Saturday, August 16, 2014

38. 寒蝉鳴: "Cicadas Chirp"

(BGM: "A Change Will Do You Good" by Cheryl Crow)

Shichijuni-kou (72 Seasons) Calendar Listing 
初秋, Shoshu: "Early Autumn"
Season No. 13: 立秋: Risshu
"The Start Of Autumn"

Two aburazemi cicadas locked in a mating embrace (Izumo, Shimane, 2014).
Climate No. 38: 寒蝉鳴
Higurashi Naku
"Cicadas Chirp"
(August 12 -August 16) 

An aburazemi taking in the view of the Hirata River from a sakura tree (Hikone, Shiga).

"Now look at me
  In a fine summer robe
   A cicada kimono."  
                            -Matsuo Basho

An aburazemi (Graptopsaltria nigrofuscata) enjoys a moment of quiet repose (Toride, Ibaraki, 2010).
Cicadas are hillarious. They ditz around wrecklessly in the air, whining a weary, straining screech, completely unaware of where they're headed. Sometimes, they bump into walls or people, landing flat on their backs where they stay until death takes them (or until cicada-lovers like me turn them rightside-up). The smarter cicadas whir, chirp and rattle relentlessly in the early autumn heat until they either get their mate or die trying. Their large, frog-like eyes don't seem to be able to serve them well at all, as they're easily confused by bright city lights that compel them to sing in the middle of the night -a most unwelcome sound when it's too hot to sleep.

A cicada serenades me on my patio at night, confused by my kichen light.
But I don't mind. The truth is, I love these bumbling beasties. I'm really fascinated by their power of concentration and no-nonsense personality. Cicadas don't really scuttle around and investigate like typical fully-sentient insects. Rather, once they land somewhere they pretty much stay put, not moving a muscle until it's time to either make some noise or fly off. Yet when disturbed, they make the most ungodly, shrill scream that can scare the bejeezus out of anyone. Though I know they won't hurt me, if I see one helpless on its back, I try to gently overturn it with a stick just because the screech is so darn creepy!

Japan has several species of cicada but the most common seems to be the large navy blue aburazemi cicada (pictured above). This particular species is also the most photogenic, since most of my shots are of them. Their clicking, spinning song is the quintessential theme of summer; it's one of those sounds that makes you feel hot when you hear it instead of cool. The annoying pitch and painful decibel level (over 90 dB) of an aburazemi song just adds to the misery of a pounding, overheated head. And just when you think one is enough, walk down the streets of Shinjuku, Tokyo on any hot August day and the noise is literally deafening!

An irridescent, greenish higurashi cicada on a signpost in downtown Shinjuku, Tokyo (2002).
I personally find the song of the higurashi cicada much more tolerable, if not enjoyable (mainly because I can somewhat mimic it and get them to answer back). Fluttering their abdomens and wings in exciting rhythmic patterns, the higurashi really sing up a storm. (I'm sure if I were a female cicada, I would dig it). In Japan, cicadas symbolize evanescence and reincarnation, apparently from the unearthly way the nymphs crawl out from holes in the ground and up the tree or pole on which their egg was laid. From a few feet up the trunk, the nymph simply freezes as motionless and hard as its personality and a new adult wriggles and bursts forth from the papery exoskeleton, much in the same way dragonflies and other water borne insects do. I was lucky to catch an emergence in progress while taking a night stroll in Shiga, during an Obon lantern festival -a most appropriate celebration of transformation for the Festival of Souls. 

A sticky, brand-new cicada emerges from its old self (Keyaki no Michi Park, Hikone, Shiga).
Kids big and small around the country come out this time of year with cheesy-looking bamboo nets, trying to catch and shove these poor critters into cheap clear plastic boxes for the last few remaining days of their short, noisy lives. It's probably a better way for the bugs to go than to crunch under the heavy foot of some careless salaryman staring at his iPhone on his way back from lunch. No matter. Global warming is making certain that the cicadas will come back in greater numbers every year. In the meantime, I'll be turning over as many as possible to ensure this happens. (I like natural music. So sue me).

One helpful word: earplugs. ;-) Good night from Japan. 

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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