The crane is also associated with the gods in Shinto tradition and is believed to serve as a messenger between the human and immortal world. In Japanese mythology, it is said that the crane lived for a thousand years and earned its immortality because of its legendary loyalty and devotion.

The symbolism of cranes in Japanese art and literature

Cranes have been an integral part of Japanese art and literature for centuries. In many traditional Japanese paintings, the crane is portrayed alongside other animals, symbolizing harmony and balance. The crane is also a popular subject in haiku poetry, where it may represent resilience, grace, or the beauty of nature. In Japanese folklore, the crane is often depicted as a symbol of true love, and the story of the “Crane Wife” is a popular folktale where a man rescues a crane and is rewarded with the love of a beautiful woman.

Symbolism Meaning
Luck The crane is believed to bring good fortune and success in Japan.
Longevity The crane is associated with a long, healthy life, making it a popular symbol of longevity in Japan.
Messenger of the gods In Shinto tradition, the crane is believed to serve as a messenger between the human and immortal world.
True love The crane is often used as a symbol of true love in Japanese art and literature.

The crane is a fascinating symbol in Japanese culture and art. Its representation in origami has helped elevate the popularity and recognition of this tradition worldwide.

The cultural importance of the Tancho crane

Crane symbolism has deep roots in Japanese culture, inspiring artwork and traditional beliefs. Among the various crane species found in Japan, the Tancho crane holds a special place due to its rareness and elegance. This majestic bird is considered a national treasure and is highly respected in Japanese society, having appeared in art, literature, and religion for centuries.

The significance of the number 8

The number 8 is considered highly auspicious in Japanese culture, especially when it comes to the Tancho crane. It is believed that encountering 8 Tancho cranes would bring good fortune, happiness, and longevity. The significance of this number is rooted in the crane’s graceful movements, as they move their wings and legs in figure-eight patterns during courtship dances. This special dance is believed to express the symbolism of the number, symbolizing harmony and balance.

  • In Japanese mythology, the crane is a symbol of immortality and divine wisdom.
  • During the Edo period, the Tancho crane was one of the most popular motifs for Japanese woodblock prints, and it is still seen depicted in Japanese art today.
  • The Tancho crane is also closely associated with the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, as it is a symbol of their identity and culture.

The role of the Tancho crane in Japanese society

Due to its status as a national treasure, the Tancho crane is highly protected and celebrated in Japanese society. It is considered a symbol of good luck, prosperity, and harmony, and it is often featured in Japanese celebrations and festivals across the country. The Tancho crane can be seen in traditional Japanese clothing, as well as in various forms of art and craft, from pottery and origami to paintings and sculptures.

Tancho crane symbolism in Japanese culture Meaning
Longevity Due to the crane’s long lifespan and graceful movements, the Tancho crane is associated with long life and good health.
Good fortune It is believed that encountering a Tancho crane can bring good luck and prosperity.
Love and fidelity The Tancho crane’s courtship dance is thought to symbolize the importance of love and fidelity in relationships.

Overall, the Tancho crane is a cherished and respected symbol of Japanese culture, characterized by its elegance, grace, and rarity. Its significance in Japanese society has only grown over the years, and it remains an iconic representation of Japan’s cultural heritage.

Crane Symbolism in Japanese Martial Arts

The crane holds a special place in Japanese culture, it is often associated with good fortune, longevity, and prosperity. This majestic bird is also a prominent symbol in Japanese martial arts, representing grace, strength, and agility. The crane’s symbolism in Japanese martial arts goes beyond its physical appearance, drawing inspiration from its movements and behavior.

The Number 9: Symbolism in Martial Arts

The number nine is a significant number in Japanese culture, and it plays a significant role in crane symbolism in Japanese martial arts. The Japanese word for nine, “ku”, has a similar sound to the word for suffering, “ku”. As a result, the number nine is often associated with enduring challenges and overcoming obstacles. The crane, with its ability to navigate harsh conditions and withstand adversity, embodies the qualities associated with the number nine.

  • In Japanese martial arts, the crane style emphasizes the use of angles and techniques that allow practitioners to avoid direct confrontation, utilizing the crane’s agility and grace to evade and redirect attacks.
  • The crane stance is characterized by its high, elevated posture that imitates the bird, emphasizing balance, control, and awareness.
  • The number nine is also reflected in traditional martial arts training, where students must endure the Nine Trials of Zen to acquire the mental and physical discipline required to master the art.

The Crane and Samurai Culture

The crane has deep roots in Japanese samurai culture, representing the virtues of courage, honor, and loyalty. The crane’s symbolism is often reflected in samurai armor and insignia, and its image is frequently used in martial arts schools and dojos. The crane was also a popular subject in traditional Japanese art, appearing in paintings, sculpture, and literature.

