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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on May 28, 2020
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 114] May 28, 2020

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 114]
May 28, 2020
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal creature:
Lucky charm that symbolizes immortality - Frogs

:: 1. Seasonal animal

"Nawashironi kokorono tanewo makisoete nakuya kawazuno Yamato kotonoha"
Translation : I sowed seeds in the rice field. Not only rice seeds, I
also sowed "seeds of poems", So the croaking of the frogs is Yamato-uta
(Japanese poems).

As seen in the Japanese expression, "Kaze kaoru Gogatsu (fresh breeze
in May)", gentle breeze starts to blow and comfortable nice weather
continues in many parts in Japan around this time. It is also the time
for frogs to come out of hibernation and start to croak for courting.

Japanese word for frogs "Kaeru", which also means "come back", was
already used in Man-yo era (629-759).
According to "Yamato Honzo (A book concerning biology and agriculture
published in 1709)" written by Kaibara Ekken, the word "Kaeru" derives
from the habit that frogs come back without fail to the place where
they were born, even they are released on distant places.
("Kaeru" also means "come back" in Japanese)
For instance, it is said that toad has a homing instinct that makes
them travel back and forth between their territories and the breeding
ponds which is several kilometers away from the territories.
When the breeding season comes, toads leave their territories for ponds
to mate and lay eggs. And again, toads take a journey back to their
territories after they finish their tasks.

Another Japanese name for frog, "Kawazu" is said to be short for "Kawa
ni sumu mono" which means "a creature lives in a river" ("Kawa" means
river in Japanese), and it has been mainly used in Japanese poem as
you see in the introduction of this article. Originally, Kawazu, for
their beautiful singing, had been referred to as "Kajika frogs (singing
frogs)" before it came to be commonly used for all kinds of frogs around
early Heian period (AD 800-900).

In contrast to the ugly image of frogs both in the East and the West,
frogs have been adopted as messengers of gods, and adored as bringers
of good luck. What is the reason for the contradiction?

In China, frogs that repeat hibernation and spring revival were taken
as symbols of immortality. On the other hand, in Japanese mythology,
frogs were depicted as creatures closely related to death. On some
Jomon era potteries (from 131 B.C. - 4 B.C.), women's sexual organs
or faces of newborn infants are depicted on the backs of frog's figures.
These designs are thought to represent "lives are born from death".

People who visit Futami-okitama shrine, which is famous shrine for the
"Meoto-iwa (rocks look like a married couple)" located in Ise city in
Mie prefecture, dedicate frog-shaped clay figures after they worship.
This is because frogs were the messengers of the enshrined deity,
According to Kojiki (Japan's oldest historical record) Sarutahiko is
said to have guided gods who descended from heaven the way on the earthy
world. And also the belief of the ancient people that frogs were special
creatures that connect the present world and heaven might have made
them messengers of Sarutahiko.

The poem in the beginning of this article was written in response to
a passage in "Kokin-Wakashu-Kanajo (The Preface to "A Collection of
Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry)". The meaning of the passage is
"Waka (Japanese poems) are the expression of poets' feelings written
about various matters with various words that grew from their hearts.
When you listen to nightingales singing in spring, frogs croaking in
ponds, you will know all living creatures are poets. Croaking of frogs
by the waterside after their long sleep must have pleasantly resonated
as a strong sign of new leaves coming to lives.

Translation by: Naoko Yamashita, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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