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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cicada

セミ

A cicada in the hand.

The cicada, or, in Japanese, the semi, is a constant aural feature of the Japanese summer. There are over 30 different varieties of cicada in Japan. In midsummer wherever you go, even in the middle of Tokyo, you are always in earshot of a cicada’s chirp. Go past a park, or anywhere with significant greenery, and the din is almost deafening. But by now, September, the days and especially the nights have become somewhat cooler, and, with that, the cry of the cicadas has been gradually losing its intensity.

Even at their peak, the cries you hear throughout the day are not from the same insects. Morning cries, afternoon cries, and evening cries are divided up between different species that typically cry at different times of the day.

A cicada in the bush.

Cicadas, or at least their cries, have a role in Japanese film and Japanese literature as indicators of summer heat, so hearing them immediately identifies the season being depicted as summer.

Little boys in Japan typically hunt cicadas in summer. Cicadas are very passive insects and can be easily caught and picked up – as I did in the above picture. And, close up, for all their image of hard-plated inaccessibility, they have some notable beauty spots – especially the green veins on the wings and the ruby red spots between the eyes.

Finally, cicadas are short lived, making them ideal candidates for haiku, which are all about the present moment and transience. Take the famous haiku by the poet Basho:

Cicada on my pillow
I reach for my paperweight -
Ah no, my brush

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