Enjoying the Natural Soundscapes of a Japanese Autumn Night – a walking event with entomologist Dr. Masahiko Tokoro
By Avi Landau
Traditionally the Japanese have savored autumn nights- not only for the refreshingly cool breezes which bring relief to bodies and spirits worn down by weeks of relentless summer heat and humidity, but also for the chance to enjoy one of nature`s greatest natural choruses- that created by the chirping of Japan`s nocturnal musical-insects.
For an excellent introduction to the unique way in which insect sounds were a part of Japanese culture, you can print out this essay written in 1898 by Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo):
In contemporary Japan, however, the amazingly complex and SUBLIME natural string symphony created by the insects goes almost completely overlooked (or over-listened!) – with windows shut, earplugs in, and stereos and televisions on.
The same insects are still out there though, and there still are those who appreciate them.
One of those people is Dr. Masahiko Tokoro, an entomologist at the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute (FFPRI) here in Tsukuba who can differentiate by ear the sounds of dozens of different insects.
This week, Masa shared his contagious love of Japan`s natural soundscapes with a small group of like-minded enthusiasts. We set out from the old Sakura Branch Office last Saturday evening, with flashlights in hand (or on head) and masks over mouths and noses!.
Besides the sounds of insects we might heard some owls and spotted a couple of small mammals (badgers? palm civets?). Unfortunately, we were not able to see one of Japan`s most spectacular flowers- the night blooming KARASU URI no HANA (which we enjoyed last month. We could, however, see the orange, gourd-like fruits which appear on their vines when the flowers fall away.
Another entomologist in the group ,Dr. Eiji Oya, ( a leader of these walks in previous years) explained to me how the original soundscapes of autumn nights in Japan have been in fact completely altered by an invasive species called the AO MATSU MUSHI (青松虫) whose call drowns out nearly all other insect sounds.
If your window is open you can probably hear this insect right now (on a night in early September). you can also hear it and SEE it on UTUBE, for example here:
If you listen carefully with your window open on autumn nights, you will also almost surely be able to hear the SUZUMUSHI (bell cricket), which IS one of the classic autumn singing insects- there is even a chapter in The Tale of Genji named after this bug. It is still sold in most pet shops for those city-dwellers who would like to have the traditional sounds of autumn in the comfort of their homes.
You can hear the SUZUMUSHI`s song here: