Food for a fish, or
Colorful feast for the eye
Conjured forth by the spell
Of a summer day
A Moment Not Photographed
Walking past the Western exterior wall of Kumamoto Castle I passed through an expansive park. I was making my way from the main gate to a Samurai Villa. Just a short walk, but one I knew I had to take even though my stomach was reminding me that I hadn't been eating much the last week. Fortunately, as a Typhoon moved through Hiroshima, it left stark blue skies and a mild summer day in Kyushu. The grass was green, the clouds white, and my heart full of adventure.
The park was a rectangle framed in with a trees on three sides, and a moat on the other. The long stone Castle wall provided a medieval backdrop that made the green of the grass limitless. Families dotted the park with picnics. Blankets, onigiri, fans, baseball, all accoutrements of a relaxing day at the park and each complimented the laughing and giggling of children playing 'Darumasan' It was a scene and a day many movie has tried to recreate. It was beautiful.
Also enjoying the sunshine were the Dragonflies, countless Dragonflies. The park was full of Tonbo,
Black and purple Dragonflies danced about the park in numbers I had never before seen. I tried to capture them as they flew but my endeavor was fruitless. (Though I do have some nice photographs of the grass if you would like to see them.)
I wondered, as I passed through the park, knowing the Japanese as I did; what significance do these abundant Tonbo have in Japanese Culture. So today I will do my best to answer the question.
A Close Encounter
As I chronicle my latest trip through Japan, I am trying to move in a chronological order, from Osaka as I moved my way South to Kagoshima and back. This post seemingly jumps to Kumamoto from Osaka, but I promise it has its roots in Osaka.
While touring in Nishinomiya, I visited the Kitayama Botanical Gardens of Nishinomiya, City. among the gardens I found this Tonbo, alighting on a grass stalk. It was kind enough to let me get a closeup.
The Significance of the Dragonfly in Japanese Culture
I've always loved the tradition and mythos of Japanese Culture. Everything has a story, a significance, some 'Specifically Japanese' mythology. I think its rather cool, even if it does muddle the true history of the place.
Dragonfly and the Emperor
Legend has it that the first emperor Jimmu Tenno climbed a mountain in Nara Prefecture and said, "The shape of my country is like two Akitsu mating." At the time Dragonflies, Tonbo, were referred to as Akitsu. In ancient times, Japan was called Akitsushima, or Dragonfly Island(s). The Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan, 720ad) also mentions the 21st Emperor Yuryaku Tenno being bitten by a horsefly which was subsequently eaten by a passing dragonfly. The Emperor then named the plain, Akitsu-no (dragonfly plain.) These stories of the emperors are said to be how Japan was named Akitsushima. (1)
I found it interesting that when looking up dragonfly in Wikipedia, Japan is the only culture with it own section on dragonflies. (2) Wikipedia describes the seasonal importance of the dragonfly as it relates to summer and early fall. Most notably this seasonal reference as well as the fleeting grace of the dragonfly lend itself as a common theme in haiku. (Oh, Yeah!) (2)
Dragonflies often represent strength, happiness and courage in Japanese culture (3). The character Tonbo from Kiki's Delivery Service not only embodied these ideas but also gave Japanese audiences a reference point to their own culture in a movie that took place outside of Japan. (2)
The dragonfly also represents a good rice crop, or bountiful harvest among traditional farming and Japanese lore. The dragonfly along with the spider were recognized as insects that preyed on the other insects that ate the rice crops. (1/3)
The Pool of Zen Wrap Up
As usual I like to tie my topics in to the Pool of Zen and the significance of the post. Surely, when you think of a dragonfly you think not only of the insect. Merely thinking of them transports me to another time and place. Whether its a fourth of July chasing giant dragon flies at Eklutna Lake, in Alaska as a boy, walking amid a firestorm of them at Kumamoto Castle, or slowly leaning in to get a snapshot of one at the Botanical Gardens... It is a warmer, sunnier day that I find myself wrapped in. It is the same day my mind takes me to where I find myself rubbing a soft puppy tummy sprawled out on the lawn. This light snow covering, the freezing temperatures, and the hum of heater, cannot diminish the warm press of sun from my memory. Many thanks to the dragon fly for calling me back to sunny days.
Here is a clip from a dance to 'Aka-Tonbo' (Red Dragonfly) to wrap up the post. In the dance, the girls are chasing dragonflies and eventually become dragonflies themselves. I didn't record the whole dance, as I've discovered it I spend too much time filming or photographing, I miss out on the event...
1) Nipponia, The Dragonfly Isles; Konishi Masayasu, No.29 June 15, 2004
2) Wikepedia.com; Dragonfly
-The first photograph is of the Western most wall of Kumamoto Castle. Beyond the moat (on the left) is the park I referenced in the narrative. I think you can see people having a picnic if you zoom in. What a great day, and more on Kumamoto in the future.
All photo's, original works, and comments are my personal property. Please be respectful of the effort I've taken. Your comments are welcome, be polite: No throwing pebbles in my pool of zen.