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Motif Information
Motif kame 01.jpg
Rōmaji Kame
English Turtle (tortoise)
Kana かめ
Season #
Seasonal Exceptions #
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Animal

Kame refers to both turtles and tortoises. As there are no tortoises native to Japan, there is not a vernacular word to distinguish between the two species. All kame motifs depict turtles.

There are five species of freshwater turtles native to Japan: the Japanese pond turtle (Mauremys japonica), Chinese pond turtle (Mauremys reevesii), Chinese softshell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis japonicus), Ryukyu box turtle (Cuora flavomarginata evelynae), and Ryukyu leaf turtle (Geoemyda japonica). In addition to these, there are also four species of sea turtle that can be observed off Japan's coast: the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), and loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta).

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Kame is appropriate for any season.

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Auspicious Nature

Kame are auspicious as they symbolize longevity and wisdom. Legend has that the crane lives for a thousand years and the tortoise for ten thousand years. These two are often paired together. They belong to the group of four legendary creatures: the other two are the phoenix and the unicorn.

Common Motif Pairings

  • Tsuru
  • Shichi Fukujin
  • Matsu
  • Ume
  • Take
  • If a human being is riding the kame it most likely is Urashima Tarō, but other humans may be depicted with kame companions such as:
    • Suiten, a Buddhist deity
    • Sennin

Identification & Style Variations

Extremely old kame are known as minogame (蓑亀) and are depicted as having a long tail of seaweed trailing behind them.

Kame can also be implied by using kikkō, tortoiseshell pattern.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

In the tale of Urashima Tarō, a fisherman rescues a small kame who is being tormented by children and is rewarded by being transported on the back of a giant kame to the undersea palace of Ryūjin, the dragon king.[1]

In Poetry

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions

  • Link to any relevant threads on IG


  1. Wikipedia article on Urashima Tarō. Accessed January 8, 2017.

Image Credits

  • Please credit any image used with the exception of images from Immortal Geisha or Moonblossom's photo gallery or anyone else who stated they don't need crediting.

Authors & Contributors

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