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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on March 26, 2019
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 100] March 26, 2019

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 100]
March 26, 2019
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal creature:
A popular pet among the Heian nobles: Bulbul

:: 1. Seasonal creature

Here is a Waka, traditional Japanese poem, written by Emperor Tsuchimikado
in 13c.
"Kono uchini Mada suminarenu hiedoriwa Kokoronarademo Yowo sugusukana"
Interpretation: Although the bulbul hasn't got used to living here yet,
it spends time here anyway even though it is not what it hoped.

When the spring is around the corner, migratory birds which are nearly
completing the winter start getting ready to go back to the North of
Japan. The Japanese brown-eared bulbul called "Hiyo Dori (bird)" is
one of them. They sing high-pitched cries like "Heeeee-Yo Heeeee-Yo"
and it is the reason for its name.

The bulbul is in a Passerine family which is slightly less than 30cm
long. It is commonly seen all over Japan even in the city areas and
scenes of them eating the nectar of azalea or cherry blossoms, and also
enjoying various fruits in garden trees are commonly seen. Some types
of bulbul don't migrate anymore due to global warming, however, it was
originally a migratory bird which flew to the South around October and
back to the North around April.

Because it gets really friendly if it is raised from a chick, it was
extremely popular as a pet bird in the Heian period (8c). In some
stories in the Kokon Chomonju, a collection of more than 700 tales
between the middle of the Heian period (10c) and the early Kamakura
era (12c), there are scenes depicting the nobles adoring bulbuls. For
example, Emperor Go-Shirakawa had a party called "Hiyodori Awase" in
his palace. Nobles are gathered with their own precious bulbuls with
names like "Mumei maru" or "Chiyo maru", and then they compete for which
bulbul cries the best. There are also nobles who send a song alongside
a bulbul as a gift, and in another scene, a noble is being gloomy
because he was asked to give his bulbul away. We can easily tell that
the bulbul was very important figure for nobles to enrich their lives
at that time.

Although bulbuls were treated very well by nobles, they were bothering
farmers as vermin eating the fruits and crops. In a book called "Inaka
Soji" published in 1727, a bulbul calls other birds together and has
a lecture triumphantly. It teaches how to sneak and steal human's crops
and fruits in gardens, and also how to escape birdlime. It seems like
humans and bulbuls were having battles of wits in the countryside in
real life.

Bulbul was regularly consumed in some local areas not long ago. As the
damage caused by it has been serious in recent years due to its increasing
population, hunting with permission is allowed in Japan. In order to
not to waste their lives, "gibier (food of wild animal meat)" has been
gaining popularity.

Bulbuls inhabit many parts of Eastern Asia, however, they are rarely
seen apart from in Japan. It was apparently why the birds gather the
attention of bird watchers coming to Japan. It is the kind of bird
highly appreciated in most countries but it seems like that they have
spent time with Japanese people too long. Not only have they forgotten
to migrate anymore but also it has been regarded as a troublesome bird
due to its population explosion. It was actually not their fault at
all though. Humans made this situation. They are birds which deserve
people's sympathy actually.

The waka in the opening paragraph was sung by Emperor Tsuchimikado.
His father, Emperor Go-Toba tried to overthrow the Kamakura shogunate
(Jokyu War in 1221). Although Emperor Tsuchimikado was innocent, he
offered to remove himself from the capital city of Kyoto to go to Tosa
Province (Kochi prefecture on Shikoku) as a punishment. He got involved
the conflict unwillingly and couldn't have a peaceful life. He compared
to himself to a bulbul and sung the song. Bulbul today may understand
how Emperor Tsuchimikado felt.

Please give a thought to joy and sorrow of bulbul and listen to their
song if you have a chance to visit Japan.

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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