Japan's 72 Microseasons - #9
"Caterpillars Become Butterflies"
March 16 - 20
なむし ちょうと なる
Namushi chō to naru
Caterpillars become butterflies
The last of our insects to awaken is really more of a reawakening. The warm ground is freshly rejuvenated with life, and with the opening of one last set of insect-doors it is time for metamorphoses; a literal and metaphorical spreading of wings as humble green caterpillars take to the skies as dazzling white butterflies. Things that were growing in seclusion are ready to emerge.
This kō is the last of the sekki Keichitsu, and the first in a series of microseasons that turn our attention from the changes below our feet to the changes above our heads. No longer huddled and shuffling through mud and snow, we can look up and take a deep breath of clear1 air ready to be filled with flight. And all those tender new leaves provided a nice winter home for the eggs and larva of the monshirochō (紋白蝶), Pieris rapae, the cabbage white butterfly.
Often regarded as a pest by farmers the world over due to their voracious appetite for all manner of vegetable leaves, namushi (菜虫) mainly refers to the caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly, which much as its name suggests like to feast on cabbage leaves and other plants of the cruciferous vegetable family known as Brassicaceae. If you’re not a farmer, though, it’s easy to enjoy spotting these little guys flying about fields and parks; fluttering white petals almost like living flower blossoms fallen from trees.
Here’s a typical video, taken a few days ago by user yypp on Twitter:
This kō is, overall, pretty straightforward in both imagery and its kanji. It’s the period when namushi are changing (化) into butterflies (chō, 蝶). We have a bit of localization in order to make a proper sentence, with the standalone non-word character 化 becoming to naru instead of its usual ka. It’s more typically as part of words dealing with change, such as henka (transform, 変化), shinka (evolve, 進化), and keshouhin (cosmetics, 化粧品). The Japanese word for chemistry is, quite simply, the study of change: kagaku (化学). It can be conveniently added to the end of nouns to create a meaning of -ification, such as データ化 (data-ka, to convert into digital data), テレビ化 (terebi-ka, to adapt for TV), and 書面化 (shomen-ka, to put into writing).
I’d love to neatly connect everything and say the word for a butterfly’s metamorphosis uses the same 化 character, but it’s actually 変態, pronounced hentai and yes the same as *that* hentai (the original meaning is more “a deviation of form or condition”).
Anyway, check out this cute stop-motion video of this kō that I found while looking on Twitter for butterflies:
I mentioned a while back wanting to include seasonal foods, flowers, and motifs in these, so now that I have a bit more time here’s a few from otenki.com:
● Seasonal word
yume-mushi, 夢虫, “dream bugs”
● Seasonal vegetable
yō-wasabi, 葉わさび, wasabi leaves2 | seri, 芹, water parsley
● Seasonal seafood
asari, アサリ, manila clams | aoyagi, 青柳, trough shell clams
katabami, かたばみ, creeping woodsorrel | hiyashinsu, ヒヤシンス, hyacinth
Perhaps not always these specific ones, but this time of year in restaurants and izakaya with a focus on seasonal ingredients, you might find combinations of clam and young greens lightly cooked, as below. These types of ingredients are called shun no shokuzai (旬の食材) in Japanese, which can just be translated as “seasonal ingredients,” but a 旬 is more accurately a period of 10 days, to give you an idea of how closely Japan likes to follow these things (foodstuffs giant Kikkoman has an extensive, interactive chart, as an example). So in Japan, months are split into an upper, middle, and lower third: 上旬, 中旬, and 下旬, respectively.
We’ll wrap things up there for this one! Given how very, very invasive they are as a species, it’s likely you can spot some monshirochō/cabbage white butterflies in your area, so have a look around! (I’m always happy to receive your microseasonal photos here or as a reply on Twitter)
And if you’re a farmer of mustard greens, well, hope most of your crops made it out unchewed-on.
See you next kō~
Keep up with the seasons
full of pollen
a cruciferous vegetable, of course