In Japan, when people look up at the night sky they don’t see a “man” in the moon, they see a rabbit. In the day, they see a crow in the sun.
Anyone who has read this blog knows I am intrigued by crows. Before I travelled to Japan, I didn’t know whether or not I would see crows there. On my first day in Japan, I woke up to familar caws coming from the rice field outside my window. I was thrilled to discover that Japan does indeed have crows, and not just ordinary crows — but giant Jungle crows.
The crows I saw that first morning were not this kind, however, though they were a little bigger and had a slightly different pitch to their calls than the Northwestern or Common crows I see at home. My first encounter with Jungle crows did not happen until my visit to a Tokyo cemetary.
Although crows (and ravens) are often associated with prophecy, wisdom and longevity (positives for the most part), when you see the huge, heavy-shouldered, bulky-beaked black shapes swooping and skulking around an old graveyard, it’s hard to forget that they are also somethimes linked to death and bad fortune. Unnerving, to say the least (although personally, I thought they were great and spent about an hour following them around with my camera, trying, unsuccessfully, to get close enough to take a recognizable photo).
While ordinary crows may be considered bad luck in Japan (especially since they have started attacking people in Ueno Park and other areas of Tokyo), if a crow happens to have three legs, it’s a totally different story.
A Japanese legends tells of how, long ago a monster was about to devour the sun. To prevent this, the rulers of heaven created the first crow, who flew into the monster’s mouth and choked him (I assume this crow had three legs, since the “crow in the sun” is supposed to have three legs, representing dawn, noon and dusk). Another story tells of how the first Emperor of Japan was travelling through the mountains and became lost. The sun-goddess sent a three-legged crow to guide him, and from that day on, the three-legged crow became an emblem of Japanese imperial rule (and the Japanese National soccer team).
Note: the top photo is a crow statue outside the shrine of Miyajima near Hiroshima, and the photo at left shows a crow and some stray cats who were “sharing” food scraps at the back of a restaurant in Ueno Park, Tokyo (see, the Jungle crows really are big!). Although the story I’m working on right now is not specifically about any of these things, I’m having fun working them in (manga-loving North American girl on an exchange trip to Japan discovers Japan is not quite what she expected…. learns a lesson from some Tokyo crows….).