The ONAGADORI 尾長鶏
Translated by Marc King from the German original FESTSCHRIFT by Knut Roeder
In Japanese literature nothing exact has been reported as to the origins of the breed called the Onagadori. The Japanese believe, however, that this breed came about by mutations of the breed Shokoku in the middle of the Edo Period (1600 - 1868). Oral history has delivered us the story that the territorial Prince (Shogun?) Yamanouchi in the Kochi Prefecture on the southern peninsula of Shikoku had the helmets and spears of his soldiers adorned with long rooster feathers for special occasions in order to honour the Emperor Tenno.
The serfs and those subjected to the Prince, the farmers,
who kept chickens of this type and delivered feathers for this important
ornamental purpose were exempt from taxes. From this period, ca. 1655,
onwards the (growth of longer feathers) steady lengthening of the feathers
was to have had its beginnings. Helmets and spears of this period which
are adorned with long rooster feathers can be seen today in Japanese museums.
A Mr. Tekeichi Riuemon from Shinohara in the Prefecture
of Kochi on the island of Shikoku was supposed to have had a major breakthrough
in breeding for the longtails. For this reason the Onagadori's from this
period were called "Shinoharato". After a period of time these
birds were called "Nagaodori". Later one referred to them simply
as "Tosa" in reference to the province in which the were mainly
In the vicinity of the city of Kochi, on the street heading
for the city of Nangoku, a monument was erect to honour Takeichi, a stone
memorial that is still extant to this day.
The Japanese botanist Koyu Nishimura published a book
in the year Ansei 4 (1857) with the title "Sketches and Thoughts"
in which he described the phenomena of the continuous growth of the tail
feathers of the Onagadori. From this point onwards the Onagadori was well
know even among the common people of Japan.
The Onagadori became fully distinct and "thoroughbred"
in the Taisho Period (1912 - 1926). From this point in time the tail feathers
reached the incredible lengths of 6 metres and more. It is also in this
period of time in which we find the explanations for the diverse comb and
colour variations in the birds first imported to Europe.
A thorough article was written about the Onagadori and
the related Longtail breeds by Mr. Alexander Hampe, published in the German
"Gefluegelboerse", Leipzig Nr. 55. Mr. Hampe lived 5 years in
Japan, on the island of Shikoku. His observations and assumptions I agree
with completely, now after my visit to Japan in 1996, and after many discussions
with Japanese poultry breeders and scientists. Much of what we have read
in reports over the years about the Onagadori lies only within fairy tales
As an example I would like to mention here the article from Mr. L. Weidauer in the specialist periodical "Der Zwerghuhnzuechter", Nr. 16 from October 15, 1925. A quote about the Onagadori:
"In Japan, under the name 'Tosa', diverse longtail
chicken breeds are kept, which are differentiated by comb forms and colour
variations. The exceptional length that the tail feathers reach are obtained
in such a fashion: In the Spring the selected tail feathers are plucked.
The feathers which grow back immediately are not moulted in the following
Fall, but continue to grow into the next year. The Japanese then pulls
delicately and "quietly" on these tail feathers. This mechanic
stimulation, which in this case effects the growth zones of the feathers,
causes the feathers not only to remain on the bird for 2 years, rather,
causes a slow but continuous growth."
In another place, in the "Gefluegelboerse Leipzig, Nr. 72 - date 8th of Sept, 1931, an anonymous author writes, a person who bred the Onagadori for more than 20 years:
"Some people have the impression (idea) that the
Longtail breeds of chickens have only beauty as plus points, and they believe
that they lay only a few eggs each year, somewhat in the fashion of pheasants,
which they obviously resemble.
I have been asked whether or not they lay eggs and whether
or not one could actually eat them, whether they are edible. This impression
is completely wrong.
Everyone who chooses a Longtail breed to breed and take
care of will find out that they do not create much difficulty if they are
only kept clean and treated humanely. They are worth the extra effort.
Even though they belong to some of the oldest breeds of fowl on earth,
they also have their usefulness, something which they need not hide from
in the face of other "useful"breeds. Their meat is fine and delicious,
their skin is thin as with pheasants, something that one notices quickly
when one has to pluck such a bird. One has then not only something as beautiful
as a pheasant for the eyes, a bird that one shows his friends with pride,
but also a nice source of fresh eggs and meat of excellent quality."
My article would not be complete if I did not mention
the zoologists and natural scientists who studied with great interest the
still widely unresearched phenomena of this longtail chicken.
Since the creation of this ornamental fowl universities
in Japan have dedicated time and effort to its study. There have been numerous
experiments and publications, some quite recent. A definitive result has
not been produced, neither in Japan nor in America where this phenomena
has also been studied by Davis University of California since the 1970s.
There is world-wide interest in the research of the Onagadori
and in this year (1996) the first member of the imperial family, the Japanese
prince Akishino received his doctorate (30th , Sept 1996) for his academic
contributions. His doctorial thesis was dedicated to the genetic origins
of the Onagadori. Akishimo is the second son of the emperor Akihito and
the empress Michiko and is married to the princess Kiko.
As an important spokesman and connoisseur of the Onagadori
I would like to mention the veterinary scientist professor Dr. H.C. Karl
Fritzsche from Vallendar am Rhein, who celebrated his 90th birthday on
Dec. 20, 1996. It is no wonder that Dr. Fritzsche, who after numerous years
of dedicated interest, published in the professional press thorough and
in depth reports about the genetic research done on the Onagadori and other
Japanese ornamental breeds.
After extensive studies of the research results published by Japanese scientists about the growth gene "gt" Dr. Fritzsche makes the following hints for research projects:
"From the results of the experiments done on this
special growth gene it is clear how difficult this subject is, because
the transmission of the inherited factors are not only through certain
plural genes, but also through secretion Al influences, which are determined
by the care and upkeep of the birds, all of which seem to play a definitive
roll in the non-moulting aspects of the feathers."
The breeding of the Onagadori in Germany over a longer
period of time appears from the time of the very first European imports
from Japan around 1878 all the way up until the present . Over 100 years
of knowledge and experiences took a careful and time-consuming summing
up of information to be able to write something accurate for this publication.
The imports of the last years, above all those after the 2 World War could not hold out over an extended period of time. (All the attempts at breeding them on a long term basis died out.)
To complete this picture I would like to mention the imported birds of the 1950's of Robert Roth of Bad Schwalbach and the imports of true Onagadori by the couple Manfred and Hildegard Wild of Steinmauer in July of 1970. Of Mr. Roth's birds nothing more was heard after a short period of time. The Wild family, on the other hand, continued to breed the Onagadori in pure form but not with success. The out crossing with Leghorns that the Wild family undertook under the advice of breeder friends left many wishes unfulfilled so that today very few animals of this line are still existing.
The oldest colour variation of the Onagadori is the "Five Colours", the "Goshiki". This colour could remind one of the golden duckwing colouration except that the neck and saddle hackle is a creamy straw colour with slight yellow influence as is the triangular duckwing marking on the wing. The shoulder is golden-russet to red-golden.
From this colour the "White Wisteria", the "Shirofuji", came about, a colour variation which is equivalent with our Silver Duckwing whereby the roosters have practically no black shafts in the silver neck and saddle hackles.
The white colour is called "White-Coloured (Type)",
the "Shiroiro", which is not a recessive white mutation of another
colour, with willow green to blue legs, but rather it is a separate colour
combination with yellow beak and leg colouration.
A very special rarity and seldom seen in Japan today is
the "Red Bamboo" colour, the "Akasaza" which is the
colour of our golden duckwing (Black Breasted Red).