The Japanese is a small, ornamental breed of chicken that has been a Japanese aristocratic favorite for over 350 years. Artwork depicting this lovely breed can be dated back as far as 1635.
With its short legs and stocky body, the Japanese appears to be constantly sitting rather than standing. Its large, curved, ornamental tail attracts much attention from the general public and breeders alike. The tail is not like that of any other breed of chicken. All other breeds that are recognized by the American Poultry Association cannot have tails that extend over their back in more than a 50 degree angle, but Japanese should have tails carried at 50 degrees or more!
The comb and wattles are larger than that of most chickens, and the comb is a “single comb” which means that it is a regular comb with, optimally, five “points.” There are 16 different colors recognized, with the most common being Black, Black-Tailed Buff, Black-Tailed White, Brown Red, Gray, and Mottled. Japanese is one of the few truly bantam breeds in that it does not have a larger counterpart.
They have wonderful personalities, and will gladly ride around on your shoulder (just make sure to put a cloth over your shoulder as they do go to the bathroom often!) or be pet and held. They make wonderful showmanship birds for 4-H and FFA members because they are so docile and small.
Japanese are good foragers, and will pretty much feed themselves if they have a large enough area to do so.
Because of their short legs, large comb, and drooping wings, Japanese require a bit more care than the average chicken. Chickens with large combs and wattles need protection from the cold to prevent frostbite to the comb and wattles. This is especially important with roosters, as they have larger combs and wattles than the hens. Due to their short legs and drooping wings, the feathers tend to get dirty and tattered easily, which is a problem if you wish to show your Japanese. To help eliminate this, be sure to provide clean, dry bedding for your birds as well as clean roosting space. Roosting space also provides exercise, as the birds will fly onto and off of the roost.
Japanese rely on the short-leg gene to give them their cute short legs. A show quality bird will have one short-leg gene and one regular-leg gene. However, if a chick inherits two short-leg genes, it will die in the egg. Because of this, about one quarter of the hatch is lost just due to the genetics, and that is not counting the chicks that are lost for other reasons (infertile eggs, normal chick mortality rate, etc.). Also, if a chick inherits two regular-leg genes, it will have legs too long to be a show quality bird. Therefore another quarter of the hatch is pet or breeding quality only. Aside from the genetics, Japanese are fairly easy to breed. They have a high fertility rate, and the hens get “broody” (meaning they sit on their eggs) pretty often. The chicks are very hardy, with proper care, and they grow fast.