Sunday 30 September 2018

Praying or Cutting? A Snapshot of the Marvellous Mantis

Reading back over the blog, I can see there has been a definite shift towards longer, more complex blogs to the point where some have become like mini academic papers! On top of that, the nature and language focus has taken something of a back seat so this week I'm going to go back to basics, keep it short and simple, and focus on the things I see around me. I must admit I do have an ulterior motive though; September/October is perhaps the busiest time for university teachers in Japan - as I write, I have a pile of essays and graduate thesis (sotsuron=卒論) drafts waiting for my attention!

The fiercely hot summer has given way to much cooler temperatures and lots of rain. This weekend promises another deluge since yet another typhoon is on the way (the last one, as I wrote here, was the most powerful to hit the country for twenty-five years). One individual who seems to like this weather (or maybe it's just the fact that it's the mating season) is the marvellous praying mantis known as as kamakiri (カマキリ) in Japanese. It is interesting that in both Japanese and English the name comes from the spiky folded forelegs which they use to catch and grip their prey. Whereas to English eyes it looks like the creature is praying, Japanese are reminded of someone cutting weeds with a sickle or kama. Wikipedia notes that the bugs were thought to have supernatural powers by ancient civilisations but they appear to have very little cultural significance in Japan in contrast to say the snail, butterfly, dragonfly, or firefly who all have their own songs, poems, and myths. The best I could find was a 1995 ¥700 stamp by Sakai Hoitsu, a Japanese painter of the Edo period, entitled "Cotton Rose, Chrysanthemum, and Mantis in Autumn"  (Aki no Fuyō to Kiku to Kamakiri=秋の芙蓉と菊とカマキリ)!