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Samurai Crab

Updated on September 18, 2017

Spirits of the Heike Warriors?

It is nearly a millennia since the year 1185, when Japan is ruled officially by a young emperor named Antoku. Antoku, only 7 years old, is a beautiful boy with long flowing hair who possesses much wisdom beyond his years. His grandfather makes most of the decisions for him, and his grandmother, Lady Nii, serves him as his beloved nurse. Antoku and his family are part of the samurai clan Heike, and are engaged in a long and bloody war with another samurai clan, the Genji. The Heike are engaged in battle with the Genji at Danno-ura. The emperor and his clan are on board ship, and from signs shown to them by the way of the dolphin, now know that they face certain death. Samurai warrior tradition dictates in times like this to take their own lives rather than be captured. Antoku's grandmother takes him by the hand and leads him soflty into the sea, telling him "In the depths of the ocean is our capitol,"

Antoku and his Heiki clan brave death, leaving only a few women of the clan who are taken by the enemy. These women serve as ladies-in-waiting of the imperial court and are forced to sell flowers and other favors to the fishermen near the scene of the battle. Today the descendants of these women still celebrate this courageous battle at the Akama shrine, which contains the mausoleum of the devoted Emperor.

Photo: Chieko_photo

The Drowning of the Former Emperor

Tale of Heike Illustrated Scroll; Hayashibara Art Museum
Tale of Heike Illustrated Scroll; Hayashibara Art Museum | Source
Samurai Mask
Samurai Mask

Heike Samurai

The Crab Evolves

There is a strange coincidence to the story above, and the faces which appear on the backs of what is now called the "Samurai Crab" or "Heike Crab". Those who believe the legend attribute this to the fact that the loss of the battle, and hence the throne of the Heike, doomed them forever to live in the depths of the ocean as crabs. Others think this is a sacred symbol, and that the crabs whose shells bear the face of the warriors are a spiritual sign that the Heike still roam these waters. Some claim this is why fishermen for the past thousand years have consistently thrown the crab back, not wanting to upset the spirit of the Heiki.

This leads to the claim that by a sort of "accidental selection", these crabs have gradually evolved to resemble more and more the face of the Heike Samurai warriors. That because they were consistently thrown back, the ones who have a more distinct face have survived and passed these "face-like" genes on to their offspring, hence creating a more convincing face in the generations who follow.

Evolution's Copycats

"The resemblance of Dorippe to an angry Japanese Warrior is far too specific and far too detailed to be accidental. It is a specific adaptation which can only have been brought about by means of natural selection operating over centuries of time"

Sir Julian Huxley

Evolotion's Copycats

Life Magazine

Jun 30, 1952

Dissenting Argument

Dorippe
Dorippe | Source

Do you see the face of a Samurai?

Do you see the face of a Samurai?
Do you see the face of a Samurai?

Martin argues that there are other legends related to the face which appears on these crabs which occur earlier than the story of the demise of the Heiki.

"It seems likely that the man-crab legend

even precedes the date of the battle of Dan-no-

mura, and was merely fitted to those events later,

rather than being newly created at that time."

He also argues that this particular area near the place of the battle of Dan-o-ura is not the only habitat for small crabs with faces on their backs.

"there are many related species from other far off waters that

bear a likeness to a human face"

One more argument Martin makes is that these crabs are generally too small to eat, and are thrown back (or simply left in fishing nets) because of this. He says it likely has nothing to do with the markings on their back resembling a face.


1.2 Inches

"these crabs only reach a maximum carapace length of 1.2 inches. Anyone who has eaten steamed crabs can immediately recognize that such a minuscule crab as H. japonica is not worth the effort it would take to extract its meat"

Transmogrified Japanese warriors

Carl Sagan tells the story!

A Regular Crab - Just for Comparison

Here is what a normal crab's shell looks like.  It does not have anything close to resembling a face.  I can see how one would be quite astonished upon discovering a Heike crab!
Here is what a normal crab's shell looks like. It does not have anything close to resembling a face. I can see how one would be quite astonished upon discovering a Heike crab! | Source

What do you think? - Are these crabs the result of "Accidental Selection" or mere coincidence?

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      JimmPlus 4 years ago

      This is the first time I have heard of Samurai crab. Interesting story.