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All of the following words and kanji (and a few more obscure ones) seem to be used in Japanese, to describe a bird that is translated by "Phoenix" in English:

  • 不死鳥【ふしちょう】
  • 鳳凰【ほうおう】
  • 鳳【おおとり】/鵬【おおとり】
  • フェニックス and even:
  • 火の鳥 (thought this one seems to be more of an attempt at a description than a word used on its own)

不死鳥 is rather self-explanatory ("bird that doesn't die"), 鳳凰 is used in the name of the famous "phoenix hall" (鳳凰堂【ほうおうどう】) at the Byodoin (平等院【びょうどういん】) temple in Uji near Kyoto and, to my surprise, the katakana word does not refer only to the city, but also the bird.

It seems clear that there might be some entanglement between different mythical creatures (some Western, some Asian) that share some properties (immortality, relation with fire etc)...

Could anybody draw a clear taxonomy of all these birds and the relations between these Japanese names for me?

  • EDICT says that 「鳳凰」 is not a phoenix per se, just a firebird goddess. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jul 1 '11 at 0:15
  • @Ignacio: I have seen EDICT's definition, and it is one of the reasons for my question (my other reason is this)... But it is not a very helpful one (especially when everybody else seems to be using 鳳凰 for phoenix)... I am looking for a more complete, detailed explanation. – Dave Jul 1 '11 at 0:18
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-As Ignacio said, 鳳凰 is the mythical bird from Asian cultures. (fènghuáng in Chinese)

-In the mythology, 鳳 is the male "asian phoenix" and 凰 is the female.

-不死鳥 is the Phoenix from the Greek mythology

-火の鳥 is the name regrouping "fire birds":

  • Bennu, Egypt
  • Huma and Simurgh, Persia
  • Phoenix, Greece and others
  • Firebird, Russia

-フェニックス (used for proper names) The US city and the constellation. For the constellation of the phoenix, 鳳凰 is mostly used, but since it's been discovered by Netherlands navigators and originally named "phoenix", the Japanese name should be フェニックス

-鵬 is another mythical bird (not associated with fire) that transforms from a giant fish (called 鯤 Kun)

  • 1
    As a matter of fact, the official Japanese name of the constellation of Phoenix is ほうおう座 (perhaps unfortunately). – Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 2 '11 at 5:58
  • On a side note, 朱雀【すざく】 is bird similar in appearance to the 鳳凰, but is translated as Vermillion Bird – 小太郎 Sep 15 '12 at 2:43

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