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Motif Information
399px-Flower, Hydrangea -Uzu-Ajisai- ^ Snail - Flickr - nekonomania.jpg
Rōmaji Katatsumuri
English Snail
Kanji 蝸牛
Kana カタツムリ
Season Summer
Seasonal Exceptions None
Auspicious No
Motif Type Animal

Katatsumuri refer to land snails which are also known as dendenmushi (でで虫, でんでんむし). Katatsumuri are gastropod molluscs that carry their shell on their back. When threatened by predators, katatsumuri withdraw into their shells.

Most katatsumuri have lungs and breathe air, but some have gills and must stay in damp environments to continue breathing. All katatsumuri use mucus to keep their bodies moist and help them crawl. The mucus creates a characteristic trail or track that is associated with katatsumuri.

Katatsumuri hibernate in the winter, emerging in the spring to mate. They may be observed all summer long foraging in gardens, especially on early mornings or after a rain.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Katatsumuri on well bucket netsuke by Shigemasa (重正) in the collection of LACMA
Katatsumuri on banana leaf from the album Birds and Flowers in the collection of Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Katatsumuri's association with rain projects a cooling image popular in the summer months.

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Katatsumuri is part of the trio of animals called the sansukumi (三竦み, three way stand-off or the three cringing ones), comprised of the snail, snake, and frog.[1] When played as a game, snail beats snake (poisoning it with its mucus), snake eats frog, and frog eats snail.

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

Katatsumuri are easily recognized by their spiral shell. Japanese depictions also emphasize the "horns" on its head and the mucus trail it leaves behind.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Katatsumuri with begonia by Utagawa Hiroshige in the collection of Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Kagyū (蝸牛, The Snail) is a kyogen play about a servant sent to catch a snail for his master. Not knowing what a snail is, he asks for a list of snail attributes. He is tricked by a yamabushi into thinking that the wandering priest is snail, as he is found napping in a thicket, has a black head, carries a shell, etc. The yamabushi tricks him into doing a silly song and dance about snails, which gets the servant into trouble when his master comes to see what is taking him so long.[2]

In Poetry

Kobayashi Issa wrote over fifty haiku on the subject of snails. Arguably his most famous was:

かたつぶり katatsuburi little snail
そろそろ登れ soro-soro nobore inch by inch, climb
富士の山 fuji no yama Mount Fuji![3]

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions

  • Link to any relevant threads on IG


  1. Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. Rizzoli. 2001. p.158.
  2. Brazell, Karen, ed. Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays. Columbia University Press, 1998. p. 255-66.
  3. Haiku Guy on Snails Accessed February 28, 2017.

Image Credits

  • Ainokimono
  • Tzippurah

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: tzippurah (IG Username)