Heikegani, the Samurai crab

Today we are talking about a very particular species of crab, whose bizarre features have often placed it between folklore and reality, and with good reason.

We are talking about the Heikegani (Heikeopsis japonica, 平家蟹, ヘイケガニ) or otherwise called Samurai Crab.

From Odd Atlas:

“This type of crab, native to Japan, is characterized by having grooves on the carapace which give it features very similar to those of the masks that the samurai used to wear in battle.

Legend traces the birth of the Heikegani to 1185, in particular to the famous naval battle of Dan-no-ura, which took place on April 24 near the Shimonoseki Strait, south of Japan.

This is still remembered today as the decisive battle that marked the end of the bloody Genpei War (1180-1185). It was a civil war for dominion over the imperial court, and consequently over Japan, which saw the Minamoto clan (源氏 or Genji) on one side and the Taira clan (平氏 or Heike) on the other, which at the time held the candies.

Although they were at a numerical disadvantage, the Minamoto clan managed to defeat the Taira forces thanks to their ability to exploit the currents of the strait and also thanks to the betrayal of one of the Taira generals, Taguchi Shigeyoshi, who revealed the position of the opposing fleet and which ship transported the Emperor.

It is known that, when the Taira soldiers realized that the battle was lost, hundreds of them committed suicide by throwing themselves into the sea to avoid the dishonor of

capture; among these there was also the very young Emperor Antoku (6 years old) who died in the arms of his grandmother, Taira no Tokiko.

Legend has it that, although the bodies of the Taira soldiers perished, their souls were unable to find peace in death due to the betrayal perpetrated by Shigeyoshi and therefore infested the bodies of the crabs that lived at the bottom of the strait, giving it its characteristic appearance to the carapace, a sign of their eternal resentment.

The correlation between the Taira samurai and crabs is so well known that it can even be found in the name with which they usually refer to them (Heikegani precisely).”


[extra: the Genpei War played such a decisive role in the history of Japan that it was after it that the colors red and white were included in the national flag, a reference to the colors of the respective banners of the Minamoto and Taira clans.]

A depiction of the naval battle of Dan-no-ura painted by the painter Tosa Mitsunobu (1434-1525).

**seeing a human face in the Heikegani carapace is due to Pareidolia, or the tendency of our brain to see faces in inanimate objects. This phenomenon is due to the fact that human beings relate to their peers by studying facial expressions and in particular by paying attention to the eyes. Hence the fact that it is easier for us to see a house with ‘eyes’ rather than one with a ‘nose’.”


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