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Motif Information
Motif karigane 01.jpg
Rōmaji Karigane
English Wild goose
Kanji 雁が音, 雁金
Kana がん、かり
Season Autumn
Seasonal Exceptions Spring
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Bird

Karigane means a wild goose and can refer to several species, the most common being the greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons). The greater white-fronted goose breeds and raises its young in Siberia in the summer months and overwinters in Japan.[1] Karigane begin to appear in Japan in September and depart in April.

The poetic name for wild geese is kari (雁) and today also refers to the sound of their cry. The general term for any goose, wild or domesticated is gan (鴈), also an onomatopoeia for their cry, although a distinctly more prosaic one. The kyogen play Gan-karigane makes fun of these contrasting terms and perspectives between the courtly city dweller and rural farmer when both come to pay their annual taxes to their landlord with a wild goose.[2]

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Wild Goose and Reeds (芦雁図, Ro Gan-zu, 1761-5) by Itō Jakuchū in the collection of the Imperial Household Agency (宮内庁三の丸尚蔵館)

Another name for Hazuki, the eighth lunar month of the Japanese calendar, was kariganegetsu (the month of the geese's return).[3] This roughly corresponds with September in the current Gregorian calendar.

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Karigane with susuki on hanafuda

As karigane always return at the correct season, they are often used as a metaphor for a loyal husband. [4]

In the Muromachi era tale Kari no soshi (Tale of the Wild Goose), a lonely maiden seeing karigane fly across the moon wishes that someone would marry her, even a wild goose. She marries a handsome young man who tells her that he must leave her, but he will return in the autumn. The next morning, she sees a wild goose fly off and realizes the karigane is her husband. When autumn comes, she dreams that her husband was killed by a hunter. Heartbroken, she retreats from the world and takes Buddhist vows.[5]

Auspicious Nature

Karigane kamon

Wild geese are considered bearers of happiness. [6]

Karigane can also recall the avoidance of an enemy ambush by Minamoto no Yoshiie when he saw a descending flock of karigane break formation, revealing the enemy's position.[7]

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

Karigane are most often confused with the more common tsuru. Both are large birds often pictured with water motifs. However, karigane are depicted without the trailing legs or the characteristic bent neck of the tsuru in flight.

When karigane is used as a mon, the body is simplified into a V shape or the knotted form (musubi karigane), in which the simple V is replaced with a loop. Karigane have been a popular crest with samurai and merchants alike. The musubikarigane was one of three kamon used by the Sanada clan during the Sengoku period. Two karigane in a circle were used by Shibata Katsuie during the same period.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Kaga no Chiyo with Descending Geese at Kanazawa (落雁, 1842-3) from the series Eight Wise and Virtuous Women by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Karigane landing (堅田の落雁) is one of the Eight Views of Ōmi (近江八景, Ōmi hakkei), famous views of Lake Biwa and other areas in today's Shiga Prefecture adapted from the Chinese Eight Views of Xiaoxiang.[8]

In Poetry

Kaga no Chiyo was a famous haiku poet and Buddhist nun of the Edo era. The poem inscribed on the print of her at right has been transliterated and translated below.

Hatsu kari ya O the first wild goose!
narabete kiku wa The chrysanthemums arranged
oshiimono Something has been stolen [9]

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions

  • Link to any relevant threads on IG


  1. Wikipedia article on Greater white-fronted goose. Accessed December 1, 2016.
  2. Shirane, Haruo. Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts. Columbia Press. 2011. p. 118.
  3. Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. Rizzoli. 2001. p.111
  4. Volker, T. The Animal in Far Eastern Art: And Especially in the Art of the Japanese Netzsuke, with References to Chinese Origins, Traditions, Legends, and Art. Brill. 1950. p. 90.
  5. Shirane, Haruo. Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts. Columbia Press. 2011. p. 122.
  6. Motoji Niwa. Snow, Wave, Pine: Traditional Patterns in Japanese Design. Kodansha International. New York. 2001. p.70.
  7. Varley, Paul. Warriors of Japan as Portrayed in the War Tales. University of Hawaii Press. 1994. p. 42.
  8. Wikipedia article on Eight Views of Ōmi. Accessed December 1, 2016.
  9. Japanese Gallery. Accessed December 1, 2016.

Image Credits

  • Kanzashi Yume
  • Muhvi

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: tzippurah (IG Username)