Owls in Japanese Culture: The Battle of Good vs Evil

As most of you know, Jen loves owls, and I am also quite fond of them. Now that we have our HHE shipment, we’ve started making the place look much more like home, including putting up the two owl photos that I got Jen for Christmas a few years ago. (These are both from the Natural History Museum in London, where they have the most awesome annual wildlife photography competition/exhibit.)

Snowy Owl

After getting an email asking if one of the English schools could come do an interview in the living room (it’s one-on-one teaching in your own house) I was curious what Japanese myths/associations there were with owls. The all-knowing internet informs me that there are two words for owl in Japanese, one for owls with “ears” and one for those without. Owls without ears are considered lucky, due to the fact that the word for earless owl in Japanese sounds like the word for “lucky”. Owls with ears (point of irritation: those tufts aren’t actually ears, the ears are on the side of the owl’s head, which is part of why they turn their head back and forth while listening) on the other hand are mythically demons, and seeing one flying at night can be very bad luck.

Long-Eared Owl

According to NOVA horned owls in traditional Japanese culture will also look directly at good people, while avoiding looking directly at bad people:

The Ainu look upon [the little horned owl] as a demon who really desires to harm mankind, and they naturally consider him to be a bird of evil omen. He is also said to be able to tell a good man from a bad one at sight. When caught, the people say that he will not look at a person if that person be of a bad disposition, but will keep his eyes merely closed, just peering through the slits between the lids. This act is called ainu eshpa, i.e., “man-ignoring.” If the person before whom the bird is brought be of a good character, he will stare at him open-eyed. This act is called ainu oro wande, i.e., “searching out the man”….”

So what do you think my potential students will think of our two photos (above)? In the fight of the lucky snowy owl vs the demonic horned one, who will dominate the living room? Will the fact that the demon-owl is staring wide-eyed count in my favor?

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1 Response to Owls in Japanese Culture: The Battle of Good vs Evil

  1. Calley says:

    yay for HHE and making the place more home-like 😉

    On the owls – I think the fact that your horned owl is looking directly at you (the owners or visitors, who cares) nixes the potential demonic nature. They’re verifying all occupants of the room are good people, so that can only be a good thing 🙂

    Good luck unpacking!

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