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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on October 01, 2018
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 94] October 1, 2018

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 94]
October 1, 2018
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal creature:
A bird teaching love: Wagtail

:: 1. Seasonal creature

Here is a waka, Japanese traditional poem, in "Kokin Wakashu" in part
4 (anonymous).
"Waga monni Inaosedorino Nakunaeni Kesahuku kazeni kariwa kinikeri"
Accompanied by the late autumn, I saw a wagtail coming to sing at the
gate of my house. Shortly after, wild geese flew over for the first
time this year riding upon a wind blown this morning.

When rice plants become golden ears waiting to be cropped, wagtails
start singing, it seems like they have brought us the autumn. We often
see that they fly in a way looks like they are leading people or cars.
It might be the reason that they are called "Ina osedori (bear rice
bird)". It used to be valued as a beneficial bird as it eats harmful
insects, and also in Japaese folklore, it was said that a disaster would
happen if we catch a wagtail or destroy its nest.

The Japanese name, "Sekirei(鶺鴒)" started to be used in the Muromachi
period (14c). It was originally a Chinese name but changed to a Japanese
pronunciation. The name suggests that it is a pure and cold bird which
has a straightened back. As its song sounds like "Chichi Chichi", it
used to be called "Tsutsu". It also had many different names such as
"Niwa (Garden) tataki (Punch)" or "Iwa (Rock) Tataki" as its tail goes
up and down in gardens or by the riverside, or "Imose (pair) dori (bird)"
or "Koi (love ) Oshie (teach) dori" as a pair of birds form close a
relationship and stay together all the time.

As the name suggests, the movement of wagging its tail catches people's
attention in many cultures. It was thought of as a root of our lives
in Japan. In a scene of a god building the nation in Kojiki (oldest
chronicle in Japan in 8C), a male god, Izanagi, and goddess, Izanami,
did not know how to have a child, but they learned from the movement of
the wagtail. In the mythology of Ainu, there is a story that when god
creates the world, a wagtail was also sent to land to help god. God
cultivated the land with a pickaxe and an axe, and then the wagtail
shovelled the soil with its claws, struck with its wings and hardened
it with its tail up and down.

There is also a scene depicted in Kojiki in which Emperor Jimmu sends
his messenger called "Okume no Mikoto" to propose a princess whose
father is a powerful god called "Kunitsukami Omono nushi". The messenger
has a tatoo around his eyes and she asks him, "Why do you wear a scary
tattoo all round your eyes like a wagtail?". He responds "I came here
with an imperial order. You would not be attracted to me wearing this."
He successfully matchmakes the Emperor Jimmu and the princess, and she
becomes an empress.

It is impressive how ancient people could imagine and observe so well.
The wagtails peculiarity have been a symbol of fulfillment in love,
happy marriage and the birth of life for the Japanese. It is said that
there are more and more people being passive in terms of romance nowadays
in Japan. We possibly need the wagtail not only for bringing a great
autumn crop but also to be a match maker for them.

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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