Crane Symbolism Japan: Meanings, History, and Interesting Facts

crane symbolism japan

There’s something about cranes that just leaves us in awe of their majestic beauty. There are around 15 known species of cranes, all of which are known for their elegance and unique aesthetics. And among them, the most revered are the Japanese cranes. That’s why we’ve decided to talk about Crane Symbolism Japan in this guide.

In Japan, cranes are revered as holy creatures. Standing regally at five feet tall, covered in white feathers with a red crown on top of its head, it is no wonder that these birds are given such great respect. In this article, we will dig deep into crane symbolism in Japan, its varying meanings, history, and other interesting things about them.

crane symbolism japan

The Meaning of Crane Symbolism in Japan

The red-crowned cranes of Japan are so esteemed that the Japanese have attached so many symbolic meanings to its various qualities.


The Japanese believe that cranes symbolize long life and good health. Although cranes only have a life span of about 40 years, the Japanese used to believe that these mystical creatures can live for up to a thousand years old. This belief is also the reason why they believe that cranes can grant them eternal youth.


Once they find their partner, Japanese cranes are known to mate with the same partner for life. They also have an elaborate courtship dance to woo their partner – which is considered as an attraction in several parts of Japan. Because of these monogamous behaviors, the Japanese crane also became a symbol of loyalty.


Cranes also symbolize high authority in Japan. They are believed to be creatures of impeccable wisdom. There is a famous proverb in Japan, “Tsuru no hitokoe”, which translates to “crane’s statement”, and which means that the speaker has the voice of authority.


Having a wingspan of about eight feet, cranes are known to fly at high altitudes for miles without easily getting tired. This makes them the perfect symbol of strength.


Cranes are known for being resilient beings. Because of this quality, they were seen by the Japanese as a symbol of hope during trying times.


It is believed that Japanese cranes return favors to those who help them. Because of this, crane-themed offerings are often seen in temples in Japan. They believe that this is a way of pleasing the crane to listen to their prayers.

The History of Crane Symbolism in Japan

Crane symbolism in Japan began with their ancient folklore. Written text from a thousand years ago reveals stories of the interaction between cranes and humans.

The most famous Japanese crane folktale is entitled “Tsuru no Ongaeshi”, or “Crane’s Return of a Favor”. In this story, a crane takes the form of a beautiful woman who helps improve the life of a farmer who rescued her from hunters. Although the story ends with the crane disappearing after her identity was discovered by the farmer, this is one of the reasons why the Japanese believe that cranes return favors to those who are kind to them.

Throughout the years, the story has been rewritten so many times. Nonetheless, the depiction of the crane remains the same: loyal, wise, and grateful.

In the 1950s, the crane became a symbol of healing and hope. This took place after the bombing of Hiroshima when a young girl named Sadako Sasaki was diagnosed with leukemia years after she was exposed to nuclear radiation.

Sadako deeply believed that the crane would help her recover from her ailment, and so she would make paper cranes while she was admitted to the hospital. Her goal was to make a thousand paper cranes, after which she would ask the crane to heal her. Unfortunately, she was only able to make around six hundred of them before she succumbed to leukemia.

Her story touched the hearts of many Japanese. They were so touched that her story is often associated with paper cranes and how it became a symbol of healing and hope for her. To them, it also became a symbol of resilience.

Interesting Facts About Crane Symbolism in Japan

Crane symbolism can be seen anywhere in Japan – from temples to clothing to business logos. If you have an observant eye, maybe you’ve already noticed some of these representations.

At weddings, couples are often seen wearing traditional Japanese robes. If you look closely, you would notice that the kimono has cranes depicted all over the fabric. It is also part of the tradition that the father of the bride would make one thousand paper cranes as a wedding gift to the new couple.

During baptisms, children often receive crane-themed gifts as a way of wishing them long lives. In temples, people would often offer a thousand paper cranes before they ask the crane to grant a wish, long life, eternal youth, or prosperity. Because of the flying prowess of the crane, a Japanese airline used it in their logo. They believe that this represents their promise of a smooth flight. Passengers likewise find comfort in knowing that the crane will watch over them throughout their flight.

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