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Motif Information
Motif hato 02.jpgOriental Turtle Dove
Rōmaji Hato
English Dove, pigeon
Kana ハト
Season Autumn
Seasonal Exceptions All Season
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Bird

Hato refers to both pigeons and doves. There are several native species of hato in Japan including the Japanese Wood Pigeon, Oriental Turtle Dove, Common Emerald Dove, Red Collared Dove, White-bellied Green Pigeon, and Whistling Green Pigeon. While sometimes depicted as the familiar white dove, hato often are depicted with the colorful plumage of the last few species.

Two species found only on certain islands, the Bonin Wood Pigeon and the Ryukyu Wood Pigeon, went extinct at the beginning of the 20th century due to deforestation and introduction of non-native predators such as rats and cats. Non-native species that have been introduced since the post war period include Rock Doves and the Eurasian Collared Dove.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Hato breed in the spring, but are seldom pictured with young or a nest. They are often shown paired or in a flock with another seasonal motif like momiji or ume.

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Unlike in the west, where a dove is a messenger of peace, in Japan hato are messengers of Hachiman, the god of war.[1] Doves and pigeons were often used to carry important messages, not only in wartime, but also for merchants who stored their messenger birds at various shrines to avoid detection.[2]

After the conclusion of World War II, hato took on the western meaning of a symbol of peace.

Auspicious Nature

In China, hato were "symbols of marital fidelity, fertility, and the skyward flight of the soul after death."[3] The Japanese adapted these connotations to fit with their auspicious use of hato as symbols of Hachiman and military victory.

Hato are also used as symbols of "filial piety, as it is said to perch 'three branches lower than its senior.'"[4]

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

Any of the following doves or pigeons may be used as basis for plumage coloration as well as the Oriental Turtle Dove pictured above. The motif is best identified by the typical pigeon shape of the head and wings than by coloration.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Hato were particularly sacred to the Minamoto clan, who worshiped Hachiman as their patron and sometimes used hato in their kamon. In an apocryphal tale, Minamoto Yoritomo after his defeat at the battle of Ishibashi-yama, was forced to hide inside a hollow tree. The enemy soldiers searching for him thrust a bow inside the tree and startled a pair of hato into flight. They took this as a sign that no one could be concealed within and continued searching elsewhere.[5]

In Poetry

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions

  • Link to any relevant threads on IG


  1. Atsuharu Sakai. Japan in a Nutshell, Vol. 1. Yamagata Printing Co. Yokohama. 1949. p. 233.
  2. Kimono Flea Market ICHIROYA's News Letter No. 471. Published November 5, 2012. Accessed November 29, 2016.
  3. Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. Rizzoli. 2001. p.117.
  4. Atsuharu Sakai. Japan in a Nutshell, Vol. 1. Yamagata Printing Co. Yokohama. 1949. p. 233.
  5. Davis,Frederick Hadland. Japan, from the age of the gods to the fall of Tsingtau. T. C. & E. C. Jack. 1916. p. 112.

Image Credits

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Authors & Contributors

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