A fowl theft: Japan's part in a long, drawn-out Korean tail.
It has been claimed that during the Japanese annexation of Korea, the peninsula was plundered of many of its treasures, including historical artifacts and natural resources. There are even suggestions that a rare breed of long-tailed chicken was among the pilfered goods.
In the early 1900s, accounts of "a most remarkable breed of chickens" began to appear in American newspapers.
According to one article: "Their plumage is exceedingly gorgeous but what makes them wonderful is the fact that their tails are immense. A small chicken will have a tail of resplendent feathers from 12 to 15 feet long. No breeder thinks much of a fowl with a tail less than a dozen feet long and tails from 12 to 14 feet are common."
According to legend, these chickens appeared in southern Korea between 1000 and 1600 A.D and were "first propagated" by the Korean monarchy who had a pheasant mated with a wild chicken.
"[Their] present wonderful state of perfection [was brought about by centuries] of careful breeding and improvement [and] after the desired strain was obtained, a big bounty was placed on the heads of the wild birds and the breed became extinct," the article said.
"This left the king the exclusive possessor of the long-tailed birds, and for generations it has been a royal pastime to care for and fondle them."
Another article claimed that up until 1911, the long-tailed chickens "were known nowhere but in the Hermit Kingdom, and then only in the royal gardens."
The article said that following Japan's annexation of Korea, the chickens were taken from the palace to Japan where some were eventually sold to a Japanese chicken fancier in Seattle, Washington.
This account conflicts with the observations of Homer Hulbert, the editor of The Korea Review, who apparently a despite frequenting the palace a had never witnessed these chickens in the royal gardens.
Hulbert acknowledged that the chickens had, according to Korean legend, once lived in Korea but "whether they are extinct or still living" he could not say, nor could he say with certainty that the chickens had originated in Korea. Japan, he noted, was also known for these chickens and still bred them.
Perhaps one of the last accounts of long-tailed chickens involving the peninsula was in 1938 when Mrs. J. E. Pepin, of Los Angeles, purchased two "Yokohama roosters" from Korea. According to her dealer, these were the only long-tailed chickens in the U.S. and one had a tail nearly 15 feet (4.5 meters) long.
Long-tailed chickens are now bred in Europe, the U.S. and, of course, Japan. The Onagadori (long-tailed chicken) of Kochi prefecture has been designated by the Japanese government as a Special Natural Monument. It is claimed that they are the original long-tailed chicken, a result of centuries of careful breeding. Sadly, the Korean long-tailed chicken is no more.