Japanese tale #52 – Soot coat, silk coat

soot coat

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, the Crow did not wear the feathers coat as deep as the night we know today.

In this remote past, most forest birds were buttoned up from tails to beaks in austere frocks of dusty greys and muddy browns, living hidden in high trees and under thick brambles.

Crow truly stood out from this mousy crowd. Dazzling and grand, he owned the most striking attire, as colorful as a rainbow.

Be it cloudy or sunny, his feathers shimmered catching daylight, reds shifting to gorgeous purples and hints of blues, like the finest moiré silks.

All day long, proud Crow strutted like a peacock throughout the whole forest, gloating at his own magnificence. And all that wore feathers were deeply envious of his dress:

– I feel so dull in my plain clothes… Oh, if only I could wear Crow’s, even for a day!

And Crow, relishing their envy, found deep pleasure parading and slyly mocking their sad coats.

He would perch on a branch, shining in sunlight, and sang in a fake sweet voice:

– Someone as beautiful as I am should never hid in the dark like you all. My beauty, like the sun, is a gift to the world!

Nestled in the river’s reeds, the Kingfisher snorted, rolling his eyes.

All dressed in oily black, he was a bird renowned for its great patience. But as unruffled and quiet as he was, even him was getting sick, so sick of the vain bird constant nagging.

And, one day, he had enough.

A smothering summer afternoon, he went to Crow:

– Mr Crow, it is so, so hot today. Would you mind bathing in the river with me?

Kingfisher was fully aware that Crow, true narcissist, would never turned down such an offer. After all, clear water reflecting his lustrous feathers like hundred of jewels was a sight to behold.

As cocky as ever, Crow puffed up with delight:

– Such an amazing idea my grim friend!

And they took of flying to the riverbed.

In that time, men did not roam the earth yet. And all, animals like birds, could undress hides and feathers very much like us our clothes.

Without missing a beat, Kingfisher and Crow quickly took off their coats, soot black against luminous brocade pooling on the riverbank, and splash! they both jumped into the water.

The river merrily flowed, its pretty chime tranquille and serene as the two birds relaxed and playfully jested. Stripped naked, pink as young fledglings, it was difficult to recognize which one was Crow and which one was Kingfisher.

Yet, after a while, the latter suddenly cried:

– Oh no! I had totally forgotten: I have important business to attend today! Sorry friend, I must go!

And without waiting for an answer, he disappeared.

Crow hated to be alone. He pouted and half-heartedly waded for a bit in the clear water.

– How indelicate of him! We were having such a good time…

Mumbling, sulking like a spoiled child, he finally get out the water.

On the riverbank, only spread Kingfisher’s clothes, dark and oily.

Crow was vain yes, but he was also quick witted. He let out a rage filled squawk:

– Deceived! Me ! That two faced rascal have dared robbing me!

Thundering, Crow put on the sad coat and flew across the forest. For hours, he stormed about Kingfisher’s foul duplicity, croaking until his voice got hoarse.

But, not a bird spoke up. After years of teasing, Crow had not made any true friend.

And, today still, patient and discreet Kingfishers still wear the prettiest of coats while Crows loudly mourn their lost beauty, chasing without pity after any birds who would dare crossing their bitter path.


If the most famous of kingfisher is mainly blue, the kingfisher family unites in fact many different birds. Today’s tale is about a ruddy kingfisher, a beautiful brightly colored bird found across all Eastern Asia.

Many folk tales I have found about crows are not especially tender with those animals. Children stories often show them as reckless and obnoxious birds, smart yet somehow oblivious (see the note in this tale for more leads on crows ambivalent nature in Japan)

 [pictures sources: 1 / 2 / 3 ]

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