Tsuru no Ongaeshi

Tsuru no Ongaeshi (鶴の恩返し, lit. "Crane's Return of a Favor") is a story from Japanese folklore about a crane who returns a favor to a man. A variant of the story where a man marries the crane that returns the favor is known as Tsuru Nyōbō (鶴女房, "Crane Wife").

According to Japanese scholar Seki Keigo, the story is "one of the best known" tales in Japan about supernatural and enchanted spouses.[1]

Crane's Return of a FavorEdit

A man saves a crane that had been shot down by hunters. That night, a beautiful girl appears at the man's door and tells him that she is his wife. The man tells her that he is not wealthy enough to support them, but she tells him that she has a bag of rice that will fill their stomachs. Every day, the rice never goes down in the sack, and it always stays full. The next day she tells the man that she is going in a room to make something and that he is not to come in until she is finished. Seven days have passed by and she finally comes out with a beautiful piece of clothing, but she is very skinny. She tells the man to go to the markets the next morning and to sell this for a very large price. He comes back home and tells her that he sold it for a very good price. After that, they are now wealthy. The wife then goes back into the room, telling him once again not to come in until she is finished. The man's curiosity takes over and he peeks in, realizing that the woman is the crane whom he saved. When the crane sees that the man has found out her true identity, she says that she cannot stay there anymore and flies away to never come back.

The Crane WifeEdit

In The Crane Wife story, a man marries a woman who is in fact a crane disguised as a human, To make money the crane wife plucks her own feathers to weave silk brocade which the man sells, but she becomes increasingly ill as she does so. When the man discovers his wife's true identity and the nature of her illness, devastated by the truth he demands her to stop. She responds that she has been doing it for love, for them. The man says that love exists without sacrifices but he is wrong. He who lives without sacrifices for someone else doesn't deserve to be with a crane.[2]

Ippontōchō-zu by Hara Zaichū

Related variationsEdit

In The Copper Pheasant Wife, the wife does not weave cloth but instead provides her husband a plume to feather an arrow shaft the husband is rewarded for. The wife is not looked in on by the husband like in The Crane Wife; instead like in Crane's Return of a Favor the pheasant wife leaves as soon as the favor is returned.

In The Bird Wife, it is an injured wild goose the man saves. In this story, the wife weaves without prompting from the husband. One day she disappears, and he finds her in a local pond. It is there she explains she was trying to repay his kindness, and asks him to use the money from selling the cloth to take care of their child before flying away.

In The Fox Wife, it is a fox that the man helps and who shows up on the man's doorstep to become his bride. In this tale the fox does not weave but uses her tail to help sweep the floors. Upon discovering his wife's identity, the husband drives her away.

In The Clam Wife, a man finds a beautiful woman mysteriously appear at his doorway. They become married, and the wife cooks the husband a delicious bean soup each day. He peeks in on her cooking, and discovers that she is urinating clam juice into the soup, so he chases her away.

In The Fish Wife, a fisherman releases fish that he does not need to eat back into the water because he does not have a greedy nature. A beautiful woman appears at the fisherman's door and begs to be his wife. The wife cooks the husband a bean soup that is so good he is suspicious of how she makes it. He spies on her while she is cooking, and discovers she urinates in the soup. Later at dinner he alludes to her cooking method. When the wife realizes he knows she says she must return to her former home, and bids the husband visit her at the pond the following day. When he does, she explains how she was a fish he saved and had wanted to repay the favor. She disappears into the water, leaving him a box of gold and silver.

In The Snake Wife, a beautiful woman appears in a widower's doorway asking to stay the night. They become married, and the wife becomes pregnant. The wife warns the husband not to look in on the hut where she intends to have their child. He looks, and discovers a snake. The wife says that as the husband has seen her true form, she must leave. She ends up giving her child her two eyeballs for nourishment as she cannot be there to feed it. When the son grows of age he takes care of his blind mother.[3]

In popular cultureEdit

Film and televisionEdit


  • In Flying Witch, Makoto while making a witch robe for her cousin Chinatsu tells her not to come in while she is working on it, referencing the story as an example.
  • In Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, one of the characters, an anthropomorphized dragon, tells the human main character to not peek into the kitchen until she calls for her, while holding a book copy of the tale, so that she can cook her own tail unseen for her.
  • Yo-kai Watch – Episode 56
  • One Piece – Chapter 913, Episodes 898 and 899
  • Urusei Yatsura Episode 52
  • Hozuki's Coolheadedness – Season 2, episode 18
  • Hugtto! PreCure – Episode 22. Gelos recites lines from the book, and creates an illusion depicting the crane.
  • Osomatsu-San – Season 1, Episode 9. Osomatsu and Ichimatsu's Delivery Skit "The Actually Rather Awkward The Crane Repays a Debt" depicts an original gag version of the traditional story.
  • Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove It – Episode 7. The Crane Wife version is modified to include modern textile manufacturing machinery.
  • Non Non Biyori Repeat – Episode 10. Kaede reads a storybook version to Renge.
  • Princess Jellyfish – Episode 5. During Mayaya's makeover, Chieko references the story, and a weaving crane is shown on-screen.
  • Laid-Back Camp – Episode 3. When Nadeshiko prepares hot pot and tells Rin not to peek until it is finished, Rin's internal monologue references the story as "Nadeshiko's Return of a Favor".