The crane’s symbolism continues to hold strong in Japanese martial arts today, representing the enduring spirit and legacy of the samurai tradition.

Crane Forms in Martial Arts

In martial arts, crane forms are a set of movements that imitate the crane’s movements and behavior. These forms can be found in various martial arts styles such as Kung Fu, Karate, and Taekwondo. Crane forms typically incorporate circular movements, evasive footwork, and quick strikes, mimicking the bird’s ability to avoid danger while maintaining an offensive stance.

Crane Form in Martial Arts Style
Baihequan – White Crane Style Kung Fu
Tsuru Ashi Dachi – Crane Stance Karate
Hakutsuru Kata – White Crane Form Karate
Og Gong In Kong – Five Animal Form Taekwondo

The crane’s symbolism in Japanese martial arts captures the essence of this majestic bird, representing strength, grace, and endurance. Through the practice of crane forms and the cultivation of the qualities embodied by the crane, practitioners can learn to navigate challenges and overcome obstacles with ease and fluidity.

The role of the crane in Japanese New Year traditions

The crane has been an important symbol in Japanese culture for centuries. It is believed to bring luck, longevity, and happiness to those who encounter it. During the New Year celebrations, the crane takes on an even greater significance as it is featured prominently in various traditions and rituals.

  • Kagami Biraki: This is a traditional Japanese ceremony that takes place on January 11th, which is marked as the end of the New Year celebrations. Kagami Biraki involves breaking open a large sake cask with a wooden mallet, symbolizing good luck and prosperity for the new year. The crane is often depicted on the cask as a symbol of longevity and good fortune.
  • Osechi ryori: This is a traditional Japanese New Year meal that consists of various dishes and ingredients with symbolic meanings. One dish that often includes the crane as a decoration is the kinton, which is a dessert made of sweet potatoes and chestnuts. It is believed that eating this dish will bring wealth and prosperity in the new year.
  • Noshi: During New Year celebrations, it is customary to exchange gifts wrapped in a special paper called noshi. Noshi is typically made from folded washi paper and is tied with a decorative string. Often, a paper crane is attached to the noshi as a symbol of good luck and happiness.

Beyond these specific traditions and rituals, the crane is also a common motif in Japanese art and culture. It is often used as a symbol of longevity and good fortune. The popularity of the crane as a symbol is not restricted to just Japan – it is also a popular symbol in other cultures throughout Asia.

Given the importance of the crane in Japanese culture, it is no surprise that it plays a significant role in New Year celebrations. Whether it is featured on sake casks, in traditional New Year dishes, or as a decoration on gift packages, the crane is sure to bring good luck and prosperity to those who encounter it.

What Does the Crane Symbolize in Japanese Culture?

Q: What does the crane represent in Japanese culture?
A: The crane, which is known as “tsuru” in Japanese, is a revered symbol of good fortune, longevity, and happiness.

Q: What is the story behind the crane’s significance in Japanese culture?
A: According to Japanese legend, the crane is said to live for a thousand years. In addition, it is believed that folding one thousand origami cranes will grant a wish, which is why the crane has come to symbolize good luck and prosperity.

Q: How is the crane incorporated into Japanese art and design?
A: The crane is a popular motif in Japanese art and design, appearing in everything from kimonos to porcelain to paintings. It is often depicted with its wings outstretched in flight, which represents freedom and a soaring spirit.

Q: What other meanings does the crane have in Japanese culture?
A: The crane is also associated with honor and respect in Japanese culture. This is because of its graceful and dignified appearance, as well as the fact that it mates for life and cares for its offspring.

Q: Are there any festivals or traditions in Japan related to the crane?
A: Yes, there are several festivals and traditions in Japan that involve cranes. One example is the Tanabata Festival, which is held in July and celebrates the legend of two stars that are separated by the Milky Way and can only meet once a year with the help of a bridge made of cranes.

Q: How can I incorporate the crane into my own life for good luck?
A: One way to incorporate the crane into your life is by folding origami cranes and displaying them in your home or workplace. You could also wear clothing or accessories with crane motifs, or even get a crane tattoo as a permanent symbol of good fortune and longevity.

Q: Are there any taboos or cultural sensitivities I should be aware of when using the crane as a symbol?
A: While the crane is generally considered a positive and auspicious symbol in Japanese culture, it is important to be respectful when using it in your own life. Avoid using the crane in a frivolous or disrespectful manner, and be mindful of cultural differences if you’re displaying it in a public space.

Thanks for Reading!

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the crane and its significance in Japanese culture. Whether you’re looking for inspiration for your next tattoo, or just want to incorporate a little more luck and happiness into your life, the crane is a beautiful and meaningful symbol to consider. Be sure to come back and visit us soon for more culture insights and inspiration!