"How still it is here--Stinging into the stones, The locusts' trill" by Basho Matsuo who was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan, seems to be the shortest poem in the world. The strong sunshine, the shadows of fences and lanterns, and the voices of countless cicadas together represent summer in Japan.
The voices that stand out conspicuously echoes. Minminzemi cicada screams "Minmin" in the morning when the sun is strong, Higurashi cicada who sounds sad with "Kanakanakana" in the evening, and Tsukutsukuboushi cicada in late autumn "Tsukutsukuboshi, Suwichoon". The cicada voices are associated with the amount of light in summer and the image of the Japanese season and time.
There is a research that people whose mother tongue is Japanese listen the voice of the insects at the language center of the brain. It seems that the voice of the insects is recognized in the same way as hearing Japanese which focuses on vowels."
The sounds of the insects in autumn nights are deeper into Japanese culture than summer cicadas. The insects were the theme in Japanese poems in the Nara period, and during the Heian period, it was popular among aristocrats who caught them in the fields and released them in the garden to listen their voices. The culture of listening to the sounds of the insects penetrated to the common people during the Edo period, and until the middle of the Showa period, there were many vendors who put the insects in the baskets and sold them.
Not only in Japan but in China, it seems that there is a culture of listening the sounds of autumn insects. However, especially in China, rather than listening the sounds of the insects, "cricket fighting" has been very popular since the Tang dynasty, and the Chancellor of Song wrote about how to grow strong crickets. Even now, some crickets are carefully raised. This culture was not popular in Japan, whereas in Japan it was common to listen the sounds of insects.
The major difference of the insect culture between China and Japan is the cage. In China, fighting crickets were carried in the sealed gourds, and the gourds were decorated and small bamboo cages were made to contain insects, but Japanese insect cages are rather large made of bamboo. Among them, there are also gorgeous insect cages with lacquer work. During the Edo period, there was a system that all daimyos from all districts took turns in working for the Edo Shogunate (Sankinkotai) every year, and the Suruga Bamboo Sensuji work in Shizuoka Prefecture, which was on the path of the daimyos of western Japan, was loved by them. It became one of the traditional bamboo crafts and the elaborated bamboo insect cage can be seen.
Stay tuned for the next post.
Written by Yoshimi Matsuta