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Owls in Japan—Symbolism and Myth: May 2014 Newsletter

Owls have long been associated with magic and wizardry in Western mythology and is a symbol of wisdom that many in the West are familiar with, but owls also hold special meaning in Japan.

Pronounced fukuro in Japanese, owls are symbols of good fortune and luck in Japan.  The reason for the popularity of owl lucky symbols all across Japan comes from the pronunciation of the Japanese word for owl.  The word fukuro for owl is a synonym for “luck to come” fu means luck, ku can mean to come and ro is a suffix used for boys’ names.  In order words, fukuro, the symbol of the owl is a lucky charm to welcome good fortune.  The word fukuro is also synonym for “fukurou” in Japanese which means protection from hardship or a lack of hardship or trouble.  “Fu” meaning no, and “kurou” meaning hardship.

With its lucky sounding name, owl charms and trinkets make popular lucky items in Japan, and is a great way to wish a friend or loved one good fortune, and a life free from hardship and troubles.  Typically gifts bearing the motif of owls are given to loved ones as souvenirs or as special items for well wishing or encouragement.  As a result, gifts bearing motif of owls make popular gifts for students at the time of graduation as a fond wish for a smooth sailing journey ahead after graduating from school or college. 

Lucky Owl Items—Owl Engimonos
Happiness Owl CharmsEngimono originally come from a Buddhist concept that looked at the origins of miraculous tales and miraculous signs for foretelling good and omen.  Later, the idea of celebrating good omen and changing one’s luck became popular.  Today, engimono is used to refer to good luck items or lucky charms. 

Owl engimonos can be widely found all across Japan.  The colors associated with the egimono can bring additional meaning and association in addition to the lucky symbolism of owls. 

For example, it is believed that white owl charms invite happiness, pink owls bring love and romance, yellow owls represent peace, black owls are charms for good health, red owls bring good luck, green lucky owls symbolize dreams, and that gold owl charms are bringers of great wealth. 

Netsuke Owl CharmPopular engimonos can come in the form of cell phone charms, key rings, or in the forms of purses, figurines, and may be motifs on textiles, shirts as well as ceramic dining ware.  Given the meaning behind owls in Japan, owl engimonos make popular birthday gifts, specifically for 60th birthdays.  They also make excellent souvenirs and lucky business charms, as it is said that owls are able to move their heads 270 degrees.  This physical ability has been interpreted to mean a large social network and being skilled in business.

Owls in Japanese Myth
Chikap Kamuy is the name of the Japanese Ainu god of owls and the land.  Ainu is the indigenous people of Japan that inhabits the northernmost part of Japan in Hokkaido.  According to legends, Chikap Kamuy is a great owl that watches over the land and is the overseer of the behaviors of human and other kamuys—Ainu gods. Chikap Kamuy is believed to the master of domain and to have tears of gold and silver, as a result Chikap Kamuy is sometimes worshipped for material successes.   

Gold Saluting OwlLegend has it that there was widespread famine on earth and mankind was starving, the great god owls and the land, Chikap Kamuy wished to send a messenger to heaven to find out what the cause of the famine was.  He first asked the crow to be his messenger, but because of his detailed and lengthy message, it took Chikap Kamuy many days to recite his instructions.  The crow fell asleep on the third day.  This angered Chikap Kamuy and he destroyed the crow.  Chikap Kamuy then approached the mountain jay to be his messenger to heaven, but once again, because of the long instructions which took days to recite, the mountain jay fell asleep on the fourth day.  This once again angered Chikap Kamuy and the mountain jay was destroyed like the crow.  

Finally, Chikap Kamuy asked the dipper bird to act as his messenger.  For six days, the dipper bird faithfully listened to the instructions of Chikap Kamuy until the instructions were completed and then it flew up to the heavens.  It returned with the news that the Kamuy of fish and game was angered by the disrespect shown by people in the gifts the gods offered.  Chikap Kamuy then went to the humans and taught them the proper rituals to be enacted after the killing of fish and deer.  The proper conduct appeased the gods and the famine was ended. 

Lucky Owl Gifts for Well Wishing
Idyllic Owls Multi-Colored Ceramic Japanese Rice Bowl Set for TenWith their lucky symbolism, owl lucky charms are highly popular as souvenirs and gifts.  Excellent presents for birthdays, graduation, housewarming, and other special occasions, owl lucky charms are not the only way to wish someone good fortune and a lack of hardship, dinner wares bearing the motif of owls are great gifts ideas as well.  

From lidded bowls, bowl sets, sauce dispenser, tea sets and chopsticks, Mrs Lin’s Kitchen has a wide variety of both lucky and practical gift ideas for you to send your well wishes.  Take a look at our lucky owl motif dinnerwares, and check out our other popular lucky charms.  From Maneki Neko—Japanese lucky beckoning cat, to daruma dolls, Mrs Lin’s Kitchen is the perfect place to get a lucky gift of encouragement to friends and loved ones.


Owls in Japan—Symbolism and Myth

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