Saturday, May 24, 2014

22. 蚕起食桑: "Silkworms Eat The Mulberry Leaves"

(BGM: "Caterpillar" by The Cure)

Shichijuni-kou (72 Seasons) Calendar Listing
 初夏 Shoka: "Early Summer"
Season No. 8: 小満, Shouman: 
"Grain Full" 

Shouman: the time of year when farmers can hope to see kernals forming in the "ears" of cereal crops such as wheat and barley. This sign allows them to heave a small sigh of relief, hence the term "shou-man," or "small satisfaction."

Climate No. 22: 蚕起食桑
Kaiko Okite Kuwa Wo Hamu
"Silkworms Eat The Mulberry Leaves"
(May 21 -May 25) 

Silkworms. (Source: Wikipedia, a Public Domain Image)
Japan has a long, rich history of silk production (sericulture), spanning from the 7th century AD to the mid 1970's. Though recent decades have seen a worrying decline in production, Japan's sericulture industry might get a well-needed boost thanks to rekindled government interest in silk's many applications beyond clothing.

"Crawl out here!
   Under the silkworm nursery
     The croak of a toad."  -Matsuo Basho

Walking through an average Japanese drugstore, it's easy to see how the demand for silk products has changed over the years. The hair and skin care aisles are well-stocked with shampoos, conditioners and facial masks containing silk proteins as a key softening agent.

A couple years ago, while lurching around our local Tsuruha for a collagen mask to soothe my scaly, winter-worn skin, I was surprised to find a package of silk cocoons! Called "silk balls," they're actual chrysalides touted to remove blackheads and oil while softening the skin!

Silk Balls By Rira Company (Product of Korea)
Using them is fun and simple: just soak one silk ball for few minutes in hot water, place it on your pointer finger and gently scrub in tiny circular motions over a wet, washed T-zone! Presto!

After just one use, I noticed a very pleasing velvety plushness on my cheeks like peach fuzz that I hadn't felt in years! The idea of caterpillars contributing to the beautifying of my face was eye-opening to say the least!

On the Korean Peninsula, where sericulture is has a stronger foothold than in Japan, silkworm larvae contributes to health in a more sinister, yet delicious way. Known as beondegi (Kor: 번데기), the helpless pupae are boiled by street vendors in a soy sauce broth and served piping-hot in white paper cups to the hungry masses as a high-protein snack food.

While strolling leisurely arm-in-arm with my Korean Hubby down Nandaemun Market in Seoul, we chanced upon a beondegi vendor slowly stirring his steamy, wicked cauldron promising us relief from the subzero cold. I just had to try them, especially when Hubby piped that the little pupae were "particularly good for women's skin."

Cup O' Bugs, anyone?
Having lived for over a decade in a country where people will eat just about anything, I was no longer freaked out by the idea of consuming insects. With hot white cup in hand, I speared the plump, bloated carcass of a tiny pupa and popped it into my mouth. To the teeth, the casing was smooth and thin like the skin of a cooked kidney bean. Biting through it with a slight popping sensation, my teeth eased into the flesh: powdery with a startchy softness (think of mashed potato if that helps). The first taste was undeniably meaty in nature. But the aftertaste was a beautiful cross between honey, rose petals and legume starch. Unlike this unfortunate woman whose experience with beondegi was less than pleasant, I finished the whole serving and would've gone back for a second cup had the treat been less filling.

Critter Of The Season: 毛虫, Kemushi, Caterpillars  

I realize that insects in general tend to gross people out. But part of the joy in working with the old Chinese solar calendar is learning how to appreciate the overlooked, and caterpillars are seriously due their day in the sun. I can't help but be fascinated by the ethereal, dare I say "holy" transformation that caterpillars undertake, as if born twice in one lifetime. Culturally, we in the West are trained so see caterpillars as "grotesque" and the butterfly stage as "beautiful," but how arrogant of our species to judge another!

Hummingbird Hawk Moth (Macroglossum pyrrhosticta) Caterpillar (C) 2010 Gen, Genkilee, All Rights Reserved)
Literally translated as "hairy insect," the term kemushi is a general term applying to all caterpillars, even those without hair. My life in Japan has afforded me the chance to see a dizzying array of fashion-forward lepidoptera in both stages, and they all fascinate me to no end. The more I educate myself on these mystifying creatures, the more I can appreciate them for exactly how they are in the present moment, no matter what stage of their development. (Consequently, this helps me to appreciate people in the same way). ;-)

Here are few beauties I recently spotted on my afternoon walks:

Mourning Cloak Butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa)

(c) 2014 Gen, Genkilee, All Rights Reserved
Clearwing Hawk Moth (Cephonodes hylas)

(c) 2014 Gen, Genkilee, All Rights Reserved
Euthrix Moth (Euthrix albomaculata)

(c) 2010 Gen, Genkilee, All Rights Reserved

Flower Of The Season: 紫陽花, Ajisai, Hydrangea 

Hydrangea (Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture)
With the onset of the rainy season (Jpn: 梅雨 tsuyu), these fluffy floral pompons burst with luminescent pastel colors echoing the insides of an abalone shell. The various shades of purple, blue and pink on a single petal bleed together effortlessly, like watercolors mixing on wet mulberry paper.

Freeform Color (Otake, Hiroshima Prefecture)
In Japan, the hydrangea is synonymous with tsuyu (梅雨), the rainy season that lasts from the middle of May to the beginning of July. Many hydrangeas bloom well before the rain fronts blanket the land in a thick misty veil. This is the best time to catch hydrangeas before taking pictures becomes a challenge. Sometimes, I get lucky.

Hydrangea With Tiny Cricket (Mt. Ibuki, Shiga)
No matter what the weather, there's great pleasure to be enjoyed in every season. Nature is a neverending source of sensual delights and learning. It is my art gallery and library. As I continue my training in awareness of the natural world around me, every walk down my driveway reveals new secrets, new clues to questions long asked in my childhood. It's always a satisfying feeling when knowledge and appreciation are increased, as if heart and mind are in bloom with the flowers.

And to think that I'm attempting to describe just one pixel of an entire picture! If any of you Readers are tempted to start your own 72-seasons calendar based on the ecosystem of where you live, please drop a line (and a link!) about it in the Comments section! I'll be sure to feature your link on my homepage! :-)

Happy Blogging!


Copyright 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author.

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