The 3-Legged Crow in Japanese Mythology

One of the oldest symbols in Japanese mythology is the 3-Legged Crow, called Yatagarasu (八咫烏) in Japanese. This legendary bird was said to have led the Emperor Jimmu from Kumano no kuni (熊の国), which is present-day Wakyama Prefecture, to Yamato no kuni (大和国), which is present-day Nara Prefecture.

The appearance of this figure appeared in two early Japanese sources, the Nihon Shoki (日本書紀)and  the Kojiki (古事記). However, in these and other early sources there is no mention of the number of legs. This seems to have been a later addition, but it is unclear when this happened. In addition, there seems to have been some early confusion between the yatagarasu and the golden kite because in the Kojiki the crow did not lead the Emperor; the kite did. The yatagarasu did appear in the Kojiki, though.

This 3-legged crow can be seen on a number of items from pre-war Japan and in post-war Japan one can see it in select shrines and also on the uniform of the national soccer team.

File:Japan national team.png

What is symbolizes is a bit hard to pin down, but I suppose it calls to mind forwardness, aggressiveness, and leadership. And of course some sort of connection with the spirit world since the bird was obviously supernatural. I am not sure if everyone recalls these things when viewing images of the bird, though.

In pre-war Japan the Imperial Japan Soldier Relief League used the yatagarasu image on a series of membership and merit badges. Here is one of them:

ww2 japanese badge medal


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I like your blog post. I also have a post that talks about the three-legged crow and how it led Prince Hachiko to the three mountains of Dewa. My blog is entitled: “Mysterious Japan” and the blog post is called: “Three “Brother” Mountains of Dewa (Japan)”, if you would like to read it at Come by for a visit.

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