Go to contents

[Opinion] The 3-Legged Crow

Posted January. 17, 2006 03:59,   


The three-legged crow, or Samjokoh, is drawn in wall paintings of Koguryo tombs. As in imaginary animals such as the dragon or phoenix, it symbolizes the sun. It is reported that it is a product of a combination of ancient northeast Asian sun worshipping and shamanism. The concept of uniting the dynamism of sun, which moves across the sky, with a bird that can fly is not only unique to northeast Asia. People around the world believe that a bird lived inside the sun or a holy bird transported the sun. Samjokoh is present in Chinese Yangshao pottery from 4,000 B.C., and there is even a similar myth in far away Egypt.

The three-legged crow is also drawn into the uniform of Japanese national soccer team. In the 1930s, the crow became the symbol of the Japanese Football Association and the emblem of the national team. It is said that it was done so in order to honor Kakunosuke Nakamura who spread modern soccer to Japan. It is a symbol derived from the crow drawn at the Kumano Shrine in his hometown Wakayama. That crow is a mystic bird with a wingspan of 150 cm, called Yatagarasu.

In Japanese mythology Yatagarasu is the guide of the emperor’s army. According to it, a crow guided Emperor Jinmu, the god that created Japan, eastwards. An intimidating three-legged crow is also present in flags representing Japan’s right wing groups. It is only natural for such right wing groups claiming to be the guards of the emperor to use the crow. Since the right wings believe in Amaterasu Omikami as the sun god that created Japan, the three-legged crow might be their appropriate symbol, after all.

In case of replacing the cracked national stamp, the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs is reviewing engraving the Samjokoh. They say that there are many opinions suggesting the three-legged crow rather than the phoenix, the dragon and white tiger. As time passed by and dynasties changed from Koryo to Chosun, the three-legged crow’s image changed into a two-legged bird that protects the south. Hence, it is different from Japan’s three-legged variation.

However, for contemporary people crow is neither a sacred nor friendly bird. Rather it conjures images of an ugly, aggressive pest that scavenges garbage. Apart from the images of crow, do we need after all, to engrave a mutant bird with three legs into our national stamp?

Kim Chung-sik, editorial writer, skim@donga.com