Chōchō (蝶々): Butterfly

Japan perceives the butterfly to be a ‘soul of the living and the dead’, as a result of the popular belief that spirits of the dead take the form of a butterfly when on their journey to the other world and eternal life.

The butterfly is also often used as a symbol for young girls as they spread their wings and emerge into womanhood, as well as it being believed to symbolise joy and longevity. Additionally, if a symbol contains two butterflies dancing around each other, it’s a symbol of marital happiness.

Eternity —> The meaning of eternity which represented by the butterfly is due to the belief that spirits of the dead take the form of a butterfly on their journey to the other world and eternal life. Or spirits of the dead are guided by butterflies to the afterlife.

Womanhood —> The cycle of transformations through which a butterfly passes in its life is often associated with the transformations through which a girl passes on her way of becoming a young woman. In Japanese culture, the butterfly is associated with femininity, also, because of its grace and beauty.

Love —> In Japanese symbolism, the butterfly is a sign of good luck in love and finding your soul mate. It is a symbol of a happy marriage, and is used as a decorative element for weddings. An old Chinese legend, adopted by most East Asian countries, tells the story of two lovers who turn into butterflies after committing suicide together. This story has been compared as the Romeo and Juliet of Asia, and expresses the eternal love of those two.

Butterfly Motif —> The motif of butterfly is common on Japanese clothing. The motif of a butterfly on yukatas and kimonos is very common because of its meanings, especially on those worn by girls and young women. Also there is the butterfly knot used to tie the women’s obi (long, broad sash tied about the waist over a Japanese kimono).

The Butterfly in the Arts —> Throughout history, the butterfly was a common motif in paintings, paper panels, fans and more. In the Edo period, the butterflies were a very popular subject among ukiyo-e artists, being painted by artists like Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige, Kudo Shunman, Yanagawa Shiganobu, Totoya Hokkei, Utagawa Toyokuni, Yanagawa Shigenobu, Kitao Masayoshi, and Shirabe Fujie. One of the most famous ukiyo-e paintings belongs Katsushika Hokusai, “Peonies and Butterflies”, whose fan was even Claude Monet.

Samurai Mon (紋) —> The butterfly was often used as a symbol for the mon (emblems used to decorate and identify an individual) of the samurai clans. One of the first clans who used butterfly was Taira clan, one of the most powerful clans in the Heian period.

Origami —> The butterfly is the first form of origami that was ever made, and it was inspired by a poem by Ihara Saikaku in 1680, in which he describes a dream about paper butterflies. Ihara describes two butterflies called Ocho and Mecho. Now there is a tradition in which two paper butterflies are placed on sake bottles used at weddings.

Manga & Anime —> In the modern culture of Japan, anime and manga plays an important role, and the butterfly is present in both. In the anime series Bleach, butterflies are present as the traditional form of guides for the spirits of the dead. In Sailor Moon, the butterfly is the symbol of Princess Kakyuu. In the manga Little Butterfly, it is a symbol of freedom and hope for the two young lovers who want to escape to be together.

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