Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Aka Tombo

 Japan is all about the round of the seasons--every season has its icons, without which it just wouldn't be fall! Or Spring.  Or Summer.  The red dragonfly, along with pampas grass and Rabbits in the Moon , is as much a part of fall in Japan as football is for Americans. 

 Fall means Kaki (persimmons) turning green, then orange, then vermilion.  Kaki are everywhere--in gardens, along the road, in the supermarket (with seeds and without).  They are cut up and peeled and eaten as is.  In Indiana, we were the only people I knew who ate persimmons, and that was only because Mrs. Brown had a tree in her yard.  My mom made the best persimmon pudding...

Koshi (right) with his school hat filled with persimmons from the nice man next door who has a tree.  If he leaves some on his tree this year, we'll have flocks of migrating birds.

Susukisaka umi hetomukai arukunari

The path
Of Japanese pampas grass
I walk to the sea

Miscanthus Sinensis--Japanese pampas(or plume) grass, the quintessential symbol of fall.

 ...sweet white dango for moon-viewing (one of them should be yellow for the harvest moon low in the sky).  Rabbit manju are optional, but I have kids, so they're not.

Long before the Japanese maples turn red (the header photo was taken in November), the red Higanbana (Equinox Flower)  set fields and roadsides aglow.

 But dearest to my heart are the red dragonflies.  I nearly always stop to watch one until lost to view.  The first time I ever saw one was in somebody's rice paddy.  He was brilliantly scarlet against the green of the rice stalks, although that picture exists only in my mind since I didn't have a camera at the time.  We watch for him every fall-- "Aka Tombo!"--  the children shout whenever they are sharp-eyed enough to spot him. I saw him the other day on the way home from Kumon  in the late afternoon sun.  I managed not to fall off my bike.

           If you click on that photo, you can see all the veins in his wings... fine and clear with a single pane of red stained glass on the tip of each wing. 

And, this being Japan, there is a song about him called, naturally, Aka Tombo.  Here is a beautiful version sung by Kobato Kurumi:

In English:
Dragonflies as red as sunset
Back when I was young
In twilight skies, there on her back I'd ride
When the day was done

Mountain fields in late November
Long ago it seems
Mulberry trees and treasures we would gather
Was it only just a dream?

Just fifteen she went away one day
Married then so young
Like a sister lost, I loved and missed her
Letters never seemed to come

Dragonflies as red as sunset
Back when I was young
Now in my eyes, when I see dragonflies
Tears are always sure to come
(A beautiful translation by Dr. Dennis Paulson,
                 University of Puget Sound)

That song puts gentle fingers around the heartstrings and squeezes until the tears come out.  I'm not even Japanese, and it makes me feel nostalgic.  Happy dragonfly hunting!

Mata asobou, ne!


  1. OOH!! That papmpas grass is AWESOME!
    I can't wait for next spring because i plan on planting some tall prairie grasses in our yard (can't do it now, it's already started to snow)

  2. I *love* the pampas grass--the way it waves in even a light breeze. It's not open yet, either. When it opens, it'll be even lighter and fluffier:)) You already have snow? My kids would be *so* jealous! (we hardly ever get any:((

  3. Ooh... Aka Tombo and pampas grass! I love them both :-) I even made a piece of jewelry with that grass bending in the wind! And even though I have 2 persimmon trees that are 10 years old, they simply WILL NOT FRUIT. Gah! Maybe I will threaten them the way Mom did with the Dogwood. Hey, whatever works! ;-P

  4. Really? Still? I thought you got a fruit last time...(singular:-/) Bum! I know you're waiting to make persimmon pudding, too:)) Had I but known, I'd have given those trees a withering stare and a severe scolding last summer!

    What piece of jewelry did you make with susuki? I don't think I've seen it--is it on your Studio Acorn site? Want to see!!

    (btw--if you didn't read last week's field notes, go to the one titled "In Defiance", and read through the comments til you get to The Great Pea Schism. Just go read, K?:))