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Motif Information
Motif uzura 01.jpg
Rōmaji Uzura
English Quail
Kana うずら
Season Autumn
Seasonal Exceptions None
Auspicious No
Motif Type Bird

Uzura are Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica). Wild uzura are migratory birds that overwinter in Japan.[1] Uzura prefer to forage on riverbanks alongside cultivated fields. Their diet consists of a variety of grass seeds, including millet and rice, and insects.

Uzura were domesticated during the mid to late Heian period (11th-12th century CE) as songbirds. Uzura awase (鶉合せ, うずらあわせ), quail singing contests, were a popular pastime in the Heian court.[2] In the late Meiji period or early Taisho uzura began to be bred for egg laying. The domesticated uzura population was decimated during World War II when most were consumed as food. While some of the egg laying breeds were preserved and revived after the war, the Heian song breeds became extinct.

Today domestic uzura produce eggs, are consumed as meat, and are used in biomedical research.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Wild uzura migrate in autumn and are easily observed in the margins of fields gleaning millet and rice as they prepare to overwinter in Japan.

Uzura with chicks would suggest mid-summer, although they are rarely depicted, as wild uzura would have returned to the mainland by breeding season.

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Although uzura are small, averaging 100 grams as an adult, the males are aggressive fighters and they are admired for their martial spirit which exceeds their small stature.[3]

Similar to the tale of a koi that through effort becomes a ryu, there was a folk belief uzura were able to become kiji and then hou-ou.[4]

Common Motif Pairings

Inro in the shape of uzurakago from the collection of Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Kiku
  • Ine or Awa
  • Hagi
  • Kikyo
  • Susuki
  • Uzurakago (鶉籠, うずらかご), a quail cage - implies uzura awase (鶉合せ, うずらあわせ), a quail singing contest

Identification & Style Variations

Uzura are small with a round body and short tail. Their upper bodies and backs are brown and their undersides are dappled cream. Unlike kiji they are seldom depicted with a crest.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Detail of byobu of uzura feeding among susuki and kikyō by Matsumura Keibun from the collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art

In Heian literature and poetry, uzura's association with autumn gives it a tragic quality. Autumn (秋, aki) is homophonous with "to grow weary" (飽き, aki),[5] and uzura are often associated with abandoned houses and mourning a lover who has lost interest.

In Poetry

In chapter 123 of the Ise Monogatari, a collection of Heian waka, the woman of Fukukusa sends this reply to her lover who is leaving her for the capital:

野とならば no to naraba If I’m abandoned in a field
うづらとなりて udura to narite A quail I shall become
鳴きをらん nakiworan And cry
かりにだにやは kari ni dani ya fa But surely, briefly hunting me
きみは來ざらむ kimi fa kozaramu You’ll come, won’t you? [6]

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions


  1. Wikipedia Article on Japanese Quail. Accessed December 25, 2013.
  2. Uzura on Kigo World Database. Accessed December 25, 2013.
  3. Kurstin, Joseph. Netsuke:Story Carvings of Old Japan. Joseph Kurstin. 1994. p.56.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Fu, Charles Wei-hsun, editor. Heine, Steven, Editor. Japan in Traditional and Postmodern Perspectives. SUNY Press. 1995. pp. 83-84.
  6. Ise Monogatari Chapter 123. Accessed October 8, 2016.

Image Credits

  • Birmingham Museum of Art
  • Chamekke
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: tzippurah (IG Username)