modified on 16 May 2016 at 18:22 ••• 16,516 views


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Motif Information
Motif karasu photo 01.jpgKarasu in snow
Copyright Stuart Price
Romaji Karasu
English Raven/Crow
Kanji 烏 (also 鴉)
Kana からす
Season Autumn & Winter
Seasonal Exceptions Spring
Auspicious No
Motif Type Bird
Audio Coming Soon
This article is also available in: Deutsch and Español

Karasu (English: Raven or Crow), are medium to large size birds, with strong feet and bills, known for their intelligence.[1] Part of a large family of birds called Corvidae, which in Japan, includes the Common Raven (Watari-garasu), the Carrion Crow (Hashiboso-garasu), the Daurian Jackdaw (Kokumaru-garasu), the Rook (Miyama-garasu), the Large-billed Crow (Hashibuto-garasu), the Eurasian Jackdaw (Nishi-kokumaru-garasu), the Brown Necked Raven (Chaeri-garasu), and the House Crow (Ie-garasu).[2] Corvids are found worldwide except for the tip of South America and the polar ice caps.[3]


Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Crows are an unofficial emblem of autumn in Japan.[4]

Common Motif Pairings

Ukiyo-e by Setchyu depicting karasu and sagi
  • Rakuyo no (deciduous trees) (autumn & winter)
  • Ame (rain) (autumn & spring)
  • Yuki (snow) (winter)
  • Sakura (cherry blossoms) (spring)
  • Momiji (maple leaves) (autumn)
  • Sagi (heron) (winter) - The pairing of a heron and crow is a metaphor for the opposites of ying and yang.[5]

Auspicious Nature

In general, ravens and crows are thought to be inauspicious, a Japanese proverb says:

Karasu ga naku to kyoji ga aru

The cawing of a crow presages some calamity.[6]

However, the crow that caws on New Year’s Day, the most auspicious day of the year, is called Kin-u and is thought to be a symbol of the sun and a prediction of a good year ahead.[7] As the three-legged crow or Yata Garasu (八咫烏) is the messenger of the Shinto sun-goddess Amaterasu and the emblem of the Kumano sect of Shinto.[8]

Crows can also be understood as a symbol of filial piety. Japanese folklore holds that a crow feeds its parents when they grow old in return for their care when it was young.[9] The crow's cry, "kō," is a homophone with the word for filial piety (孝, kō).

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

In Poetry

Matsuo Basho (1644 – 1694) is Japan’s most renowned writer. His haiku about an autumn crow broke with tradition by using nine sound units in the second line rather than seven and is one of his most famous poems. The three main elements of the poem, the branch, the crow, and autumn evening, are juxtaposed to enhance and reflect each other.[11]

古枝に烏の止まりけり秋の暮れ 芭蕉

kareeda ni / karasu no tomari keri / aki no kure

on a withered branch

a crow alights

autumn evening[12]

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions


  1. Corvidae - Wikipedia
  2. Birds of Japan
  3. Bird Word: Corvids
  4. The Animal in Far Eastern Art
  5. The Walters Art Musuem - Tsuba with a Crow and Heron
  6. Japanese Proverbs and Sayings
  7. Chado the Way of Tea – Hatsu-karasu
  8. Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art
  9. Atsuharu Sakai. Japan in a Nutshell, Vol. 1. Yamagata Printing Co. Yokohama. 1949. p. 233.
  10. Copyright Blue Ruin 1
  11. Simply Haiku – Haiku in English
  12. BookRags - Basho

Image Credits

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: Helen Thiselton (Immortal Geisha (IG Username))

Contributors: Naomi Graham Hormozi (Immortal Geisha (IG Username))