Summer in Japan Begins with the Song of the Cicada

August 12, 2020Once the rainy season is over, it’s summer in Japan! Whenever you open the window, you’ll hear a cicada calling from somewhere. Japanese people think of the cicada as the symbol of summer.

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I recently learned that Americans and Europeans do not experience a sense of season as strong as the Japanese do from the sounds of insects. Is it true? Some studies suggest that Americans and Europeans, or even Chinese and Koreans cannot relate the cries of insects to a particular season.

According to Dr. Tsunoda Tadanobu, the author of “The Japanese Brain,” Japanese interpret the sounds of insects and nature with the left side of the brain, which is associated with language. In other countries, insect sound would just be considered unwanted noise. However, his theory was controvertial and criticized by European & American linguists.

Dr. Tsunoda argues that The Japanese Brain interprets or processes music using the left hemisphere, whereas this is done by right hemisphere of the brains of westerners. Moreover, most Americans think only of insects like mosquitos, flies, and bees, and of the harm they can do to human beings.

Cicadas, on the other hand, with their distinctive sound and short lifespan, have a special place in Japanese culture, and these “insects” have appeared in our art and literature for centuries.

Descriptions of cicadas appear in the classic novel “The Tale of Genji,” and the famous haiku of Matsuo Basho, which includes the lines, “Deep silence, the shrill of cicadas, seeps into rocks.”

Summer in Japan is so hot and humid that you feel like you’re going crazy, on top of which a huge number of cicadas make noise at the same time. This conveys the sense of being in the height of summer.

The Bon Festival, when the souls of our ancestors are believed to return to their homes, and the anniversary of the end of World War 2 fall around the middle of August. Our memories and events are accompanied by choruses of cicadas, forming an unforgettable mental association for Japanese people.

References: magmag news dated August 8, 2020

"The Japanese Brain" by Tsunoda Tadanobu