Japanese Shinto has karasu-tengu, half-crow, half-human goblins, and yatagarasu, a three-legged crow whose appearance is evidence of divine intervention. Crows abound in ukiyo-e, and a particularly nurturing one is the star of a Japanese children’s song, “Nanatsu no ko,” about a mother crow looking after her seven lovely crow children.
There are actually 2 species of crow in Japan, the Jungle Crow and the Carrion Crow. The Jungle Crow normally live in the cities and areas above 1000 meters, while the Carrion Crow often lives in the rural areas of Japan.
Crows do perform at least one useful action in that they hunt and eat mice. For a city the size and density of Tokyo, it’s amazing how rarely one sees any mice or rats in the city. The crows have made the rodent problem almost non-existent.
There are actually 2 castles in Japan with the nickname “Crow Castle.” These are Okayama Castle and Matsumoto Castle. As you might have guessed, these castles have black exteriors, due to black painted wood placed over the plaster walls.
In The Kojiki, there is no mention of 3 legs for Yatagarasu, only that it is a crow eight feet long. If we look towards the mythologies of Japan’s neighbors we can find the answer. China for a long time had a 3 legged crow in its mythologies. In the early period of Japan’s history, Chinese culture heavily influenced Japanese culture, and this 3 legged crow also seems to have been adopted into the Japanese lore. In Chinese lore, this 3 legged crow is Sanzuniao and is red and associated with the sun.
In Japanese mythology, this flying creature is a raven or a jungle crow called Yatagarasu (“eight-span crow”) and the appearance of the great bird is construed as evidence of the will of Heaven or divine intervention in human affairs.
Although Yatagarasu is mentioned in a number of places in Shintō, the depictions are primarily seen on Edo wood art, dating back to the early 1800s wood-art era. Although not as celebrated today, the crow is a mark of rebirth and rejuvenation; the animal that has historically cleaned up after great battles symbolized the renaissance after such tragedy.
Yatagarasu as a crow-god is a symbol specifically of guidance. This great crow was sent from heaven as a guide for Emperor Jimmu on his initial journey from the region which would become Kumano to what would become Yamato, (Yoshino and then Kashihara). It is generally accepted that Yatagarasu is an incarnation of Taketsunimi no mikoto, but none of the early surviving documentary records are quite so specific.
In more than one instance, Yatagarasu appears as a three legged crow not in Kojiki but in Wamyō Ruijushō.
Both the Japan Football Association and subsequently its administered teams such as the Japan national football team use the symbol of Yatagarasu in their emblems and badges respectively. The winner of the Emperor’s Cup is also given the honor of wearing the Yatagarasu emblem the following season.