Monday 27 May 2002

Hototogisu

The entry for hototogisu in Kodansha’s Japan, An Illustrated Enclyopedia reads:

The clear, gentle call of the hototogisu is one of the most appreciated of Japan’s bird songs and has inspired Japanese poets from the days of the 8th-century Man’yoshu to the present as a symbol of early summer.

Ceramic tile with image of an hototogisu

In all my travels throughout Japan I’ve neither seen nor heard the hototogisu (or Japanese cuckoo, Cuculus poliocephalus)—though I’ve frequently read of its distinctive song. It was an unexpected pleasure to discover the elusive bird on a tile set into the wall of the pedestrian tunnel under the main street in Okayama, where I’d gone to visit the garden, Korakuen. I snapped a picture, thinking of a passage in Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book:

…during the short summer nights in the rainy season one sometimes wakes up and lies in bed hoping to be the first person to hear the hototogisu. Suddenly towards dawn its song breaks the silence; one is charmed, indeed one is quite intoxicated. But alas, when the Sixth Month comes the hototogisu is silent. I really need say no more about my feelings for this bird. And I do not love the hototogisu alone; anything that cries out at night delights me—except babies.

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Comments

There’s a recording of a hototogisu at http://nwbc.jp/singing/. The page is mostly in Japanese except for the Latin of the scientific names, which means people like me can find the species we’re looking for.

Posted by Isabeau on 6 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Isabeau, what a great resource! Thanks for the pointer.

Posted by Jonathon on 7 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

There are also two clips of an uguisu (_Cettia diphone_) a little lower down on that same page.

The uguisu sounds much more romantic than the hototogisu, I think.

Posted by Isabeau on 11 November 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour