One morning in Mid October, Kiku was sitting in the garden of the Bamboo Bathhouse with Boss Panda, enjoying the freshness of the autumn air. He suddenly realised how quiet it seemed, and remarked upon it. Boss Panda nodded and said “what a good observation that is young one – I think you are becoming more and more in tune with the subtleties of Japanese seasons! It is quieter because the loudest of summer insects, the cicadas have now stopped singing now that summer is over. However, if you listen as we move into twilight you will hear the more melodic sounds of the crickets – the seasonal marker for these five days in October is in fact ‘crickets at the door’…
Kiku thought about how much the Japanese people were aware of even the smallest of creatures around them, but then remembered something from his childhood back in England about crickets. He told Boss Panda that there were also crickets in European stories too, including one by Charles Dickens entitled “The Cricket on the Hearth”, where a cricket competed with a whistling kettle on the stove and the talking cricket killed by the puppet in The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. “It used to be good fortune to have a cricket singing by the hearth, and the sound formed part of a cosy winter scene,” said the little fox.
“In Japan, they are more the opposite – warning of the coming winter”, explained Boss Panda, “although they are much admired for their song, both in Japan and in China, where they were kept for their melodic sounds and for sport. There is an old Japanese folktale about two sisters who were known for their weaving and sewing. When they died, they returned as a grasshopper and a cricket, the grasshopper making sounds like someone weaving, and the cricket cried out ‘tsuzure…sase…sase!’ which means ‘torn clothes, patch up, patch up!’ Their song is a signal that the weavers should get to work repairing clothes for the winter. They are also a popular seasonal feature in autumn haiku.”
Later that day, Miko-chan found Mama Kōjin in a state of frenzy in the kitchen. She was surrounded by clothes and sewing several pieces at once with her many hands. “what is happening?” enquired the little shrine maiden doll, tentatively.
“Can’t you hear it?” cried the old kitchen spirit, nodding towards the stove. As Miko-chan approached the warm stove, she began to hear the sounds before she saw the little cricket making his sound. “Torn Clothes, Patch Up! Patch Up!”
Additional notes & sources
From ‘Silkworms & Silverfish: creeping things in haiku’ by James Hoyt:
‘Considerable difficulty has arisen over the significance of the word kirigirisu, here rendered “cricket” but often to be translated as “grasshopper”. In modern parlance kirigirisu designates the grasshopper (Ducetia japonica and other members of the same genus), while kōrogi designates the cricket (Myrmecophila sapporensis and other members of the same genus). In classical Japanese, however, the usage was just the opposite, kirigirisu standing for the cricket, kōrogi for the grasshopper; and there are poems in early literature extolling the autumn songs of both.’
‘Insect Musicians and Cricket Champions – A Cultural History of Singing Insects in China and Japan’, by Lisa Gail Ryan, published in 1996 – brings together two previous works, ‘Insect-Musicians and Cricket Champions of China’ by Berthold Laufer published in 1927 and ‘Insect-Musicians’ from ‘Exotics and Retrospectives’ by Lafcadio Hearn in 1898, with additional scientific notes and new photographs.
kōrogi ni uta uta[wa]sete sayo-ginuta
the cricket’s song…
Kobayashi Issa, 1816