From the earliest Japanese literature, the crab coexisted with the human in ritual and symbol. The meaning of the crab in literature changed; we can see this change in historical records and narrative texts in later epochs. In ancient times, crab was a popular dish for the emperors, even though the imperial palaces were usually far from the sea. The crab was not only the object of gourmets as an offering or gift between central government and regional rulers, the “scissors” (pincers) were also considered a (magic) weapon. It was assumed that this magical force from the water could protect the Emperor’s successor, i.e. a young prince, from the enemies of the next world. The multi-faceted images of this animal underwent changes over time.
Every society leaves behind traces of its thinking and value system in its artistic production, and so the socio-cultural significance and symbolism of the crab can be seen from ancient times through contemporary narratives. I shall analyze in detail an Emperor’s legend from the Kojiki, Buddhist narratives, and fairy tales of the quarrel between the crab and the monkey, up to the 20th century, in order to delineate the development of the motif and imaginative figure of the crab.