A Tokyo Summer Concert

It is the height of an extremely hot and humid Japanese summer. The pandemic has caused much human and economic misery, postponed the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, and led to the wholesale cancellation of summer festivals, concerts and the elaborate fireworks displays.

Covid, however, has not been able to forestall a distinctive feature of Japan signifying the end of the rainy season and beginning of summer –– nature’s daylong noisy cicada orchestral concert!

The appearance and many distinctive sounds of the short lifespan cicadas have a special place in Japanese culture.

Japanese Cicada

As a new resident of Japan, I was not certain about the huge number of cicadas all making this noise at the same time. However, Shuhei Nomura, senior curator for the zoology department with the National Museum of Nature and Science, set the Japanese context in a recent Japan Times article saying that “There are lots of them and they’re noisy. But if they weren’t there, it would feel kind of lonely. Japanese people think of cicadas as a symbol of the summer.”

Cicadas — known as semi in Japanese — are a superfamily of insects with around 2,000 known species worldwide. Cicadas live for several years underground as nymphs before emerging in summer. Once above ground, they shed their exoskeletons to complete their transition into adulthood.

While adult cicadas live for only about a month before they die, they certainly make their presence felt during their short lifetimes. Males produce a call seeking to attract mates that borders on deafening.

There are 35 species of cicada in Japan, but each one is completely different. Each species varies in terms of shape, size, color, habitat, behavior, and the call noises they make. Different species of cicada call at different times of the day and are known to evoke certain emotions in humans.

According to experts, the species that people like best is the one that calls when the sun is going down and the day has cooled off. They are called higurashi. I admit it is pleasant when I take Toma for an early evening walk; it is a comforting sound and a nice feeling; the heat has gone down and it’s a little more comfortable.

Another observation I have made about cicadas is the apparent fascination of Japanese children have for them.

While adults may not be so keen to get a close-up look at cicadas, children are much more enthusiastic. Catching the full-grown insects in nets as well as collecting the discarded shells of cicada larvae is a popular summer pastime.

Visit any park and you will find kids out with parents and grandparents, seeking the capture and containment of prized insects. Standard equipment, a net in hand along with a magnifying glass and a cage or jar to keep the insect in.

I subsequently learned that the activity and writing insect diaries was also a summer school project.

Although the cicadas are too common to be considered rare treasure, the Japanese children competitively hunt for other summer insects, particularly the wildly popular rhinoceros beetles or stag beetles.

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Hi, I’m Paul Myer. Thank you for visiting my website. I hope you enjoy my writing and photography. If you want to stay connected, please subscribe to receive posts via email.

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