帰る ～ To Come Back
An ancient Japanese tale tells of the time when Kyoto was still capital, two frogs, living respectively in Kyoto and Osaka, suddenly decided to travel each in the city of the other. On the ascent of a mountain, in the middle of their respective journey, they arrive at the top at the same time each by a different side, and cross each other with surprise. Exhausted by their long walk, they stop together. Each too curious about the other's city, they decide to support each other, and to stand as high as possible on their long hind legs, in order to see their destination. Only… erect with all their thighs, their eyes are frankly on their backs, so that each one saw the city from which she had come thinking that she was looking straight ahead. Disappointed with the lack of exoticism in their destinations, the two frogs decide to return home.
The same word in Japanese means "frog" and "come home", which is why in Japan many travelers wear a small frog amulet, to bring good luck and be sure to return safely.
勇 ～ Courage
Indispensable animal star of Japanese culture, Koï carp was introduced to Japan during the Chinese invasions, and can live up to 70 years. Some rare specimens can reach exorbitant prices (up to € 347,000!).
In freedom, they go upstream against the current, which earned them many legends. It is said that a carp that manages to climb to the top of a waterfall, in its frantic rush, would fly away and turn into a dragon. That’s why she has so many symbols, including strength, courage, virility, bravery and longevity.
神 ～ Divinity
Sometimes revered, sometimes feared, the Japanese divinity Inari can take several forms : the best known being that of the fox (from the name Ukanomitama no Ôkami, considered as God of rice). It is a very controversial deity, the 5 main forms were only recognized by the government in 1150 (deities of rice, paddy field, water and fauna supporting the God of rice).
During Japanese antiquity, the mountains was sometimes used as a burial place. Foxes, then considered as divine messengers, came to purify the dead by devouring their flesh to bring their souls to the divine world in the mountains.
運 ～ Luck
Another yōkai (spirit) from Japanese mythology : Kappa, an evil monster with a turtle body, fond of sumo, living in ponds, lakes and rivers. Like most yōkai, he likes to prank : sneak into villages to steal food, fart and look under women's kimonos. And if you feel like pooing over one of its lakes, Kappa will grab you by the mouth with one hand, and with the other will grab your anus, then drag you into the depths of the lake to eat you. His only two weak points are politeness and cucumbers (which he loves more than human flesh). This is why it is prudent to always have a cucumber with you, you are warned…
Despite this, the turtle is a symbol of luck and longevity in Japanese culture, considered an auspicious animal believed to bring 10,000 years of happiness.
暑 ～ Hot
The Japanese macaque is the most northern of all the primates in the World, it is found in many places in Japan (Yakushima, Arashiyama, Nagano…).
A legend says that during a harsh winter of ancient times, the macaques, freezing by the cold, were on the verge of disappearing forever. In order to help them, the samurais asked the Harfang owls to find a solution. They would have flown into the sun, to bring a piece of it into their beak and place it on the snow. By melting, it would instantly have created a hot spring, so that the macaques can survive by warming up there.
遊 ～ To Play
Like foxes and tanuki, Japanese otters are known to trick humans.
They are considered to be yōkai (spirits) who would make pranks like : extinguishing the fire of paper lanterns of people who walk on the roads late at night, or inciting others to engage in a sumo fight against a rock or a tree stump. They are said to speak with strange, enigmatic human words, to call people to stop on the road, and to look like attractive young women in checkered clothes ...
Since 1979, the Japanese otter has disappeared, it is finally declared extinct in 2012.
毒 〜 Poison
A highly appreciated dish in Japan, the Fugu is extremely toxic, unless it is cut with a particular technique so as not to contaminate the flesh (a technique that requires several years of experience). At each preparation, it is tasted by the chef who serves it, to ensure its non-toxicity, otherwise its poison (tetrodotoxin, 500x stronger than cyanur) causes a general paralysis for which there is has no cure until today, and one dies asphyxiated.
Because of its dangerousness, this dish is forbidden to the Emperor (although he is considered to be a living God).
自由 ～ Freedom
Named national treasure by the government, the Sika deer also embodies an important role in Japan, where there are the largest population in the World : more than one hundred thousand (due in particular to the disappearance of wolves, who participated in regulating the population ). They evolve in freedom most of the time. It is one of the rare species of deer that does not lose its spots as it grows.
Since ancient times, they have been highly respected, being venerated and considered messengers of the Gods since the appearance of a God riding a white deer. On the island of Miyajima (Itsukushima), it was common to make offerings to them in front of temples and houses, and its inhabitants always pay special attention to them, especially since they occupied it before humans.
静 〜 Quiet
It would be very sad to talk about the animals of Japan without mentioning the Akita, a very old Japanese dog breed, originating from the prefecture of the same name. Well known for its courage, intelligence and calm, it was made world famous thanks to Hachiko, accompanying its master on the train every day in the 1920s. When he died, Hachiko continued to wait for him constantly in front of the station, for 9 years, until its own death. In its memory, a statue now sits in front of Shibuya station, and a museum entirely dedicated to the Akita race has been created in Odate.
The Akita has been proclaimed a Natural Monument since 1930, but although dog fighting is prohibited in order to preserve the purity of the breed, many of them are still used for these purposes in the Japanese countryside (nevertheless not until the death).
鶏 ～ Chicken
Endemic to Japan, the Onagadori is an ancient hen breed, listed as Natural Monument and banned for export. It does not moult, which results in a tail excessively long that can reach up to 11 meters ! Its breeding is particularly difficult : they first grow in special cages where their tail is rolled then suspended on the walls, so as not to break it, after which they remain constantly perched, condemned to watch their tail grow...
During the Edo Era (around 1600) the lords who raised Onagadori and obtained long feathers were exempt from taxes.