While the crane and the turtle may seem like an unlikely duo, in Japanese culture they are celebrated as a pair. Items decorated with a tortoise and crane are popular wedding gifts, often packaged together in a wooden presentation box. These two dissimilar creatures are so linked in Japanese lore that the names Tsuru (crane) and Kame (turtle) are sometimes even used as names for twins.
The reason why these two very different creatures are paired can be traced to a Japanese folk tale. According to the legend, after a big flood a crane was unable to find any dry land where he could land and rest. Seeing that the crane was struggling, the turtle floated on the water’s surface so the bird would have a place to rest. Many years later the same area suffered a terrible drought. When the crane saw that the turtle searching to find water, he lifted the turtle up and carried him to a big lake.
Some versions of this folk tale say that these two very different creatures continued to be friends and help each other for many years. It’s interesting to me that in a culture that generally celebrates conformity this well-known folk tale celebrates the very real advantages of diversity.
I couldn’t resist editing this post a month after I originally published it to add this image of a sweet kokeshi pair that have their own auspicious pair; the old woman on the left is adorned with a crane, while the old man on the right has a turtle.