Japanese History: The Mythical Golden Kite

My last two posts concerned the yatagarasu, a mythical 3-legged crow that guided the Emperor Jimmu on one of his travels. Today I’d like to briefly write about another bird that helped Emperor Jimmu: the Golden Kite (金鵄). The first kanji here means gold and the second is usually read ‘tobi.’ However, in modern Japanese the usual kanji for tobi is 鳶. Go figure. I cannot explain why that is.

As stated in the Wikipedia article of the Golden Kite badge, the kite came from the gods and assisted Jimmu in battle.  As I wrote two days ago, in the Kojiki it takes the role of leading Jimmu on his trip–a role belonging to the yatagarasu in the Nihon Shoki. The Golden Kite also shone brilliantly and led the enemy of Jimmu, Nagasune Hiko 長髄彦 and his army, on the wrong path, thereby saving the Emperor from a battle he may not have escaped from.

The Golden Kite can be found as a design element on a number of pre-war Japanese items, most notably on the aforementioned Order of the Golden Kite, a military award that is highly prized. Here is a 5th Class medal:

japanese ww2 medal golden kite

Although the medal is named after the bird, the bird itself has a minor role in the design. This badge also appears on military sake cups.

japanese ww2 medal golden kite sake cup

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