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Motif Information
Motif karasu photo 01.jpg
Karasu in snow
Copyright Stuart Price
Rōmaji Karasu
English Raven/Crow
Kanji 烏 (also 鴉)
Kana からす
Season Autumn & Winter
Seasonal Exceptions Spring
Auspicious No
Motif Type Bird

Karasu (English: Raven or Crow), are medium to large size birds, with strong feet and bills, known for their intelligence.[1] Part of a large family of birds called Corvidae, which in Japan, includes the Common Raven (Watari-garasu), the Carrion Crow (Hashiboso-garasu), the Daurian Jackdaw (Kokumaru-garasu), the Rook (Miyama-garasu), the Large-billed Crow (Hashibuto-garasu), the Eurasian Jackdaw (Nishi-kokumaru-garasu), the Brown Necked Raven (Chaeri-garasu), and the House Crow (Ie-garasu).[2] Corvids are found worldwide except for the tip of South America and the polar ice caps.[3]

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Detail of karasu on set of byobu (Crows and Herons, 1605-10) by Hasegawa Tōhaku designated Important Cultural Property of Japan in the collection of Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art
Karasu on jigami (circa 1825) from the series A Set of Fans on Flowing Water in Five Colors (五色番続扇流し) by Totoya Hokkei in collection of Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Karasu and sagi on a branch (circa 1772) by Isoda Koryusai

Crows are an unofficial emblem of autumn in Japan.[4]

Auspicious Nature

In general, ravens and crows are thought to be inauspicious, a Japanese proverb says:

Karasu ga naku to kyoji ga aru

'The cawing of a crow presages some calamity.[5]

However, the crow that caws on New Year’s Day, the most auspicious day of the year, is called Kin-u and is thought to be a symbol of the sun and a prediction of a good year ahead.[6] As the three-legged crow or Yata Garasu (八咫烏) is the messenger of the Shinto sun-goddess Amaterasu and the emblem of the Kumano sect of Shinto.[7]

Crows can also be understood as a symbol of filial piety. Japanese folklore holds that a crow feeds its parents when they grow old in return for their care when it was young.[8] The crow's cry, "kō," is a homophone with the word for filial piety (孝, kō).

Common Motif Pairings

  • Rakuyo no (deciduous trees) (autumn & winter)
  • Ame (rain) (autumn & spring)
  • Yuki (snow) (winter)
  • Sakura (cherry blossoms) (spring)
  • Momiji (maple leaves) (autumn)
  • Yanagi (willow) (winter)
  • Sagi (heron) (winter) - The pairing of a heron and crow is a metaphor for the opposites of ying and yang.[9]

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Karasu on snowy branch by Ohara Shoson (circa 1910)

In Poetry

Matsuo Basho (1644 – 1694) is Japan’s most renowned writer. His haiku about an autumn crow broke with tradition by using nine sound units in the second line rather than seven and is one of his most famous poems. The three main elements of the poem, the branch, the crow, and autumn evening, are juxtaposed to enhance and reflect each other.[11]

古枝に kareeda ni on a withered branch
烏の止まりけり karasu no tomari keri a crow alights
秋の暮れ aki no kure autumn evening[12]

Article Notes


  1. Corvidae - Wikipedia
  2. Birds of Japan
  3. Bird Word: Corvids
  4. The Animal in Far Eastern Art
  5. Japanese Proverbs and Sayings
  6. Chado the Way of Tea – Hatsu-karasu
  7. Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art
  8. Atsuharu Sakai. Japan in a Nutshell, Vol. 1. Yamagata Printing Co. Yokohama. 1949. p. 233.
  9. The Walters Art Musuem - Tsuba with a Crow and Heron
  10. Copyright Blue Ruin 1
  11. Simply Haiku – Haiku in English
  12. BookRags - Basho

Image Credits

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: Helen Thiselton (Immortal Geisha (IG Username))

Contributors: Naomi Graham Hormozi (Immortal Geisha (IG Username))