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Revision as of 20:06, 16 March 2017 by Tzippurah (talk | contribs) (Motif in Literature & Other Usage)

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Motif Information
Motif kiji 01.JPG
Rōmaji Kiji
English Pheasant
Kana キジ
Season Spring
Seasonal Exceptions Autumn
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Bird

Kiji refers to the Japanese Green Pheasant (Phasianus versicolor), a bird endemic to Japan. Kiji live in the area between forests and open meadows, they especially like the edges of cultivated fields.

During the breeding season, from April to June, the males may be observed courting females. Females will lay 6-15 eggs and attempt to rear as many as possible to maturity. Males do not help rear the young, instead molting in July through August and becoming extremely secretive. Males "reappear" in the fall in time for the hunting season.

Kiji are not a threatened species, and may be hunted with a license, but it is illegal to kill females.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Kiji on Japanese airmail stamp, issued 1950

Kiji are strongly associated with spring, their breeding season, and with autumn, their hunting season.

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Golden Pheasants in Snow (雪中錦鶏図, Setchu Kinkei-zu, 1761-5) by Itō Jakuchū in the collection of the Imperial Household Agency (宮内庁三の丸尚蔵館)
Kiji on with matsu and aki-no-nanakusa on suzuri bako (writing box) from the collection of the Walters Art Museum

Kiji are a popular symbol for maternal devotion.[1] According to Japanese folklore, the kiji will shield her nest and chicks with her wings even in a burning field. It is also known as the messenger of goddess Amaterasu.

Auspicious Nature

Kiji are auspicious symbols for mothers and as such are often found on kurotomesode intended for weddings.

During the Asuka period, Emperor Kōtoku was presented with a white pheasant from Mount Onoyama. The bird was interpreted as an auspicious sign of heaven's favor toward the emperor. The bird was placed in a palaquin and paraded before the court officials. Emperor Kōtoku offically changed the era name to Hakuchi (白雉, white pheasant), declared a general amnesty and freed prisoners, and banned hawks from being flown over the province where the pheasant was found.[2]

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

Male kiji may be recognized by their crest and long tails. They may be depicted in their natural colors of green, blue and purple. Females are smaller than the males, but also have long tails. They may be differentiated from ducks by the lack of webbing on their feet and from quail by their less rounded bodies.

Kiji are not to be confused with hou-ou which are pictured as a mythological chimera of several birds. Kiji are depicted in a more realistic fashion: if two are depicted they will often be differentiated as a male and female pair, their colors will be more realistic, and they are often shown walking on the ground, unlike hou-ou which are more often perched on a tree branch with their long peacock like tail trailing downward.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Detail of byobu with Momotaro and his kiji and inu companions

Kiji is the unofficial national bird of Japan.

A Japanese proverb is Yakeno no kigisu, yoru no tsuru (焼野の雉子、夜の鶴, lit. A Pheasant in a burning field, the night crane) meaning a mother will risk life and limb for her children.

Kiji is one of Momotaro's three animal companions, along with a dog and a monkey.

In Poetry

Kakinomoto no Hitomaro ( 柿本人麿, c.1841) from the series One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets (百人一首之内) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi in collection of Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Referencing kiji's symbolism as a loving parent, Basho wrote on the thirty-third anniversary of his father's death (1688):

父母の chichi haha no The voice of the pheasant
しきりに恋し shikiri ni koishi how I longed
雉の声 kiji no koe for my dead parents![3]

Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, one of the thirty-six immortal poets, has his waka about kiji (which he poetically calls yamadori, lit. mountain bird) preserved in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu:

あしびきの ashibiki no The long trail
山鳥の尾の yamadori no o no of the pheasant's tail
しだり尾の shidari o no drooping down
ながながし夜を naganagashi yo o through this long, long dragging night
ひとりかもねむ hitori ka mo nen must I lie alone?[4]

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions


  1. Atsuharu Sakai. Japan in a Nutshell, Vol. 1. Yamagata Printing Co. Yokohama. 1949. p. 233.
  2. McIntire, Suzanne. Speeches in World History. Facts on File, New York. 2009. p. 83-4.
  3. World Kigo Database page on Kiji. Accessed March 16, 2017.
  4. Text of Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. Accessed March 16, 2017.

Image Credits

  • Ainokimono
  • Muhvi
  • Stepan_san

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: (# (IG Username))