The Japanese Bantam chicken, also known as Chabo, is the famous tiny Japanese chicken breed we often see in Japanese paintings. If you didn’t know much about these special birds before looking at such paintings, however, you may have wondered why they are always portrayed as if they are sitting down. Suffice it to say that it’s not just an artistic choice.
So, below we’ll explore everything you need to know about the Japanese Bantam chicken – its looks, genetics, temperament, health, specifics, and everything else that makes it one of the most unique chicken breeds in the world.
What is a Japanese Bantam chicken, exactly?
The Japanese Bantam is a special breed of chicken that always comes in a tiny size and doesn’t have a standard-size chicken variant. Such birds are called a true bantam breed. The lack of large fowl counterparts means that this chicken has always been tiny and didn’t use to be a “normal” chicken that was crossbred with other smaller breeds to make for a bantam mix.
All that is fine and good, but what about the breed itself? What is the purpose of the Japanese Bantam – eggs, meat, or something else – and is this the right breed for you? Let’s find out below.
History and genetics of the Japanese Bantam chicken
The Japanese Bantam didn’t get into Europe and the US until the second half of the 19th century as Japan had purposefully kept its borders closed for the rest of the world for two and half centuries before that.
This means that the history of the Japanese Bantam prior to that isn’t completely certain. Genetic evidence suggests that, just like other Japanese ornamental chicken breeds, the Japanese Bantam came from the selective breeding of small fighting chickens called Shamo in Japan. These fighting chicken breeds likely came from South-East Asia and China a few centuries prior but exactly when isn’t certain.
Regardless of which fighting breed exactly the Japanese Bantam came from, the genetics behind their bizarre physique are clear – Japanese Bantam chickens possess the “Creeper gene” or Cp which causes them to have very short legs.
This is, essentially, a form of dwarfism or chondrodystrophy, and it can be seen not just in the Japanese Bantam chicken but in other bantam and standard-sized chicken breeds too. In fact, the Japanese name for these birds – Chabo – means “dwarf” or “bantam”. This dwarfism is almost identical to the reason why beagle and dachshund dogs have short legs too.
What’s special here is that, just as with dachshunds and beagles, the whole breed of Japanese Bantams have this gene – it’s in their international breed standard. The problem is that Cp is also known as the “lethal creeper gene”.
That’s because when two standard short-legged Japanese Bantam chickens get bred together, there is a 25% chance for each individual egg to not carry the gene and end up with long legs (so, still a small Japanese Bantam chicken, just not short-legged), 50% chance that the offspring will be a standard short-legged Japanese Bantam, and another 25% chance that the Cp gene will cause a disability and the young chick will die before it has even managed to hatch. This is what’s called Mendel’s Law.
Fortunately, this 25% lethality can be avoided by breeding one short-legged Japanese Bantam chicken with one of its long-legged Japanese Bantam counterparts. This leads to a 50/50 percent short-legged and long-legged offspring and no unhatched fatalities. Some breeders do still cross short-legged with long-legged chickens, however, as they prefer the presence of 25% unhatched fatalities.
Genetics aside, once Japan opened up to the world in the 19th century, these lovely short-legged tiny chickens were quickly accepted in Europe and the US. Poultry clubs for this breed were quickly formed there such as the Japanese Bantam Club of Crystal Palace, London in November 1912 and the later Japanese Bantam Club of Great Britain formed in 1961.
What does a Japanese Bantam chicken look like?
The Japanese Bantam breed has many different variations recognized within its standard both according to Japanese poultry clubs and abroad.
The colors you can expect to see from these birds include the White Japanese Bantam, Brown Red Japanese Bantam, the Buff Columbian, the Black Japanese Bantam, and other color variations such as Birchen Grey, Tri-Coloured, Black-Tailed Buff, Black-Tailed White, Cuckoo, Gold Duckwing, Silver, Silver Grey, Dark Grey, Millers Grey, Mottled Red, Partridge Bred, Blue Red, Mottled Blue, Mottled Black, Blue, Lavender, Red, Black Tailed White, Wheaten Bred, Brown Red, and others.
Regardless of the color variation, both roosters and hens should have a large comb that’s not crested. The wattles and the large single comb are both bright red as are the earlobes. The tail should be very high and almost completely upright, covered with black tail feathers, whether you’re looking at a hen or a cock.
The wings of Japanese Bantam chickens are relatively large for their size which, together with their lightweight, is another reason why they are good fliers for chickens. Because of the short legs, however, the wingtips of Japanese Bantams will often drag on the ground when they walk around and get dirty and worn out – this may require some care from you to keep the birds’ wings in good condition.
As for the exact size parameters, a true Japanese Bantam cock is expected to weigh just around 510 to 600 grams or a little over a pound. Hens are even lighter than that and range between 400 and 510 grams or between 0.9 and 1.1 pounds.
Japanese Bantam chicken health, temperament, egg laying, and other details
If these birds are so tiny, what are they actually kept for? It’s not for their meat, given how little of it they have and it’s not for their tiny eggs either. In fact, Japanese Bantams aren’t good layers even by the standards of other small bantam breeds – these birds will usually lay no more than 1 or 2 small eggs a week or somewhere between 50 and 100 eggs a year.
Instead of for eggs and meat, Japanese Bantam birds are kept purely for ornamental and exhibition reasons, as well as because they are great pets – much like the fancy show cat and dog breeds people look after and take to shows, a flock of Japanese Bantams in the backyard are both a great joy to look after and are very fun to go to shows and fairs with.
To give you a few more behavioral and care tips, these bantams are generally meant to be kept indoors unless the weather outside is especially warm and dry. Because of their small size, Japanese Bantams don’t really handle cold weather well and their short eggs mean that the ground beneath them should always be dry and clean or their entire bodies will get soaking wet and dirty.
You’d also want some additional heat or at least top-notch insulation in the coop and hatchery over the winter to keep these tiny poultry birds healthy. Fortunately, they handle confinement very well, so, having to spend time indoors isn’t a problem for them.
Japanese Bantams do like spreading their wings and flying for a bit whenever they can, however, so, ideally, you’d have a good enough climate around you to be able to let them out of the coop as often as possible, ideally every day.
As for their temperament, these birds are tame, friendly, and calm, which is another reason why they make for such fantastic pets. They are great for families with kids too as they don’t mind being around people or getting touched and picked up.
Brooding-wise, even though they don’t lay too many eggs, Japanese Bantam hens are quite broody and like sitting on their eggs. So, if you’re looking to raise some baby chicks, you won’t need an artificial hatchery.
Just make sure that you breed your hens and roosters properly – long-legged with short-legged and not two short-legged together – to get every Japanese Bantam chick to hatch successfully from the fertile eggs.
In conclusion – is the Japanese Bantam chicken the right breed for you?
If you’re looking for a gorgeous exhibition chicken, the Japanese Bantam is definitely one to consider. Breeding these birds can be tricky, however, which is why some Japanese Bantam chicken keepers choose not to breed their birds themselves. Additionally, because of their small size and short legs, these birds require a different approach and chicken coop setup compared to other breeds.
If you’re ready to give these birds the care they need, however, they make for fantastic pets and are some of the best show chickens out there.