What Does the Crane Symbolize in Asian Culture?

USFWS Mountain-Prairie/CC-BY 2.0

Throughout Asian culture, the crane is a symbol of good fortune and longevity. In Imperial China, when the symbols and images on a person’s robes designated their rank and status, the crane stood for wisdom and immortality. In Japanese, Korean and Chinese traditions, the crane was fabled to possess a life span of 1,000 years.

Although it can be assured that cranes do not have a 1,000-year life span, they may actually be one of the oldest living bird species. Fossil evidence points to their existence as a species beginning as early as 60 million years ago.

In addition to its association with wisdom, the Chinese consider the crane a heavenly bird. It’s powerful wings were believed to be able to carry souls up to heaven in addition to lifting people to realms of greater enlightenment.

In Japan, the crane is considered a mystical and holy creature. Its fabled 1,000-year life span is the basis for the tradition of senbazuru, in which 1,000 cranes are created through the paper-folding technique known as origami, and then connected together by string. According to an ancient Japanese legend, a person who folds 1,000 origami cranes will have their wish granted by a crane. Other versions of the legend claim that creating 1,000 origami cranes will bring about a recovery from an illness or result in a long life. It is believed that the 1,000 cranes must all be made by the same person, without assistance, and completed within a span of one year.