A-Z of Japan: C is for…

Hmm… What should C stand for in my A-Z of Japan? Castles (城)? Cosplay (コスプレ)? Capsule Hotels (カプセルホテル)? Chirashizushi (ちらし寿司)? All great topics, but I think I’m going to choose something a little more unconventional… C is for… Cicada!

What’s a cicada, and why did I choose it?

Cicada (セミ/semi) are a kind of insect that live in Japan. They live in other countries too, but as far as I know they are not in England. I had never seen anything like a cicada before going to Japan, and at first they scared the crap out of me! I remember feeling like they were everywhere during my first summer in Japan. Cicadas are drawn to the light like moths, and one night I was sitting in a cafe watching them headbutt the window. They clicked and flapped all around the door and I was scared to pass them.

Since that first encounter, I have grown to be quite fond of cicadas. They start appearing just after rainy season, and they’re a sure sign that summer is coming. They seem to come out of nowhere – one day it’s raining and quiet, the next day the rain has stopped and the trees are chirping.


What does a cicada sound like? Excuse the dodgy Blair-Witch-ness of this video, but it’s the only example I have of the sound of cicadas:

You hear that constant buzzing in the background, that could be mistaken for someone’s car alarm going off? That’s the sound of cicadas. And that’s the sound of summer in Japan.

I guess they sound a bit like grasshoppers in a way, but one of the sounds they make is quite unique, I think. When a cicada is in its final days, it makes this high-pitched buzzing sound that seems to come to a peak before silencing. It sort of sounds like they’re exploding. Cicadas don’t have a long life, and their loud sound comes at the end of summer. Cicadas are often used to symbolise summer in Japanese films and literature. According to WikipediaIn the Japanese novel The Tale of Genji, the title character poetically likens one of his many love interests to a cicada for the way she delicately sheds her scarf the way a cicada sheds its shell when molting. A cicada shell also plays a role in the manga Winter Cicada. They are also a frequent subject of haiku, where, depending on type, they can indicate spring, summer, or fall. Also, in the series Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, cicadas (or higurashi) are a major subject.

Cicadas have this association with rebirth and reincarnation, because each summer they come back again, coming up from the ground, moulting and leaving behind a shell. They mate, sing, and die. It’s quite beautiful really.

So today, C is for Cicada. It’s a beautiful symbol of summer in Japan, and something that I never expected myself to miss about the country.


This post is an entry for this week’s Show Me Japan. Don’t forget to check out the other entries! 🙂

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