Hiraku’s Bird Bonanza

My name’s Hiraku, and I’m the mascot for the Japan Center for Michigan Universities, or JCMU for short. You can learn more about me on my bio page here.

I’ve written a couple of blogs now! You can read my previous ones here.

This week I wanted to share some Japanese culture that’s especially close to my heart.

It’s winter, and my family has started migrating back to Japan. Lots of my friends are on the road, too, on their way to the West Coast for some sun and surf. But I have to stay in Michigan a little while longer. I’ve got so much work to do before winter vacation!

What kind of work, you ask? Well, writing blogs like this one, for starters! And today, since most of my swan buddies are out of town (not that I’m lonely, why would I be lonely??), I thought I’d talk about other bird traditions in Japan.

To begin with, you’ve probably heard of cranes, or tsuru, in Japanese culture. They symbolize longevity and happiness. It’s said that if you can fold a thousand paper cranes, you’ll be granted a long, healthy life. It’s hard enough for me to fold one oritusru, not having fingers, though.

Folding paper cranes is hard!

Another bird you might’ve heard about is the rooster, specifically the ones who crowed long enough to bring the goddess Amaterasu out of hiding. So basically, they’re Japan’s most famous alarm clocks! Roosters are double-famous because they’re also part of the zodiac. And why’d they leave out the swan, huh??

A rooster who knows he’s the center of attention

There are other birds with some notoriety as messengers and omens, like the pheasant, falcon, and crow. These guys seem to keep pretty busy working for various gods and deities, sending prophecies, and who knows what else. I’m a kind of messenger too, but I prefer to use the internet rather than flying out to boats and stuff like that. I guess that wasn’t an option, though, when the falcon went to tell Jimmu Tenno that he’d be the first emperor of Japan.

These days, birds are still popular in Japan. The national bird, the green pheasant, is sometimes considered a symbol of the country itself. And one species of rooster, the onagadori, is a Special Natural Treasure! They’re known for their super long tails and thick feathers. Talk about respect!

You can get up close and personal with birds you wouldn’t normally see in the wild at animal sanctuaries, and if you’re in the right place, cafes! There are also cafes popping up all over where you can go and hang out with owls. Unfortunately, an indoor cafe isn’t really the right place for a wild animal (they aren’t all as civilized as me!), so you might be better off going bird watching. Luckily there are lots of great places to do that in Japan!

two people stand in a field with the JCMU roof in the distance
A couple of birdwatchers near JCMU

Lake Biwa is actually known for its avian ecosystem, and the shore right next to JCMU is a good place to start. You can see cranes, ducks, and yes, even swans! If you see any of my relatives, say “hi” for me, won’t you?

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