Japan's 72 Microseasons - #25
"Praying Mantises Hatch"
June 6 - 10
Praying mantises hatch
The word “microcosm,” built from the Greek roots mikros and kosmos, describes a little world that represents a larger system1. It’s usually a metaphor, but in the case of the fields and farms where a lot of the action illustrated by the Koyomi takes place, it can be literal, too. Whole cycles of life, death, and birth, dramas of love and war, daily struggles and challenges can play out in a single plot of land over the course of the 72 kō. And the star of this kō has a life that is well known for its deadly drama.
Kō 25 is understood to be when kamakiri, mantises, hatch and begin their life of terror (if you’re a smaller insect or slow frog). “Mantis” is, of course, an entire order of insects with some 2,400 species in it, and the name of this kō is specifically referring to the tōrō (蟷螂): the narrow-winged mantis, Tenodera angustipennis.2
Very striking, indeed! Since mantises pose next to no danger to people, and instead take care of lots of smaller, unwanted insects on farms, their appearance among the fields is plenty welcome as the the hot, humid weather of the rainy season sees an increase overall in bug presence.
And they’re skillful predators. Their trademark praying posture3 is one of ambush, wherein the mantis holds its sickle-like claws poised to strike until something flies or crawls by. They specifically only target living creatures, and a healthy population of them among the crops is a good sign that other more destructive insects are being kept in check. Almost like silent, green bodyguards protecting the homes they were born in.
It’s in this way that any given field of grain or rice during this season in Japan is a veritable battle royale for survival among plants and animals of all sizes (and before modern abundance, this included people living harvest-to-harvest). Born from eggs laid on the dying grasses of late autumn, these newly hatched mantises are hunting not for fun or sport, but to grow as strong and healthy as they can in the few months they have. In that time, they’ll need to use every last bit of energy they get from preying on other insects to then mate and lay new eggs so that life can continue.
This is also the theme that this sekki represents: reaping and sowing. Called Bōshu (芒種), its typical translation is “grain in ear,” and the characters are 芒 meaning “awn” and 種 meaning “seed.” Let’s take a quick look at the parts of a grain stalk to orient ourselves here.
During this season, the awns grow outward from the grain in preparation to catch the wind and seed. All of the plant’s photosynthetic growth has been to produce as many of these as it can. Wild species do this on their own, but cultivated species require people to retain some of their harvest to reseed the fields.
Of the sekki names, this one is perhaps the most specific and direct, and that pretty clearly demonstrates the significance of the period: grains, once ripe and harvested, go to seed and are sown once again for another season. For those living in communication with and dependence on the land, keeping that cycle going is everything. And the key to that is knowing what happens when.
Those worries are largely behind us in these days, and it is my dear hope that none of us are in imminent danger of being ambushed by a sickle-bearing predator anytime soon, but even in modern life we do our own reaping and sowing. We invest our time and energy in the short term with hopes that we can harvest something that will keep us going into the next cycle. Whether this is work, relationships, self-improvement, or just treating ourselves kindly so the next week is a little more doable, it’s important to remember to take a bit of what we reap and sow it back into the fields.
Speaking of treating oneself, here’s the freshest bits of foodstuffs you could find in Japan during this kō:
● Seasonal vegetable
rakkyō, らっきょう, Japanese leek4
● Seasonal seafood
ainame, あいなめ, fat greenling
● Seasonal fruit
nawashiro-ichigo, 苗代苺, Japanese native raspberry
Whether praying in the sun or waiting to ambush, I hope that the energy you need to keep going comes to you and you’re able to strike at the right moment.
See you next kō~
Keep up with the seasons
If you’re curious, in Japanese it’s shō-uchū (小宇宙), a pretty literal kanji match of “little” and “universe/cosmos” which is not to be confused with shōchū, the grain liquor mentioned last time
“Kamakiri” is usually written phonetically in katakana script as カマキリ, but it does have kanji characters as well: 鎌切, made of “sickle” and “cut”
Although not its common name, a nickname for mantises in Japanese as well is ogami-mushi (拝み虫), or “praying insect”
Especially the fresh bulbs, if you can get them