Japan’s national animal is the green pheasant, a beautiful bird that holds deep symbolic and cultural meaning. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The green pheasant is considered Japan’s national animal. In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the history and significance of the regal green pheasant as a national symbol of Japan.

We’ll start by looking at the origins of the green pheasant as Japan’s national animal and its early symbolic associations. Next, we’ll examine the cultural and religious importance of the green pheasant in Japanese mythology and art.

We’ll also discuss the conservation efforts to protect the green pheasant as it faces threats in the wild. By the end, you’ll have a thorough understanding of this iconic bird and its connections to Japanese identity and heritage.

The Origins and History of the Green Pheasant as Japan’s National Animal

Native Habitat and Early Significance in Japan

The green pheasant (Phasianus versicolor) is a large, colorful bird native to the islands of Japan. Archaeological evidence suggests the pheasant has inhabited Japan’s dense, mountainous forests for over 2,000 years.

The bird’s dramatic green plumage and long, ornamental tail feathers made it a popular decorative motif in early Japanese art and fabric designs. By the 8th century AD, the pheasant had become closely associated with Japanese aristocracy and royalty, who often used the bird’s likeness in heraldry and formal costumes.

Some ancient Japanese clans even claimed mythical descent from the green pheasant.

In addition to its cultural symbolism, the green pheasant has long been prized as a game bird in Japan. Pheasant meat was considered a delicacy reserved for nobility during the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1185) periods. Common people were forbidden to hunt the birds.

Over many centuries, wild green pheasant populations thrived in Japan’s woodlands. However, habitat loss from development and overhunting caused numbers to decline sharply during the late 1800s.

Official Recognition as National Animal in 1947

In the aftermath of World War II, the Japanese government sought to revitalize national pride by designating iconic natural symbols. The green pheasant was selected and officially declared as Japan’s national animal in 1947.

This formal recognition affirmed the species’ long-standing importance in Japanese culture. The pheasant joined the cherry blossom and chrysanthemum as national emblems representing the spirit of Japan.

Since achieving protected status, green pheasant populations have rebounded substantially thanks to conservation efforts. While the pheasant remains primarily a forest-dwelling bird, it has adapted to live in parks, gardens, and agricultural areas across Japan.

This resilience mirrors that of the Japanese people, further cementing the strong symbolic bond between the nation and its avian icon. The pheasant is celebrated annually on Japan’s National Bird Day. Its likeness still graces the country’s art, stamps, currency, and family crests.

Cultural and Religious Symbolism of the Green Pheasant

Significance in Japanese Mythology

The green pheasant has held an important place in Japanese mythology and folklore for centuries. According to ancient myths, the green pheasant was considered a messenger from heaven and a harbinger of good fortune.

There are legends of the green pheasant guiding the first emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu, on his journey to the east. The pheasant was said to have led him to the auspicious location where he established his kingdom in Yamato during the 7th century BC.

In Shinto beliefs, the green pheasant is associated with the sun goddess Amaterasu. There is a legend that Amaterasu retreated into a cave after a conflict with her brother, plunging the world into darkness. To lure her out, the other gods hung jewels and a mirror on a sakaki tree outside the cave.

When Amaterasu heard the cries of a green pheasant perched on the tree, she emerged from the cave and light was restored to the world. This tale highlights the green pheasant’s role as a harbinger of light and peace in Japanese mythology.

Due to its mythical associations, the green pheasant features prominently in Japanese poetry and art as a symbol of divine guidance, luck, and new beginnings. Spotting a green pheasant in the wild remains a prized omen of good fortune for many in Japan today.

Representation in Japanese Art and Decor

The green pheasant has been a popular artistic motif in Japan for over a thousand years. Japanese paintings and textiles frequently depict the green pheasant in symbolic contexts or as part of nature scenes.

For example, the Tale of Genji, an 11th century Japanese literary masterpiece, contains an illustration of the green pheasant calling out to announce a new dawn.

Woodblock prints by famous ukiyo-e artists such as Hiroshige and Hokusai often included the green pheasant as a way to represent the seasons changing to spring. Its bright green plumage and association with renewal made it an auspicious sign of the new year in artwork.

Even contemporary Japanese artists continue to incorporate the green pheasant as a nod to their country’s artistic traditions.

Beyond painting and textiles, the green pheasant decorates all manner of handicrafts and household objects in Japan. From kimono fabrics to lacquerware dishes to folding screens, the green pheasant appears frequently as an ornamental motif.

Its plumage is recreated in vibrant detail, spotlighting the bird’s cultural significance. Placing pheasant ornaments and imagery around the home remains common practice to invite good fortune.

The prevalence of the green pheasant in Japanese visual culture reflects its esteemed stature in mythology and folklore. As both a beautiful bird and powerful symbol, the green pheasant continues to capture artistic imaginations in Japan and convey blessings of luck and prosperity.

Conservation Efforts for the Green Pheasant

Threats to the Species

The beautiful green pheasant faces several threats that have led to population declines over the past few decades. As Japan’s national bird, conservation of the species is of utmost importance. Some key threats include:

  • Habitat loss – Deforestation, urbanization, and development have destroyed much of the green pheasant’s natural forest habitat.
  • Hunting – Green pheasants were heavily hunted in the past, though hunting has been banned since 1971.
  • Predation – Natural predators like foxes and raccoon dogs prey on green pheasants and their eggs.
  • Climate change – Rising temperatures and increased drought may impact their breeding and survival.
  • Invasive species – Non-native animals and plants can disrupt their native ecosystem.

Protection Measures and Population Status

To protect the iconic green pheasant, Japan has implemented several conservation strategies:

  • Habitat protection – National parks and reserves safeguard remaining forest habitat.
  • Captive breeding – Zoos and facilities breed green pheasants for release into the wild.
  • Reintroduction programs – Pheasants bred in captivity are released in protected areas to boost numbers.
  • Predator control – Measures limit predators like raccoon dogs and crows.
  • Awareness campaigns – Programs educate the public on protecting green pheasants.

Thanks to these efforts, green pheasant populations are recovering in some regions. However, their conservation status remains vulnerable. According to the IUCN Red List, there are an estimated 100,000-500,000 mature green pheasants in Japan.

More action is still needed to preserve these magnificent birds and their forest homes.


With its elegant plumage and cultural importance, the green pheasant remains a powerful national symbol of Japan. This beautiful bird connects back to ancient traditions and beliefs, while also representing modern efforts in conservation.

Going forward, maintaining viable populations of the green pheasant will be key to preserving part of Japan’s natural heritage. The regal green pheasant still captivates the Japanese imagination much as it did centuries ago.

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