Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Insect Man

This little chap (or chappess) is a local insect from a group called "singing insects" (suzumushi). While wandering about downtown Tottori today with a friend I stumbled on a tiny shop festooned with birdcages, and from within heard the delicate sound of bell ringing. I wandered in and found an old man, sitting in an old chair between a caged sparrow and an insect vivarium, smoking (all old men in Japan smoke, it is a law). He was very pleased to see us, and when I asked him if he had suzumushi he showed me his little vivarium with maybe 10 of the little critters inside. As soon as I evinced interest, he offered me 4. I ran away to buy some little insect homes, and upon my return I got two sets of 2 insects. Each home has a male and a female, who I have decided to christen Freddy and Britney (cage 1), and Madonna and Michael (cage 2). Their offspring will indeed be stunted and warped creatures! Although I have heard them sing in the shop I have not heard them in my home, but if they do I shall endeavour to record their sound for posperity (I don't know if I can put sound files here but I will try).

These are bell-ringing crickets, and they are famous in Japan for their beautiful sound. Japanese people even organise trips to famous listening spots, where they sit quietly listening to the insects. In the previous century it was possible to visit marketplaces where the various insects were sold, and a famous writer who lived in Matsue (my next port of call), Lafcadio Hearne, wrote an essay on the disappearing art of the insect seller. It seems that while he may have disappeared in Tokyo he remains a prominent figure in Tottori life (well, maybe not so prominent - the woman in the store where I bought the insect cages thought I was very strange for wanting insect cages for suzumushi, although she denied this opinion when I asked her).

As I write, one of my little pets has decided to start creaking. I have it on good authority that their music becomes a clear, ringing trill (which is what I heard from outside when I was lying in bed last night). Hopefully soon my room will ring with the sounds of a previous era, and once again rural Japan will have surprised me with one of its simple but enchanting practises.


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