June 26, 2022

Origin of Japanese Words – Why is a Crow 烏?

origin of 烏

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Origin of the pronunciation

There are a few theories for the pronunciation of the word カラス. 

It is thought it was a corruption of "black" (くろ) plus "す/し" (a common suffix for birds like ウグイ (Japanese nightingale) or ホトトギ (lesser cuckoo).

「カラス」 also could have come from the crow's cawing. "KaRa!"

It's interesting that in several other languages "crow" also has a hard "k" and "r" sound: 

  • crow (English)
  • corbeau (French)
  • krähe (German)
  • κουρούνα kourouna (Greek)
  • カラkarasu (Japanese)

Origin of the Kanji


Vocabulary & Notes

The kanji 烏 for crow, has a missing line. Since the crow’s body is black and it’s hard to see its eyes, a single line from the “eye” in the kanji 鳥 (bird) is not drawn. It is said that the actual crows have good eyesight and can see even ultraviolet rays.

If you know the kanji for bird, just remember a crow is a bird with one less line.

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Sharing is caring!

  • Thank you very much, Yumi and Clay. I study Ninjutsu, and our school’s crest is a Karasu Tengu. I will share this lesson with my Sensei. Thank you again for all you share with us!!!

    • Thanks! That makes sense since Tengu has bird-like characters (as well as human) and his tora-no-maki was said to have the secrets of ninjutsu.

  • Good timing. Our new singalong set list for next week includes 七つの子 and 夕焼け小焼け. The former, of course, is all about crows (烏なぜ啼くの、烏は山に)! The latter mentions crows as part of a sunset experience (烏と一緒に 帰りましょう).

    I will forward this email to all our singers. Not all of them speak Japanese. No problem. Clay and Yumi can teach them!

    If any lurkers here would like copies of these kanji/kana/romaji lead sheets, pester Clay and Yumi for them. I’ll send it to them; they can send it to you.

    The theme of next week’s set list is about things that fly. 大きな古時計 (Time flies, right?!), 365日の紙飛行機, 夕焼小焼, 虫の声, 七つの子, 翼をください, The Cuckoo (because it flies AND warbles on the Fourth of July!). PLUS other songs unrelated to flying that prepare us for O-Bon, Hiroshima/Nagasaki memorial. . .

    All, hang in there! – JC –

    • I thought I had replied to say thank you and for people to contact me if they wanted the lyrics. I guess I didn’t press send last week!

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