In one part of the Kokon Chomon-shu, a collection of stories compiled in the Kamakura period, there is a description of an insect-catching expedition to the Sagano area of Kyoto in 1095. The emperor at the time ordered his retainers and servants to head out on horseback to capture the specimens and present them in an insect cage strung with purple threads.
The party, reciting an insect-hunting poem as they went, reached Sagano where they got off their horses and continued their search until the evening. The search was very extensive, spanning around one kilometer. When they had collected enough insects, they headed back to the palace with their catch as well as bunches of flowers -- bush clover and golden lace -- and presented them to the emperor in a basket. There followed a great banquet, with drinking and poetry recitations, and a great time was had by all.
In no other country in the world but Japan may have events like these -- official banquets held by princes of long-standing dynasties to the sound of insect song -- ever taken place. The Japanese studies pioneer Lafcadio Hearn, looking to introduce the special qualities of Japanese culture to a Western audience through stories from history, quoted this tale of the banquet by insect song in one of his works.
While the summer heat lingers through September, the sound of insects singing in the bushes signals the coming onset of autumn. Insect song is an iconic part of the warmer months on the Japanese archipelago, but there are now fewer Japanese people who could distinguish the different varieties of insects just by their sounds. Yet it seems likely that there are very few Japanese people who would not, upon hearing the insects of this season, appreciate the special sweetness, and the pleasant but melancholy beauty of autumn, carried in their song.
According to the theories of neuroscientist Tadanobu Tsunoda, Japanese people hear the songs in the left brain, also responsible for language. This is said to stem from the special characteristics of the Japanese language, and to say that Japanese people hear the "voices" of the insects is certainly understandable.
It's also true that Japanese people in particular hear the sounds of birdsong and of flowing rivers as "voices." And so, in this autumn of disaster recovery and nuclear crisis, let us Japanese concentrate on the small wonders of nature, and open our ears to its voices. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)
(Mainichi Japan) September 15, 2011
毎日新聞 2011年9月15日 0時16分