Put a Bird on it! The Japanese Love of Cute Birds
From a young age, my dad instilled in me a love of birds, big and small, colorful and drab. And he succeeded! I haven’t met a bird I didn’t like (except for that one emu that bit me when I went to Australia). I even love pigeons!
The Japanese have always taken inspiration from nature, and birds are no exception. There’s even a whole genre of traditional Japanese art called 花鳥画 (kacho-e), which features birds and flowers.
When I first came to Japan, I was in heaven! Bags, wallets, keychains, handkerchiefs, stationery, mugs, plush toys, gacha items; you name it, there’s a version with a cute bird on it!
In this article, I’ll introduce five of Japan’s favorite feathered friends, and show you some of my favorite examples of products featuring their likenesses! Stick around to the end to see the cutest teapot known to man!
#1 The Eurasian Tree Sparrow （スズメ suzume)
|Scientific Name||Passer montanus|
|Size||12.5 – 14 cm|
|Habitat||Most of Europe and Asia|
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. “Sparrows? They’re so plain!” I know, I know. They aren’t exactly the most colorful or exciting birds, but there’s charm in their simplicity! These birds are absolutely everywhere in Japan, even smack dab in the middle of Tokyo. They’re familiar friends, and their cute little chirps can be heard wherever you go.
Their most charming point is, of course, their cheeks! The little black spots feature prominently on any item with a sparrow design, like this shoulder bag.
Recently, I’ve also noticed a lot of sparrow-related gacha items. My personal favorite is the “つかれきったスズメ”, which means “exhausted sparrow”.
There are even photo books dedicated to documenting the day-to-day life of the little guys, and showcasing their often unnoticed charm.
#2 The Java Sparrow （文鳥 bunchou)
|Scientific Name||Padda oryzivora|
|Size||15 – 17 cm|
|Habitat||Java, Bali, and Bawean in Indonesia|
Sometimes called the Java Finch, this bird is actually not native to Japan. They are, however, common pets, and with good reason! They’re social and easy to care for, with big personalities for such a small body. They’re also known for their ability to “melt” into little puddles in their owners’ hands.
Because of this, they’re often compared to all manner of food items, like ice cream and strawberry daifuku.
The most popular brand of bunchou goods is Sakura and Bunta (さくらとぶんた).
On the left is Sakura, a girl who loves to chat, and on the right is Bunta, a boy who loves to nap.
There are all kinds of Sakura and Bunta goods, like this super cute mini tote bag, washi tape, and handy little handkerchief.
My favorite bunchou item, however are these super soft and squishy Java Sparrow cushions.
They even have a little zipper pocket in the bottom, so you can insert a hot pad or hot water bottle! Just imagine snuggling up with a giant bird on a cold, rainy day.
#3 The Shoebill Stork (ハシビロコウ hashibirokou)
No really, I swear! This bird has a cult following! Here, look at it from this angle instead:
|Scientific Name||Balaeniceps rex|
|Size||110 – 152 cm|
|Habitat||Central tropical Africa|
Cute, right? This big-beaked bird from East-Central Africa became popular in Japan fairly recently. They have a reputation for rarely moving, with Japanese zoo-goers occasionally mistaking them for statues! But in reality, they’re quite active birds with big personalities.
In particular, a Shoebill Stork at the Kakegawa Flower and Bird Garden in Shizuoka Prefecture named Futaba-chan, has stolen hearts around Japan due to her knowledge of Japanese etiquette! She learned to bow both to her keepers and to zoo visitors!
This bird is more beloved in a meme-y way, rather than for being adorable. They show up less on bags and hand towels, and more in funny products, like this Shoebill Stork Stapler or this Tape Dispenser.
Don’t worry Futaba-chan, I’d buy a tote bag with you on it!
#4 Cockatiels, Lovebirds, and Parakeets (インコ inko)
|Scientific Name||Nymphicus hollandicus/Agapornis roseicollis/Melopsittacus undulatus|
|Size||30 – 33 cm / 17 – 18 cm / 17 – 18 cm|
|Habitat||Australia / Namibia / Australia|
Of course, these little companion birds had to be included in our list. Small parrots like these are popular pets in Japan, with owners frequently posting pictures and videos of their little feathered friends to Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube.
Out of all the products with bird designs, these three species make up the majority of designs, as they should! They’re colorful and fun, and easily recognizable.
These Cockatiel and Budgie Chip Clips might be the cutest chip clips I’ve ever seen, and they make me wish I ate more chips, just so I could use them!
I’m also a huge fan of these parrot sticky tabs, which make it look like you have little birds sticking up out of your book!
#5 The Long-Tailed Tit (シマエナガ shimaenaga)
|Scientific Name||Aegithalos caudatus|
|Size||13 – 15 cm|
|Habitat||Europe and Asia|
This is it. Absolute feathered perfection. So round, so fluffy, so white! The cutest bird in Japan, hands down.
These itty-bitty birds actually live throughout Japan, but this particular subspecies with an all-white face (Aegithalos caudatus caudatus) only lives up north, in Hokkaido. There’s been an absolute craze over these birds the past couple years, with products featuring their designs popping up all over the place.
Is this teapot and cup set not the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Imagine drinking your favorite warm tea out of a little round friend!
Something catch your eagle eye?
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