A magnificent phoenix resting in a paulownia tree from the first half of the 19th century. The phoenix is a mythical Chinese bird, thought to have been introduced to Japan in the Asuka period (mid 6th to mid 7th century AD). The phoenix has a bird's beak, a swallow's jaw, and a snake's neck; the front half of its body is thought to resemble a giraffe, the back half a deer. Its back resembles a tortoise, and its tail is like a fish. In Japan, as earlier in China, the mythical Phoenix was adopted as a symbol of the imperial household, particularily the empress. This mythical bird represents fire, the sun, justice, obedience, fidelity, and the southern star constellations. According to legend, the Hō-ō appears very rarely, and only to mark the beginning of a new era -- the birth of a virtuous ruler, for example. In other traditions, the Hō-ō appears only in peaceful and prosperous times (nesting, it is said, in paulownia trees), and hides itself when there is trouble. As the herald of a new age, the Hō-ō decends from heaven to earth to do good deeds, and then it returns to its celestial abode to await a new era. It is both a symbol of peace (when the bird appears) and a symbol of disharmony (when the bird disappears). Above text courtesy of JAANUS and Onmark productions.