Japanese American Traditions

Kaeru: Japanese American Lucky Charms

Even though frogs may conjure memories of high school biology experiments, frogs hold special meaning in Japan and for many Japanese Americans.

Whether they are tree frogs, bull frogs, or rain frogs, these amphibians are viewed as symbols of good fortune. In fact, frogs are so much a part of Japanese culture that many Japanese expressions include frog references. The English “like father, like son” translates as “kaeru no ko wa kaeru” or “A frog’s child is a frog.” If someone ignores what is said by another, that’s known as “kaeru no tsura e mizu” or “like water on the surface of a frog.”

Because the Japanese word for frog, “kaeru,” also means “to return,” frog charms are frequently carried by travelers to ensure a safe return from their journey. They are also very popular good luck symbols among Las Vegas-bound Japanese Americans. The hope is that money and fortune will “return” to them. If the frog’s mouth is wide open, it is considered even luckier.

Looking for a gift that will send good fortune to its recipient? Consider some of the kaeru items available at the Japanese American National Museum Store.

August 2005

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