Monday, June 9, 2014

25. 蟷螂生: "Praying Mantis Hatch"

(BGM: "Wonder" by Natalie Merchant)

Shichijuni-kou (72 Seasons) Calendar Listing
 仲夏, Chuuka: "Mid-summer"
Season No. 9: 芒種, Boushu: 
"Grain In Ear" 

The rains have brought that extra push that cereal grains like barley and wheat need to become full and ripe. Providing everything went right, the grain is now "in the ear" of each plant and ready for harvest! Since the harvest is the busiest time of the year for farmers, festivals are fewer on purpose to provide enough time to get the crops in without distraction. The Chinese name for this season, mangzhong simultaneously means both "grain in ear" and "busy."

Climate No. 25: 蟷螂生
Kamakiri Shouzu
"Praying Mantis Hatch"
(June 5 -June 9) 

A fearless (and very pregnant) female mantis confusing me with a tree (Tone, Ibaraki).
Lucky Surprises! 

I'm not sure whether or not this is true, but I once heard somewhere that if you see a praying mantis, you'll have good luck for the day. I don't like to claim that I'm superstitious. But in my life, I have been noticing a pattern of running into these intelligent insects with positive events soon following.

My first ever encounter with a praying mantis in Japan was simply awesome. Since my homeland Alaska is way too cold for these elegant hunters, they'd always been on my bucket list of things to see. When I heard that they existed everywhere on Honshu, I was no doubt on the lookout.

One evening on my way home after a very good day at work, I found a startling green and very large praying mantis crossing the road. Strangely, in the midst of my elation, I suddenly had the unrelated thought of how nice it would be if could meet a certain new friend whom I hadn't seen all day. Five minutes later, I step onto the train of our local Joban Line. Lo and behold, right there on the seat in front of me sat my friend! That encounter made a believer out of both of us, and a new musical partnership was borne of that evening's karaoke party! Double-lucky!

Cups full of bugs is becoming a recurring theme, here, I'm noticing... :-/
One misty June evening, a teacher friend presented me with a present: a cup full of praying mantises! How amazingly random! Apparently he remembered my story about my good luck encounter and he felt the need to increase my luck. "Just scatter them around your garden and they'll be with you all year round," he said.

Back at my apartment, I had the selfish fantasy of playing with one of the babies before putting them outside. But I underestimated their speed and immediately after lifting the lid only a fraction of an inch, one raced out of the cup, down my hand and leaped onto the floor. It headed straight for my refrigerator, lost in the shadows of my kitchen! All attempts to retrieve it were futile. I had to just accept it as a loss.

Less than a month later, I'm cleaning my kitchen curtains to reveal, what's this? Could it truly be?

I held my hand up to the dainty beady-eyed baby and it curiously crawled on, as if it knew me! Still small, yet filled out, it looked very healthy and fulfilled as it sat there on my fingers, daintily cleaning its feet and antennae with long, spindly legs.

He kept looking at me longingly with those charming black pinheads for eyes, as if glad I found him! It was love at second sight! After a fun-filled photo session with the trusting little guy (I'm just assuming it's a male), I reluctantly brought him outside to rest in my tomato plant. This time, he didn't put up a fight, and quickly set to work hunting down a black aphid on a nearby leaf. I continued to watch him like a nervous parent until I was assured of his safety. And then I went back to my room, closed the door behind me, and felt blessed for no reason at all.

"If you love someone, set them free."  -Sting

Taste Of The Season: 空豆, Sora Mame, Sky Bean

"Sky Beans" (Vicia faba)
Also known as "broadbean," and "fava bean," sora mame gets its name from the way the seed pods grow up "towards the sky." Their slightly fuzzy deep green seed pods can grow up to five inches long, with each case housing about three beans shaped like ancient fertility symbols.

A very kind friend dropped off a bagful and I was quick to make good use of them. They were very easy to shuck: just a little bit of pressure on their spines with my thumbnail and they opened up effortlessly and uniformly, revealing their chubby-cheeked babies inside. With a gentle swipe of my thumb, I freed each bean from its casing, revealing the jet-black line across its forehead. (You can find out how the soramame got its black line here, in the second segment of this animated film).

Once shucked, I tossed them in a bowl of cold water (to loosen any thin membranes still attached to the beans) and rinsed them clean. Since they have similar flavor and texture to kidney beans, they can be cooked in much the same fashion. But I simply boiled them in salted water until soft, strained and let them cool before adding a dash of bamboo salt for flavor. Rich in magnesium and other minerals, soramame are the perfect roadsnack!

Flower Of The Season: 橘, Tachibana, (Mikan) Orange Blossom 

A hidden orchard of mikan orange trees in bloom (Okamura Island, Ehime Prefecture).
"Temple bells die out 
   The fragrant blossoms remain
     A perfect evening!"   -Matsuo Basho 

Fragrant mikan blossoms lining a stairwell from the shore of Lake Biwa (Mizugahama Cafe, Ohmi Hachiman, Shiga Prefecture). 

One of the inarguable pleasures of living in Japan is savoring the ever-changing melange of scents and aromas throughout the seasons. Early June could very well be sweetest-smelling time of the year, when the forests and mountainsides release perfumes that inspire and soothe the senses in combinations that would test the skills of any top-rank perfumer.

The magic time seems to be around five in the evening, when the sudden shift from warm to cool helps the trees like cedar, cypress and acacia release their fragrant oils into the air.

Among the more noticeable of these are the orange blossoms. In regions like coastal Kanagawa and all around the Seto Inland Sea their bright, uplifting fragrance spreads over the hills and lower mountains where orange trees cling to steep, rocky cliffs. Here, aromatherapy can easily be had for a song: simply drive around the orchards with the windows down and suck up into your lungs as much neroli as you can inhale! 

The best things in life are truly free!

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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