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tsuru & kame

“Tsuru Sen-nen, Kame Man-nen”

(As the Crane one thousand years, the Tortoise ten thousand years)

…is an old Japanese saying describing the symbols of youth and old age (long life), the Tsuru (crane) and Kame (tortoise). In Japan, every element of the natural world has a sacred side for Shinto, and the religion promotes harmony between the divine, humans, and nature. A lofty tree, a towering waterfall, or a wondrous mountain were believed to possess kami and were made objects of worship, and the sea was recognized as the source of life.


On August 6, 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan and three days later another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Over 200,000 people died, and thousands continue to die every year from the after effects of the bomb. On the first anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the people of Japan adopted the tsuru as the symbol of peace and declared August 6 "Peace Day" to inspire others to become involved in creating peace and try to insure the horrendous, enduring effects of nuclear warfare will never be repeated.




The Tsuru (crane) is one of the most commonly used symbols of long life in Asian legend and art. The Chinese consider the tsuru “the patriarch of the feathered tribe”. In Japan, the tsuru is a sacred bird that is said to live 1,000 years. If it lives 2,000 years it then turns black. The Japanese red crested crane (grus japonensis) is most famous as the symbol of peace and long life. They also symbolize marital love and fidelity because these cranes are monogamous, pairing for life, devoted mates in all seasons. At weddings it is customary for family and friends to fold 1,000 gold origami (paper) cranes and hang them together for good luck, fortune and long life to the bride and groom.


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The kame (turtle synonymous with tortoise) is said to live 10,000 years and is one of the four celestial guardians (dragon, phoenix, tiger and turtle) of Chinese mythology. Symbolic of long life, the kame represents the water element, the yin principle, the northern region and the color black. The turtle is also called the “Black Warrior”, a symbol of strength, endurance and longevity. The turtle has great significance in many ancient cultures of the world. The tortoise shape symbolizes the entire cosmos, with the dome-shaped back as the sky, the body in the middle the earth, and the undershell the water. The Hindu believe the turtle is an incarnation of Vishnu and the power of the waters. The lower shell is the terrestrial world and the upper shell the celestial. According to Native American tradition the turtle represents the support of the world as the beginning of creation, portrayed as the Cosmic Tree growing out of the back of the turtle. In Egypt the turtle appears with the sign of the Scales as the measure of the floodwaters of the Nile.

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