The Samurai Crab

A Japanese crab with the face of a samurai on it’s back. Yes, this animal exists.


This amazing creature is native to Japan and is called the Heikegani crab. Believed by many over time to be the reincarnations of the spirits of the defeated Heike warriors killed in a great battle hundreds of years ago .

Below is a Ukiyo-e drawing (a popular genre of Japanese art) created by Utagawa Kuniyoshi depicting these ‘reincarnations’ emerging from the sea to attack members of the Minamoto (Genji) Clan, who defeated the Heike.


 So where to did these undead spirit crabs come from?

Evolution is a powerful force, particularly when subject to a strong selective pressure. This pressure appears to have come from Japanese fishermen, and as such it is likely these fishermen are the cause of these crabs.

Crabs often have a variety of slightly different shells, however it seems to have been common practise for fishermen to throw back crabs that had this samurai face, or anything similar. Why? Probably as to capture one was seen as bad luck or in some way disrespectful. Either way, this gives us a very strong selective pressure.

So this means the crabs with these ‘faces’ were more likely to survive and pass on their genes more successfully. This in effect means generations of crabs with ‘faces’.

The Battle of Dan-no-ura

This battle is a big part of this belief in the samurai crab spirit myth. It was the battle between Imperial rules of Japan, with the Heike Clan fighting the Genji Clan. The Heike clan were greatly outnumbered and once it appeared clear the battle was lost, it is said that many of the Heike soldiers threw themselves into the ocean rather be captured by the Genji clan. This included the 7 year old Heike Emperor, Emperor Antoku, someone later to be revered as Mizu-no-kami, the God of Water. It is from this that the Heikegani crabs get their name and their story.

Ultimately though they are a testament to the powerful force of evolution, the effect of humans and the our species creativity in explaining nature.



Ismilisty, (2016). Samurai Crab. [online] Crabs Folklore. Available at: [Accessed 22 Jul. 2016].

Wikipedia. (2016). Heikegani. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Jul. 2016].