Japanese “Bird-of-Paradise”

'Through the Lens', Fujingaho magazine, June 2014

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Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado

English Translation: Asia Club, WBSJ Volunteer Group (FURUKAWA Setsu)

Japanese Paradise FlycatcherStrelitzia (Bird-of-paradise flower) may be the first to come up to our mind when thinking of an exotic flower commonly seen in flower shops in Japan. Strelitzia species range mainly in South Africa and bear colorful flowers. The orange part like a crest is the flower, and the yellow part like a beak is the bract. It was discovered a British person in 1772. 

The flower was named after the bird called “Bird-of-paradise” of Family Paradisaeidae. The 39 bird species of the family are on islands in Papua New Guinea, as well as in the northeastern depths in Australia. When the firsst specimens were brought to Europe in the 16th century, the bird became hot topics.

It was in the midst of the Age of Exploration, when natural history was dawning. A large number of exotic specimens were brought back to Europe for trade and those of the Bird-of-paradise were among them. Their legs were cut off to show off the beautiful and fantastic feathers for trade, which had people believe that the bird must be a bird of heaven, drifting in the breeze for the whole lifetime without perching on tree branches. Thus the bird was named “Bird-of- paradise”. Its Japanese name “Fu-cho”, meaning a bird of wind, derives from the similar imagination. As the demand on its stuffed specimens and feathers as accessories for dresses and hats increased, the birds came to be grossly overhunt. However, most birds belonging to Family Corvidae, along with the Bird-of-paradise, are black or quieter in color.

In Japan, too, we have a bird which flies among ever-green tree leaves swinging its long tail. It is the Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, “Sankocho” ( Terpsiphone atrocaudata) in Japanese. The Japanese hear its song as “Tsuki-hi-hosi hoi,hoi,hoi”, which means “moon, sun, star, hoi,hoi,hoi” in Japanese. Moon, sun and star are “three shining astral bodies”. This is why the Japanese Paradise Flycatcher is called “San(three) ko(shining) cho(bird)” It is a summer bird in Japan with black and purple body which shines beautifully in the sunlight. In breeding season the tail of the male is three times as long as its body size, and its bright blue eye rings and beaks are characteristic. The female has a much shorter tail and paler eye rings and beaks. I would like to say proudly to birdwatchers from abroad that we also do have a Bird-of-paradise. The Japanese Paradise Flycatcher is really beautiful in a way different from the gorgeous “Bird-of-paradise” It is well in harmony with the Japanese landscapes.

I used to feel jealous when I heard some acquaintance of mine had been to Papua New Guinea for birdwatching, but recently I feel very satisfied with just to watch the Japanese Paradise Flycatcher. Although they say “the grass is always greener on the other side”, we should not fail to take better care of our own grass, should we? I sincerely wish Japan will stay as such a country where the Japanese Paradise Flycatchers fly in the piedmont, as if dancing, and breed safely forever.

HIH Princess Takamado

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher










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