蝉 semi—cicadas

The love song of the cicadas is the signature sound of the Japanese summer day, just as the multipart harmonies of the frogs’ chorus dominate the nights of the rainy season.  The cicadas are astonishingly loud. The hotter the sun beats down, the louder and more frenzied their song. When you walk past trees full of cicadas (for example, on my way to work), the noise level is so loud that you would have to shout to be heard; it is literally deafening.

Normally, you can hear them but you can’t see them. They are well camouflaged. Even when the noise of massed cicadas from a tree is so loud that it seems to rip the summer air in two, you will search in vain. There are two types: the kumazemi (bear cicada) making a sharp high repeated drone like a vuvuzela; and the minminzemi (min-min cicada), whose song sounds weirdly electronic, like a high-pitched air-raid siren spinning up again and again: minnnn minnnn minnnn

Here is a picture of a live adult cicada—it looks like a large, armoured fly with big, wide-spaced eyes.

“Lou soleou mi fa canta”

What you can see, however, is the senzei discarded shells of the cicada nymphs. Everywhere. The cicada moults by splitting open the back of its shell, the adult insect climbs out and flies away, and the empty shell is left behind on the road, on a leaf or the trunk of a tree, even on the back of another cicada shell. The adults only live for about 10 days (having lived for many years as nymphs).

 

Today we went hill-walking in the northern part of Osaka prefecture. We climbed a mountain called Kenbi-san (which is a very interesting place, and I will write about it in a separate post).

Walking through the forest in summer, you are surrounded by the sound and movement of living things. Lizards, frogs, all kinds of large and colourful insects.

We saw a dead mamushi snake on the path, a reminder that we (or more precisely, the dogs) need to be careful. Especially because Shiro has a tendency to regard all of these living creatures as food. Today he found a cicada on the ground and ate it: munch munch munch. He seemed to enjoy it a lot.

On a previous occasion we had to rescue a baby turtle from Shiro’s mouth—it was crossing the path in front of us and Shiro obviously thought it looked tasty. (Mmmm, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside!) Fortunately it was unharmed and continued on its way.

Check out this amazing caterpillar:

Note on the word of the day:

Just because a kanji exists doesn’t mean it’s well known or widely used. In many cases, Japanese people will write the name of an animal, tree or fish in katakana. So I wasn’t sure whether to title this post with the kanji character 蝉 or to just write the word semi in katakana: セミ. After all, it’s not as if I knew the character. And as a learner, I have no real way of knowing whether a particular kanji is in common use, or utterly obscure. But I asked Yuko if she knew the kanji for cicada, and she assured me that she did, so I decided to use the kanji.

As you would expect, the left-hand side of the character is the semantic element 虫 mushi, meaning “insect” or other crawling thing. This is found in the name of many creatures, including three that have featured in previous posts: 蛙 kaeru—frog; 蛍 hotaru—firefly; and 蝶 chou—butterfly. It’s also in the characters for bee, mosquito, snake, ant, and so on. The right-hand side is the character 単 tan meaning “simple” or “single”.

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5 thoughts on “蝉 semi—cicadas

  1. Thank you for your page. I lived for several years in Kyushu in the 90s….I miss the sound of the semis so much, it was such a part of summer. As you say, I could hear them deafeningly, but never ever saw one. Natsukashii!!

  2. Hi Bunny, great to hear from you! After the long winter months, the cicadas and the summer heat already seem like a distant memory. And when they sing again I will have returned home to Ireland. I hope I can hear them again in Japan one day.

  3. Thanks for this post. Have just moved to Kyushu and am fascinated by the natural environments. The semi are quite amazing and I took some video footage of one yesterday. Amazing species!

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