Video gamesEdit

  • Iroha from the Samurai Shodown video game series is loosely based on the "Crane Wife" version of the story, being a crane-turned-human who became a maidservant to an unseen "master", to repay him for the kindness of rescuing her from a hunter's trap. During one of her special attacks she hides behind a shoji while saying "Please don't look, no matter what", referencing a scene from the story.
  • The Grateful Crane from the videogame The Battle Cats is based on the crane of this folkloric tradition.
  • A character from Animal Crossing, Gladys, is visually designed after the white crane in this folklore. In each instalment of the franchise, she is pictured with a weaving loom in her home.
  • Yui from Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is based on the story. She became a human by making a contract with the Twin Goddesses in order to repay Kinta for rescuing her. She weaves garments and hats to use and demands no one watch her weave. When Sakuna barges in while Yui is weaving she loses her human form, though she later regains it by making a new contract with the Twin Goddesses.
  • Fate/Grand Order features the crane as a summonable Caster-class Servant, under the pseudonym "Miss Crane".
  • The Screaming Author in Spirit Hunter: NG is loosely based on the "Crane Wife" story.
  • In a potentially loose reference, a Lass in Pokemon Ultra Sun and Pokemon Ultra Moon is seen interacting playfully with a Bellossom and Comfey in a room of the Tide Song Hotel. After a brief interaction between the Pokemon plays out, the girl startles and declares that it is her fate that no one is to see her. The Bellossom then charges the player and you are ushered from the room. Upon reentering the room the Lass and her Pokemon are gone.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Seki, Keigo. Folktales of Japan. Translated by Robert J. Adams. University of Chicago Press. 1963. p. 77. ISBN 9780226746142.
  2. ^ Elder, John, and Hertha Dawn. Wong. Family of Earth and Sky: Indigenous Tales from around the World. Beacon Press, 1994.
  3. ^ Mayer, Fanny Hagin. Ancient Tales in Modern Japan: an Anthology of Japanese Folk Tales. Indiana University Press, 1985.

Further readingEdit

  • Bäcker, Jörg. (2017). Ways of Female Initiative: Explaining Japanese Animal-Wives' Behaviour. On Fumihiko Kobayashi, Japanese Animal-Wife Tales, Fabula, 58(3-4), 383-391. doi: https://doi.org/10.1515/fabula-2017-0033
  • Goddard, Kate. "Review" [Reviewed Work: Japanese Animal-Wife Tales: Narrating Gender Reality in Japanese Folktale Tradition by Fumihiko Kobayashi]. In: Marvels & Tales 32, no. 1 (2018): 184-86. Accessed June 30, 2020. doi:10.13110/marvelstales.32.1.0184.
  • Haruki, Namiko (2016). ‘The Other Side of Hospitality—Through a Japanese Folktale—’. In: PsyArt 20, pp. 197–207. [1]
  • Kitayama, Osamu. "Prohibition against Looking: Analysis of Japanese Mythology and Folktales." In Asian Culture and Psychotherapy: Implications for East and West, edited by Tseng Wen-Shing, Chang Suk Choo, and Nishizono Masahisa, 85-97. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2005. Accessed June 30, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvvn7m1.9.
  • Kobayashi, Fumihiko. "Is the Animal Woman a Meek or an Ambitious Figure in Japanese Folktales? An Examination of the Appeal of Japanese Animal-Wife Tales", Fabula 51, 3-4: 235-250, doi: https://doi.org/10.1515/fabl.2010.023
  • Miller, Alan L. "Of Weavers and Birds: Structure and Symbol in Japanese Myth and Folktale." History of Religions 26, no. 3 (1987): 309-27. Accessed June 30, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/1062378.
  • Miller, Alan L. "The Swan-Maiden Revisited: Religious Significance of "Divine-Wife" Folktales with Special Reference to Japan." Asian Folklore Studies 46, no. 1 (1987): 55-86. Accessed June 30, 2020. doi:10.2307/1177885.
  • Seki, Keigo. "Types of Japanese Folktales." Asian Folklore Studies 25 (1966): 74-80. Accessed July 1, 2020. doi:10.2307/1177478.

External linksEdit