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Motif Information
Motif tsuru 01.jpg
Rōmaji Tsuru
English Crane
Kanji 千鳥
Kana ちどり
Season Winter
Seasonal Exceptions Is commonly featured on formal items
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Bird

Tsuru (crane), are large, long-necked, long-legged water birds of the family Gruidae. Though there are several species of cranes, most cranes featured on wafuku are Red-crowned Cranes (Grus japonesis), also called Japanese or Manchurian cranes, which are native to Japan. [1]

Tsuru migrate within Japan, flocking in October and flying south to wintering grounds. By February, they disperse to establish their individual territories. Territories are established by April and tsuru form breeding pairs and lay eggs in early May. Tsuru mate for life and may be observed performing courtship dances throughout the breeding season to strengthen their pair-bond. Tsuru can be highly aggressive to non-pair-bonded birds, other animals, and even humans during the breeding season.

Tsuru live 30 to 40 years in the wild, and up to seventy in captivity. Tsuru are currently considered endangered, with an estimated native population of 1,000 wild individuals recorded within Japan and a further 1,750 estimated in China, Korea, and Siberia.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Tsuru netsuke by Kaigyokusai Masatsugu (懐玉齋正次) in the collection of LACMA
Tsuru with tanzaku (Seven Flying Cranes, 1862) by Utagawa Hiroshige II

Tsuru are a winter motif, often associated with New Years. When paired with other seasonal motifs, seasonality is determined by the other motif.

Auspicious Nature

Cranes are well known as one of the auspicious motifs. In Japanese mythology, cranes are said to live for 1,000 years. This comes from Chinese culture around the crane. They are also often associated with immortal beings and symbols of longevity and immortality in Taoism. Cranes may also signify nobility. For these reasons, cranes are frequently depicted on kimono that are formal, such as kurotomesode and formal obi, such as maru obi. Tsuru almost always appear on wedding uchikake.

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

Tsuru are most easily confused with sagi. Tsuru can be recognized by their long trailing feet when they fly and their red crest.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Tsuru on early Edo period hanging scroll by Watanabe Shuseki (渡辺秀石)

Tsuru no Ongaeshi (鶴の恩返し, lit. "Crane's Return of a Favor") is a folktale about a crane which repays being freed from a trap by transforming into a maiden and weaving her own feathers into cloth for her benefactor.[2]

In Poetry

Tsuru were a popular waka motif, especially paired with snow. From Fujiwara no Teika's early thirteenth century anthology Shūigusō (拾遺愚草, lit. meager gleanings):

和歌の浦に waka no ura ni In Waka Bay
鳴きてふりにし nakite furinishi Crying, aged
霜の鶴 shimo no tsuru Frost-covered cranes:
このころ見えぬ kono koro mienu I have not lately felt
心やすめて kokoro yasumete Such peace in my heart

Bashō wrote a more humorous take on tsuru in his haiku:

五月雨に samidare ni In the summer rains
鶴の足みじ tsuru no ashi miji Cranes’ legs are shorter–
かくなれり kakunareri Or so they seem to be!

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions


  1. Wikipedia article on red-crowned cranes. Accessed June 2, 2012.
  2. Wikipedia Article on Tsuru no Onegaeshi. Accessed March 10, 2017.

Image Credits

  • Ainokimono
  • FabricMagpie
  • Moonblossom
  • Muhvi
  • Tsubame
  • Tzippurah

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: Evan Mason (hikari_evyon (IG Username))

Contributors:tzippurah (IG Username)