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Motif Information
Motif Suzume 01.jpg
Rōmaji Suzume
English Sparrow
Kana スズメ
Season None
Seasonal Exceptions New Year, if Hatsu-Suzume
Auspicious No
Motif Type Bird

Suzume refers to a sparrow (Passer montanus, Eurasian tree sparrow).[1] Suzume can be found in both rural and urban areas and often nest in roof eaves and tree hollows. Males and females have the same plumage and both sexes chirp but do not have a distinctive song.

Suzume feed in flocks and their preferred food is seeds or grain, such as millet or rice. They may also hunt and eat insects. Although vulnerable to predators such as hawks and cats, suzume are in no danger of extinction.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Suzume with taka and kiku on Meiji era tsuba by Unno Yoshimori in the collection of the Walters Art Museum

Suzume can be any season and take their seasonality from the motifs they are paired with.

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Sparrows are represented in Japanese folklore as being "obsessed with its honor, especially the repaying of debts." [2] Their chirp of "chū" is a homophone for the word loyalty (忠誠, chūsei).[3]

Common Motif Pairings

  • Bamboo (take-suzume)
    • When used as a mon, the pairing of sparrow and bamboo usually indicates Date clan or their retainers [4]
    • In theater, the combination is used to identify Ashikaga Yorikane (足利頼兼)[5]
  • A castle suggests Sendai Castle, constructed by Date Masamune
  • Woodcutter or scissors suggest the fairy tale Shita-kiri Suzume (舌切り雀, Cut-tongue Sparrow) [6]
  • Snow, often paired with a puffed up sparrow (kan suzume, 寒雀) is a late winter motif
  • Sho-chiku-bai conjures up the first sparrow of the New Year (hatsu-suzume, 初雀), a popular motif in modern haiku [7]
  • Ear-of-rice (ina-suzume, 稲雀) is an autumn motif
  • Eggs in nests indicate summer, empty nests indicate spring usually

Identification & Style Variations

Suzume are used in over three dozen mon, including that of the Date clan when combined with bamboo.

Suzume are most easily confused with other small birds like uguisu or mejiro. Suzume are differentiated by their head, cheek, and throat markings. Suzume are also frequently depicted as puffed up or chubby compared to the more sleekly depicted songbirds.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Autumn Millet and Sparrows (秋塘群雀図, Shuto Gunjaku-zu, 1759) by Itō Jakuchū in the collection of the Imperial Household Agency (宮内庁三の丸尚蔵館)

Shita-kiri Suzume (舌切り雀, Cut-tongue Sparrow) [8] is a well known Japanese fairy tale. In it, a woodcutter cares for an injured sparrow and is repaid for his generosity and lack of greed with treasure while his cruel and greedy wife is punished.

Suzume are associated with Chapter 5 of The Tale of Genji, in which young Murasaki cries because her pet sparrows have escaped their cage.

A popular form of musubi is the fukurasuzume (plump sparrow).

In Poetry

A popular children's song from 1921, 雀の学校 ("The Sparrow's School") by Shimizu Katsura goes:

チイチイパッパ チイパッパ chii chii pappa chii pappa Chii chii pappa chiipappa
雀の学校の先生は suzume no gakkou no sensei wa The teacher of the sparrow’s school
むちをふりふり チイパッパ muchi o furi furi chii pappa swings about a whip
生徒の雀は 輪になって seito no suzume wa wa ni natte The sparrow students make a circle
お口をそろえて チイパッパ o kuchi o soroete chii pappa All together they open their mouths with chiipappa
まだまだいけない チイパッパ madamada ikenai chii pappa It’s still no good
も一度一緒にチイパッパ mo ichido isshou ni chii pappa One more time all together now, chiipappa
チイチイパッパ チイパッパ chii chii pappa chii pappa chiichii pappa chiipappa [9]

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions


  1. Wikipedia article on Eurasian tree sparrow, Accessed December 2, 2016.
  2. Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. Rizzoli. 2001. p.118.
  3. Atsuharu Sakai. Japan in a Nutshell, Vol. 1. Yamagata Printing Co. Yokohama. 1949. p. 233.
  4. Takesuzume Motif
  5. Ibid
  6. Laquerwork box with Shita-kiri Suzume motif
  7. Hatsu-suzume Haiku
  8. Laquerwork box with Shita-kiri Suzume motif
  9. Sparrow's School Song

Image Credits

  • Kokoro
  • Naomi Graham Hormozi
  • Muhvi

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: tzippurah (IG Username)